Re: The Singularity and Nanotechnology

Dan Clemmensen (
Sun, 22 Sep 1996 13:52:41 -0400

Robin Hanson wrote:
> Lyle Burkhead writes:
> >My point is that everything costs something. This is just a natural fact,
> >like friction in physics. It isn't going to change just because
> >manufacturing gets more and more fine-grained.
> Right. All prices are relative. Don't say "effectively zero price",
> say what price will be much smaller than what other price.
> >Molecular manufacturing will emerge within the same capitalist
> >economy that we live in now. Factories will still be factories.
> >They will require elaborate buildings and millions of dollars' worth of
> >specialized equipment. They will employ biotechnologists with rare and
> >expensive skills. Factories will still be owned by investors who want to
> >get their investment back. They will produce products for the market,
> >and buy inputs from the market. The managers will still understand the
> >concept of planned obsolescence.
> This seems the simplest scenario to expect. Things may go otherwise,
> but the burden is on those who think so to explain why we should
> agree.

OK, I'll try (fools rush in where experts fear to tread..)

Yes, strict economic theory can says that you can assign a cost to
This is almost a premise of the discipline. However, MNT is very likely
to make the cost of local production of almost anything, lower than the
transportation cost of that same item from a central site. That is, the
differentials in production efficiencies that drive the current economy
will disappear. With MNT, all I need to produce an item is the design
for the
item, and matter, and energy. This means that any individual who so
desires can
drop out of the global economy and revert to a "subsistence lifestyle"
material self-sufficiency. That lifestyle will be very lavish by today's
standards. I suppose that an economy in these three inputs (design info,
energy) could in principle emerge, but not in time to avoid a complete
of the existing economy. It may appear that a trade in designs would
emerge, but
I strongly suspect that the designs needed for lavish self-sufficiency
will become
freely available. The matter will be literally dirt-cheap, and solar
energy will
suffice for a lavish lifestyle, given a very modest improvement in
efficiencies based on MNT-built-and-maintained collectors. Anyone who
need more
energy can build a thermal tap, or a fusion plant.

Once MNT is available in crude form, MNT is likely to enable us to
very quickly to sophisticated MNT. At that point, there is nothing
material that
people currently need that a person cannot make. This means:
no energy industry.
no transportation industry (for goods.)
no contruction industry.
no maunfacturing industry.
no agriculture.

The bulk of the service and information industries (banking, etc.) exist
to support
commerce, and will also be rendered unnecessary.

The above can all be accomplished using MNT to simply build items
equivalent to the
ones we already have. There is no need to take advantage of MNT's
abiltities to make
new kinds of items.

There remains the personal service portion of the economy, including
medicine. My
crystal ball is cloudier in this area. It's not clear how we'll
compensate a provider
of personal service, unless each of us becomes a provider and can pay in
kind. Clearly,
there will be very strong inducement to automate these jobs, since MNT
implies that
automation is of near-zero cost once designed. I suspect that most
"menial" service
jobs will disappear immediately: houses and clothes will be
self-cleaning and
self-repairing, and any item can be replaced (completely recycled) to
renew or
repair it. Food can be created already-cooked, on plates, on the table.

Information services, such as teaching, are another matter. A great many
are likely to opt to teach their own children, assuming that instruction
in the future
looks like it does today. If computer-augmented intelligence develops in
time-frame, prediction becomes impossible.

Direct personal services for the human body, (medicine, etc.) are also
another matter.
MNT-based may of course help solve many of body-related problems.
the difficulty of attending to a body may be an inducement to just get
rid of the
thing by switching to an MNT-built body.