Re: The Singularity and Nanotechnology

Dan Clemmensen (
Sun, 22 Sep 1996 23:18:33 -0400

Robin Hanson wrote:
> Dan Clemmensen writes:
> >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.
> This statement is not self-evident. Defend it.

This may not be self-evident, but it's certainly the case that MNT
"universal assemblers" can build most items with no input other than
matter and energy. This is efficiently done by "re-tooling" as
necessary, building tools to build tools to ultimately build the
desired article. Clearly, building a one-off item will be a lot cheaper
with MNT than without it. I believe the relative cost advantage of mass
production over local custom production will almost disappear, even
before transportation costs are considered.

Transportation, on the other hand, requires an infrastructure that
must be built and maintained at a cost in energy and matter. This
overhead must be amortized over the cost of all goods to be transported.
While it's true that MNT can revolutionize transportation, my gut
feeling is that cost of transportation will exceed the differntial cost
of local manufacture. Not very scientific, I admit, but I don't have
time to do research to settle the question. You are free to assume the
opposite, but without a working MNT example, all either of us have is
an opinion.

> >That is, the differentials in production efficiencies that drive
> >the current economy will disappear.
> The current economy is *not* driven by raw physical production economy
> efficiencies. There are also costs to retool for new products, to
> invent products, to market them, etc.

This atatement is not self-evident. Defend it. :-)

Note also that "retooling" is almost intrinsic to MNT manufacturing.
For many items, "inventing" and "marketing" may end up being handled
informally, the way cooks trade recipes. This is tachnically an
economic activity, but if that's all that's left, I still claim that
the existing economy can be considered to have disappeared.

> >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" with material self-sufficiency.
> If the population explodes (such as with uploads) there may not be
> enough land and sunlight for everyone to do this. Or drop outs may
> not have their property rights respected if their military technology
> is far below par.

This looks more like politics than economics, but you are correct:
MNT can permit a government or other group to impose any arbitrary
condition on the populace. We may have to work hard to keep this
from happening, perhaps by attempting to support the US constitution
or by forming some other governmental system or association.What
does this have to do with the effect of MNT on our current economy?

> >That lifestyle will be very lavish by today's standards.
> But it may be very poor compared to not dropping out.
> You and I could now go try to live as mountain men, after all.
> Which isn't a bad life by historical standards (now that even mountain
> men can afford guns, flashlights, etc.)
Correct, of course. However, I feel that the relative inefficiency
of "drop-out" to "mainline" lifestyle will be much smaller with MNT.
I'll spend esswentially zero time on the mechanics of living as a
MNT drop-out. As a non-MNT mountain man, I'd spend a lot of time on
making a living, I think.

> >I suppose that an economy in these three inputs (design info, matter,
> >energy) could in principle emerge, but not in time to avoid a complete
> >meltdown of the existing economy.
> This all depends on the speed of change. Why would it be that fast?

Why not? What will limit the speed of adoption of MNT? what will limit
the rate of advance of MNT technology, given the obvious (to me, anyway)
feedback mechanisms by which MNT will beget better MNT?

The only limiting mechanism that I've been able to come up with is
the economic disruption itself. Not pretty. It may result in the
need to employ the aforementioned MNT subsistence scheme.