Re: The Singularity and Nanotechnology

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 23 Sep 96 10:28:10 PDT

Dan Clemmensen writes:
>I believe the relative cost advantage of mass production over local
>custom production will almost disappear, even before transportation
>costs are considered. ... 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.

I don't want to assume your case or the opposite. What I want is for
people who speculate on these things to acknowledge the uncertainties
up front, rather than at the end of a long conversation. I see way
too many baldface claims of the form "with nanotech, X will happen".

>> 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. :-)

I'm not speculating. Production, including labor to run it, only
takes about 15% of US GDP (I think). Standard econ statistic.

>For many items, "inventing" and "marketing" may end up being handled
>informally, the way cooks trade recipes.

I think you are mixing timescales. Eventually, good public domain
designs may become widespread. But by then lots of other stuff may
change too, including an upload population explosion. And the private
designs may be far superior, and so worth paying a premium for.

>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.

You are talking about pretty advanced designs, and so not about early
nanotech. You need intelligent machines to make your life that easy.

>> 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?

Of course there are feedback mechanisms. But that doesn't imply fast
change, only change at some speed. Imagining, designing, testing,
tuning, marketing, etc. of designs all takes time and intelligence.
And make no mistake - nanotech design is HARD. These are very complex
machines that are imagined.

Robin D. Hanson