SCI and ECON Nanotech

Lyle Burkhead (
Wed, 25 Sep 1996 04:06:57 -0500 (EST)

Dan Clemmonson:
> With MNT, it will be a lot easier for an individual
> to produce an item than it is now.
> ...An individual will be able to produce
> essentially everything needed for a lavish lifestyle,
> with none of the costs associated with trade.
> 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.

Rich Artym:
> Once the means of production can be tailored at will
> and replicated at the point of need,
> production itself is no longer limited by capital and manpower,
> only by the presence of the required feedstock and energy.

I'm going to call this idea Extropian Nanotech.

As a first step towards calibration of this idea, try comparing it
with other processes that are similar in some ways:

- a termite colony building an ant hill
- an orange tree growing an orange
- a cedar tree growing wood to be used for lumber
- a water purification plant, in which bacteria remove
certain contaminants from the water
- an electric eel generating an electric potential
- a firefly generating light
- a cicada generating sound

These analogies calibrate Extropian Nanotech only in the sense that they
all involve replicating organisms producing various effects. All these
analogies are missing something -- the idea of a system that can do
everything at once, in one place. The following hypothetical projects
are a closer calibration for Extropian Nanotech:

- an entomologist creating general-purpose (reprogrammable) termites,
which could build any kind of building (or tunnel, etc), to spec.
- a biologist creating a general-purpose (reprogrammable)
orchard, which would grow all kinds of fruit in a small space.
- a biologist creating a general-purpose (reprogrammable)
tree, which would grow any specified kind of wood
- a biologist creating a general-purpose (reprogrammable)
hydroponic garden, which would grow all the food for a household
- a biologist creating a general-purpose filter, using bacteria, fungi,
and/or green plants, to take any ion out of any solution
- a biologist creating a general purpose energy-generating organism,
which can produce whatever kind of energy you need --
light, electricity, sound, heat, etc.

Now we have gotten a very good calibration; what I have just described
is almost isomorphic to Extropian Nanotech. If you ponder these
projects slowly enough to get them in focus, you can get an excellent
idea of what is going to be involved in Extropian Nanotech.

How much would you have to know about termites, their society,
their genome, etc., before you could make them reprogrammable and
able to build structures to spec? How long would this take? Whatever
the answer is, Extropian Nanotech will require about the same time,
because it amounts to the same thing. Nanites may not physically
resemble termites, but they will have a genome that will be comparable
to the genome of a termite, and their society will be as complex as a
termite colony. Creating nanites is isomorphic to creating
reprogrammable termites. Everything that has to be done in one case
has to be done in the other.

Likewise for all the other projects on the list. What would be involved
in creating a general purpose energy-generating organism? How long
would this take? Extropian Nanotech will take that long, too, because
you will have to do something that amounts to the same thing.
You will have to find ways to generate all kinds of energy at the
atomic level, and incorporate these mechanisms into replicating entities.
Your task is isomorphic to the biologist's task.

However, your task requires another step that the biologist
doesn't have to worry about: instead of modifying existing organisms
and their cellular machinery to make materials, generate electricity,
and so forth, you are going to use atomic machinery invented de novo,
based on Eric Drexler's diamondoid constructors and replicators.
You have to do that before you can even start the higher-level projects
discussed above.

Thus, to create Extropian Nanotechnology, you have to do everything
the biologists have to do in the projects listed above, *plus* design a
new kind of replicating entity, and all the necessary atomic machinery.

The last step in calibration is to write a computer simulation of
Extropian Nanotechnology. Instead of actually moving carbon atoms
into their places in a diamondoid structure, you move simulated atoms
from place to place in memory, and watch this happening on the
monitor. Everything that happens in a complete Home Nanotech
Facility is represented in the simulation. This means both atomic level
processes, and also higher level processes, such as nanites making a
tunnel, or a tree reprogramming itself to produce oak instead of
cedar wood. Everything described in the biology projects listed above,
plus all the new diamondoid machinery, is simulated. The retooling
mentioned by Dan Clemmenson is also simulated. If any part of the
nanosystem is going to be evolved, rather than designed, that process of
evolution is also simulated.

If you imagine writing the code required for the Nanotech simulation,
you have a very good calibration of the Nanotech project itself.

Anders Sandberg:
> I think hyperchess has the drawback that it is an extremely complex
> game; how many entities are good enough at chess and cognitive
> science to play it well?

Hyperchess is orders of magnitude easier than the Nanotech simulation.
At some point in the Nanotech project, you are going to have to write
software, similar to a CAD program, to help you design atomic structures.
This will be more or less isomorphic to hyperchess. This is just
one little part of the whole project, something I didn't even bother to
mention in my discussion above.