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« Foresight Conference Reporting | Main | Transformative Power »

October 27, 2004


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Mike Treder, CRN

Good points, Matt. I agree with you that Wise-Nano articles should have no rhetorical questions, source quotations (links) recommended, opinions formulated as neutral as possible, and no first person perspective. In fact, I have done some editing there to remove first-person references and add appropriate links.

But if the proviso, no fictional narratives, is to be followed, that means the chilling "Collared" story should be excised, or at least moved to the discussion page. Tom?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Matt: From what I´ve been reading here I conclude everyone here holds the view that the Iraq was indeed harboring terrorists to no end before the last war, thus possibly justifying preemptive intervention.

We've been talking about a variety of sources of terrorism. Looks to me like many of these posts aren't even talking about Iraq. So I think you're seeing what you're afraid of rather than what's there.

I hope I can speak for everyone here when I say: Don't assign opinions to us that we haven't expressed explicitly. To me, the topic is too touchy to let incorrect assertions about my opinions go unchallenged--but responding to each such assertion in detail would sidetrack from the discussion.

Rather than saying what I think about terrorists and Iraq, which would lead to a bunch of distracting me-too's and no-way's, I'll just point out that I've supplied no basis for your assertion.



Mike: That was exactly the article I had in mind regarding narratives. I agree it would be best to move it to the discussion, because on the one hand Chris already pointed out that such devices would hardly qualify as more than a personal superweapon, OTOH it could still serve as an negative of what is considered a MNT superweapon, as far as this article is concerned.

If we agree on the neutral point-of-view ( NPOV) principle being useful, maybe we should make it the official Wise-Nano policy, like the Wikipedia did? With official I mean, link it somewhere on the main page and enforce it by editing and - as a last resort - deleting articles when necessary. NPOV serves the Wikipedia very well, so it can´t be bad for wise-nano.


Well sorry to you, Chris, and everyone else I have assigned some opinion wrongly. I admit I might have been too quick when projecting the debate on Iraq. My thinking when doing it, however, was that the current US political course of action does revolve mainly around unrivaled superiority as opposed to cooperation (military/economical etc.) and that both its foreign and domestic policies can be sort of studied by the way they have been justifying the war itself and by the way they are now conducting the rebuild of Iraq, with all other issues that are directly or indirectly involved.
Thanks for reminding me to choose my words more carefully next time, though. I should follow your example and stay out of this level of debate, there´s nobody to benefit from it except maybe my ego, for a short time. Let´s rather return on-topic.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Matt and Mike, on NPOV: I agree it sounds like a good idea. But currently Wise-Nano is not getting many edits or contributions. I'd rather not load it down with stated policies until we see which ones will be needed.

Speaking editorially, I distinguish the "Collar" story from first-person article writing. On a collaborative article, if one person writes "I think" it's very hard for readers to know how to interpret that--and it's hard for subsequent writers to know how to modify it so it doesn't misrepresent their ideas.

Telling a self-contained story to illustrate an idea doesn't have the same problem; it doesn't necessarily reflect the writer's point of view, just the writer's ideas. As long as the line between fiction (story) and article is obvious, it shouldn't create confusion.

There is a value in narratives and stories. When dealing with new and unfamiliar ideas, it can be hard to get a handle on them by reading technical text. A story can make them more vivid and better understood. If stories in the midst of articles are undesirable for some reason, then I think we should make a category where they will be welcome--and freely link to them from the articles. Of course the stories should be technically plausible in every possible detail.

To tell the truth, it's not my preferred style, but I won't ask for it to be moved. I won't tell someone else not to move it--though I will point out that any deleted or moved text should be clearly pointed to: don't make other people's work disappear.


Tom Craver

Regarding fictional scenarios:
I think a lot of what we're discussing is speculative rather than factual, and speculative fiction is a time-honored approach to exploring the future. Part of it's power lies in its ability to plausibly suggest ideas and their human impact, without prematurely pinning things down in details.

Regarding the collar not being a superweapon - in about one month's time, with each slave collecting just two new slaves, an un-detected Collar infestation could take over a population the size of China. Give it 3 more days, and it could have the world. As the atomic bomb relies on geometrically increasing releases of neutrons in a chain reaction before the bomb has time to physically fly apart, so the Collar would covertly build up its network of mutual monitoring and mistrust and fear before human society has time to react. I think it qualifies.

Karl Gallagher

I'll put in a vote in favor of allowing fiction pieces on wise-nano. It's still in the idea generation stage and we should let contributors write in whatever style works best for them. If it becomes a problem, maybe have a summary paragraph on the main page with a link to the fiction piece on a subpage.

Oh, Matt? You've probably pegged my views on Iraq, but I don't come here to discuss it. I've got my own journal for that (click on the name). Or if you start one of your own I'll come visit.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Tom, you're assuming 1) undetected; 2) high-mix travel. And I still say the collar is inefficient. One person could build ten billion collars, which formed themselves into air-traveling sheets and flew around the globe, and then came apart and infested (or simply killed) everyone simultaneously. The only reason for taking over people is to get through each other's nano-built physical defenses. But in an era with that level of nanotech, we won't be able to imagine the weapons, the battlegrounds, or even the issues.

We can't evaluate the collars without knowing how the defenses work, what the authorities or militias or white-hat hackers could do in that month, how much AI you can fit into a cubic millimeter... I think a more useful contribution would be to take a step back and analyze just one piece at a time.


Tom Craver


Well, your comments about not knowing how defenses work etc probably apply to ANY ideas we might have on nano superweapons - so what's the point of the SuperWeapons page, if not to try to get some idea of what might be possible?

I'm sure that there are many variations on the Collar, some of which may be more efficient.

However, I think you're missing part of the point - that the Collar network would leverage natural human intelligence - meaning that the Collar network could be done well prior to development of human-level AI.

Because the Collar controls (rather than merely kills) humans, it can leverage human transport and communication systems, through its victims. The first 100 people Collared could be made to fly to nations all around the world, so that the infection appears to strike everywhere at once, even after it is detected and a means is found to detect Collared individuals.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

I guess I'm arguing that when talking about superweapons, we should stick to a time when we do know how defenses work--ie, soon after the development of MNT, when the targeted side will not have it or will have very preliminary versions. Later on, it's too hard to decide whether a weapon is a superweapon. And I think it could be argued that if we survive the imbalanced phase, we will have other problems than a sudden massive strike.

The Collar could indeed leverage transport systems; I hadn't thought about that. But I don't think it could leverage human intelligence. Hitler found out that slaves don't make good scientists; they sandbagged every step of the way. Unless you want to postulate thought-reading--in which case we'd have AI, or at least IA, and the field would shift so greatly that there's no point in talking about the weapons aspect--then the collar could only observe emotions and actions.

Hm. The collar might tweak neurochemistry to make converts rather than slaves. But converts don't make the best scientists either; their ideology demands that they ignore problems created by their ideology; this mindset is what led to Chernobyl. ("Our Soviet reactor is completely safe!") But converts sure make great footsoldiers.

If you roll back the time a decade or so, and drop the bit about getting through unspecified defenses (and then you can drop the personal-contact restriction), then you can ask whether a behavior-mod implant counts as a superweapon. I think that's a much more useful question. It can be answered on the basis of logistics (delivery and communications) and neurochemistry. And I don't know the answer.

After that simpler question is answered, that'll make a good foundation for thinking about the original question.


Tom Craver

Chris: I suggest you replace the page with a general page linking to pages for at least two timeframes:

Military applications early in the nano age, where an imbalance of possession of nanotech may exist.
-- Sub-discussion of whether some "easy to implement" superweapon will be possible in this period that would allow the smallest nation (if they alone had nanotech) to defy or conquer the most powerful other nation; or if the potential imbalance is strictly due to high productivity in producing more conventional or modestly enhanced weapons.
-- Probably assume a full imbalance period of 1 year (use it or lose it), and a leading nation vs following nation imbalance of no more than a 3 year technology lead. That puts constraints on time available to design and test and use new weapon systems. E.g. creating a flock of micro-UAVs that are human directed is probably realistic - but analysis is necessary to estimate how effective they'd be - they sound to limited to be considered a superweapon.

Longer term speculation on offensive and defensive technologies, strategies, countermeasures.
-- The Collar would belong here, though there might be a variation that would apply to the early nano era - I'll have to think about that.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

I've added a new page, "Mature Nanotech Weapons", to cover longer term speculations. I moved your "Collared" section there.


I've changed the wording at the top of the Superweapon page to indicate that it's for short-term imbalances.


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