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« Security Worries | Main | Nanotechnology Change »

October 28, 2004

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Joe

"If one nation (or bloc of nations) takes the lead, it could have a significant destabilizing effect on the geopolitical balance of power"

I smell USA all over this one.

Karl Gallagher

If the USA takes the lead in MNT we just get a continuation of today's more-or-less unipolar world. If some other nation takes the lead and attempts to displace the USA as sole superpower it could get messy.

Chris Phoenix, CRN


I'll agree with Karl, even to the extent of assuming that was what Mike meant: if a non-US nation (or block of nations) takes the lead, it could significantly destabilize things.

Today, the US is determined not to be displaced or even rivaled. But AFAIK neither the US government nor US businesses are working on the technology that would let the US keep their lead.

So what happens if the US government realizes they're about to lose their military edge? Suppose, for example, that some country in Asia comes out with a nanofactory five years from now. And the government starts a rapid weapons R&D program. And our spies report (two months later) that they are beta-testing a small networked air platform (SNAP) that will give them air superiority. Including the ability to destroy large missiles wholesale during boost phase. And the country is stockpiling hydrocarbons and building cooling towers in a way that suggests they plan to mass-produce (something) soon.

Does anyone of any political stripe think the US would sit back and let that happen? Does anyone see an action the US could take other than preemptive violence? Would we be in any position to negotiate or interact on any grounds other than nuclear?

Chris

Chris Phoenix, CRN


Mike, you forgot a major source of resistance: resistance to research that competes with established economic interests, including established research projects. That one is very strong in the U.S.

Chris

Michael Vassar

I don't think that the US government could get away with a pre-emptive attack on a US allie such as South Korea, Japan, or Taiwan, especially with the public less than convinced of the feasibility of MNT. China is Nuclear. I suppose a fabricated war with North Korea could be started to provoke them into attacking South Korea or Japan if the US was really Machiavellian, but governments aren't usually that quick thinking.
Anyway, my question stands. Can anyone name *Any* revolutionary technology since the beginning of the space race that was first developed by any country other than the US. Likewise, does anyone think that MNT will be easier to develop 20 years from now than Sputnik was to develop in the late 50s?

Brett Bellmore

"Likewise, does anyone think that MNT will be easier to develop 20 years from now than Sputnik was to develop in the late 50s?"

MNT represents a higher level of complexity that the first satalite launch, but should require far less in the way of material resources to accomplish. And, yes, I think that twenty years from now, MNT will probably be an accomplished fact, based on the current state of technology, and the rate it's progressing.

Michael Vassar

I meant assuming it isn't accomplished fact. Call that ten years from now if you don't want to throw in a large fudge factor. I think that if everything went right and adequate funding was given today 5 years might be realistic. Given that everything never goes right, 20-30 seems more likely to me.

Karl Gallagher

Chris asked: Does anyone of any political stripe think the US would sit back and let that happen? Does anyone see an action the US could take other than preemptive violence? Would we be in any position to negotiate or interact on any grounds other than nuclear?

No, yes, sure.

Simple approach: "Nice gadget. I'll pay $10,000,000,000 for exclusive North American distribution rights." Perfectly legal by anyone's standards.

Sneaky approach: "Hear ye, hear ye! Anyone presenting data sufficent to duplicate Gadget X to an embassy or agency of the US government shall receive $100,000,000 in cash or goods." Legal domestically, breaks international IP treaties, but doesn't hurt anybody except aspiring defectors who don't make it.

Cold War approach: "General X, we understand you're very concerned about the direction your nation is taking. I assure that we would provide covert support for any actions you need to take, and will recognize your new government immediately."

Tom Clancy approach: "Hey, hear about that factory explosion in X?" "Yep. Well, accidents happen. Guess they didn't have all the bugs worked out of their new gadget."

Diplomatic approach: "Minister X, this is a lovely map of the world here. I have a couple of magic markers with me. I'm sure we can work out a reasonable compromise."

Note that all five could be pursued simultaneously.

Karl Gallagher

resistance to research that competes with established economic interests, including established research projects. That one is very strong in the U.S.

True, but not powerful enough to prevent other people from trying to pursue it. Zyvex and similar companies are probably our best bet for getting MNT domestically.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Karl, if Zyvex is our best bet for getting MNT domestically, we're probably not going to get it. Nothing against Zyvex--but they're small, they are busy working on MEMS, and they recently let both Merkle and Freitas go. They may produce useful enabling technologies, but I don't see them getting MM.

Michael, I don't know how hard it was to accomplish Sputnik. A billion? Ten years from now, MM may be harder than Sputnik, but probably not much, and quite possibly a lot easier. Twenty years from now, I'm sure it'll be so easy that someone will have done it. Will the US have gotten its thumb out of its fundament and started working on it in time?

As to breakthrough technologies developed outside the US: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. It looks like stem cells may be the first example.

Chris

Michael Vassar

Past performances aren't all we have to go on when estimating future results, but they are a very large part of what we have to go on. I think Sputnik probably cost more, for the expensive equiment, but required less intelligently managed man-power from extremely intelligent scientists and engineers. (to hammer an old point, MNT needs more engineers)

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Five years ago, I thought that MM would need 100 world-class engineers and researchers in a variety of disciplines. I might have been right--at the time.

Today, I think a fast MM project would need world-class leadership. But I don't think it needs world-class researchers anymore. Enough of the architecture has been filled in, and enough enabling technologies developed, that "highly competent" should be enough in almost every position.

I can think of at least two approaches (one wet, one dry) for building dry sub-micron complex shapes (probably sufficient for robotics). And at least one pathway from there to diamond mechanosynthesis demos--in addition to the direct scanning-probe mechanosynthesis approach recently outlined by Freitas. From there to Merkle fabricators is just a matter of time and ordinary R&D.

And that's not counting the wet-robot approach. I have a speculation or two on how to bootstrap wet robots to building bucky-structures. (From which you could probably build diamondoid.)

So I don't think it'll be hard to find the brains. Just the will.

Chris

Evelyn

You do have a good point there Karl. I would rather have the USA take over instead of anyone else, that's for sure.

mark

Lets hope noone takes over.

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