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« RepRap: Machines building machine parts | Main | Law and Nanotechnology »

March 19, 2005


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jim moore

Your graph is backwards. The graph is "saying" that 6 billion people make >40,000 $ per year.

Mike Treder, CRN

Oops, you're right, Jim. Although it's actually their graph, and not ours. But I'll fix our version and also notify them. Thanks for the catch!

Mike Treder, CRN

It's fixed.

Karl Gallagher

The line used to be flat, because everyone was a dirt-poor hunter-gatherer. Then some people figured out how to create wealth in the form of easily found food, became farmers, and one end of the curve got higher. As more inventions came along there was a feedback effect, so those with more wealth could accumulate even more.

What's keeping the people at the low end of the curve from improving their state isn't how much the rich people have. The problem is their local elites, who use stasis or kleptocracy to maintain their own priviliged position. Nanotechnology won't change that.

Canadian Poor

I am currently making about $3000 a year.
This according to the Interative Rich site makes
me very rich.

What is not being taken into account is that I live in Canada.
This means that I cannot afford the basic necessaties of life.
I have bad teeth and need dental work but cannot
afford it.

I also need new glasses but cannot afford those either.
(6 years ago I paid for my own dental care and
I am neither a drug addict of a drunk. I am simply
part of the hidden and ignored group in Canada who
assumed that the Canadian system was fair and just.

I have unfortunately found out to my profound
disappointment that Canada is an increasingly
corrupt and dishonest society.

I recommend anyone thinking to come to Canada to think
again. Go elsewhere where there is a more honest system.

Yet 6 years ago, I was in the top 10% in income and
earnings and had great job that contributed
much to the Canadian economy.

Guess what happened?

The problem is their local elites, who use dishonesty and myth to maintain their own priviliged position.

If not emmigrating to Canada you will add wealth to
some other less oppressive country that
uses secrecy to prevent the truth about the
corruption here from being public known.

That will help improve the world. Unjust governents should fail. Help it happen here. Stay away.

I assumed that Canada reqarded hard work and intelligence - I was wrong.

Richard Jones

It's always good to compare one's situation as a privileged member of a western country with the much worse plight of most of the rest of the world. But there are a couple of statements you make that I have to disagree with. You say "the current trend is towards more disparity, not less" - this is simply not true, at least when you are looking, as this graph does, at worldwide inequality of individual incomes. That inequality peaked around 1980, and has been trending downwards ever since, largely as a result of fast growth in China and India. (Note that this isn't inconsistent with the fact that income inequality both between countries and within countries is probably still growing).

I note also that you now say that molecular manufacturing isn't just possible in ten years, but likely. Of course, I think this statement is absurd, and so should you, by now, but maybe it's not worth pressing that point with what's obviously, on this issue, a faith-based organisation.

Tom Craver

I guess I'll look like an ogre here - but I always wonder if these comparisons are based only on monetary income, or include the value of goods they provide for themself by farming or building their own home. Not that it'd change the graph significantly.

The difference in income ultimately comes from the leverage of energy resources by machines that gather resources and convert them into products with ever decreasing human input. That'll be true in the Molecular Manufacturing era as well - I suspect if you want to use MM to break out of the current situation, a solar powered wish box is pretty much required.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

[RETRACTION: This post was the result of simple but unfortunate late-night confusion. It is incorrect. See below for explanation. --Chris]

Hm, I think "likely" by ten years may have been a careless overstatement. I think our published position is that it's likely within 15 years and very likely by 20 years from now.

I do think that if a group started today, funded with maybe $5-10 million per year for a combination of thinking and early R&D, they would have a pretty good chance (maybe 1 in 3) of figuring out an easier way to do MM so that they could achieve it in 10 years (maybe with additional funding toward the end). That's without building a lot of new tools--just tweaking and combining the tools we have in creative ways.

And if a group started a while ago, they might already be pretty close. I would not bet my life that it can't happen within five years. Would you?


Philip Moriarty


I do think that if a group started today, funded with maybe $5-10 million per year for a combination of thinking and early R&D, they would have a pretty good chance (maybe 1 in 3)...

Chris, comments similar to that above (and those in the preceding post) are what convinced me that continuing a debate with you/ CRN on the viability of molecular manufacturing is ultimately pointless. Just how do you justify the "1 in 3" probability you cite?! Why not "1 in 100" or "1 in 1E8" or, indeed, "1 in 2"? Why pluck figures like these out of the air? It's unscientific and unconvincing. (And please don't use the tired rebuttal of "well, I never said that there was an actual 1 in 3 probability...").

Richard's comment above re. the faith inherent in CRN's position on molecular manufacturing is well made.


Chris Phoenix, CRN

RETRACTION: I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote the previous post. Actually, I do -- I simply got temporarily confused between "10 years away" and "2010." (I'm slightly number-dyslexic.)

Mike was right. We do say that molecular manufacturing is "likely" by 2015. And in fact, I'm the one who pushed for such a strong statement.

When trying to estimate the timeline, I think about three main factors. One is how long it'll take to get to a basic digital molecular design and construction platform. The second is how rapidly a powerful MM capability could be bootstrapped from that. The third is how much energy people will put into developing it.

I've always thought that bootstrapping could be very fast, and I've seen nothing to change that opinion.

Achieving the takeoff point depends on creativity and enabling technologies, and I've seen a lot of advancement just in the past year; I think we could get to a basic takeoff point in the next few years.

The energy put into developing MM depends on politics and opinions, not science. I'm expecting a major shift there in the next year or two.

So I think we'll see a very rapid development to a very high level of capability. And I do think it's likely that within ten years we'll see major practical impacts coming from products manufactured with general-purpose molecular manufacturing equipment.


Hal Finney

As long as we're pulling probabilities out of a hat, I'd be curious about Philip's and/or Richard's opinions about the probability that the Feynmann Grand Prize will have its conditions met by, say, 2020? This requires building 32 copies each of a miniature robot arm and a mechanical adder, which would seem to require a sophisticated molecular manufacturing capability, http://www.foresight.org/GrandPrize.1.html. Is this something for which you could give a numerical probability estimate, or is that just too far out even to hazard a guess?

michael vassar

It is entirely legitimate to simply make up probabilities, but a serious aspiring rationalist should also keep track of how frequencies of occurance match past stated probabilities and attempt to continuously move in the direction of accuracy. Ultimately, we all start our inquiry by making up probabilities. The better thinkers among us don't end there though.


Canadian poor. No disability and no substance abuse. If able to work fulltime. Starbucks / MacDonalds / Office Depot etc... $6-10/hour. If fulltime, 2000 hours for $12000 to $20000/year. Understaffed volunteer army wages are $20,000+/year. How can an able bodied person who wants to work hard in the developed countries not make $12000+/year ? I can understand that someone with particular skills and education would forego a survival job to keep working in say info tech.

Graph numbers and statistics seems a bit low. It indicates that 1% of 6.5 billion people make over $47,000. This would be 65 million. The united states, Japan, Western Europe, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong have a combined population of about 650 million. The per capita income for those countries averages to about $25,000-39,000/year.


I'm a little wary about claims that MM has the potential to make the world a "better" place. There has been enough industrial capacity to supply basic survival necessities and thus, fully develop our world's intellectual capital, for a few decades. It hasn't happened, though. I don't see how concentrating more power into members of political and military institutions most likely to achieve an MM 1st, is going to do anything other than exacerbate the current dynamic. In any exponential curve, all of the action occurs near the very end. Any initial lead in engineering expertise, money, nano-tools or whatever, will be quickly lost to a late-comer with superior resources. Those latecomers will likely be simultaneous crash Manhattan-programmes, none of which would likely get the necessary lead-time to sterilize other programmes world-wide; not that I'd trust anyone but ascetic buddhists to do this unmegalomaniacally. For now, I'm focussing all my efforts on achieving a space elevator ASAP. It's not without risks of its own, but at least if China and USA or China and India start throwing nanoweapons at eachother, maybe they'll confine it to earth and some members of humanity will survive. Ps. The 1st MM should yield AI capable heuristics after a few weeks or months at most, after that, we won't have to worry about the dangers of nanotechnology anymore, it will ALL be out of our hands.


BTW anonymous, there are more factors than fitness level in attaining FT employment in Canada, and I doubt all but the worst forms of substance abuse detract from performance in unskilled labour, they may even be beneficial in some circumstances. Even something as basic as not qualifying for ID could land you in a homeless shelter and unemployable, quicker than you think here. Most longterm permanent employment is resultant of one's social network and family contacts; factors not usually achieved by hardwork.

Mike Treder, CRN

Richard Jones commented: You say "the current trend is towards more disparity, not less" - this is simply not true, at least when you are looking, as this graph does, at worldwide inequality of individual incomes. That inequality peaked around 1980, and has been trending downwards ever since, largely as a result of fast growth in China and India.

That may depend on who you talk to. Consider, for example, this excerpt from a presentation by Juan Enriquez, director of the Harvard Business School's Life Science Project:

In 1750, a person working in the world’s richest country was about five times wealthier than someone working in the poorest one. As long as un-mechanized agriculture was the primary basis for generating wealth, no one could generate dramatically more wealth than anyone else. . . As late as 1840, the two global behemoths, India and China, represented 40% of global trade. Then the rules changed. We moved first toward a mechanized economy, then into a knowledge-based global economy. Others did not. Today, the two billion people living in China and India represent less than 4% of global trade, and the difference between what one person produces in the world’s richest and poorest countries is no longer five to one – it is 390 to one. And before long, this gap will reach 1000 to one.

response to cdnprodigy and some other info. I referred to fitness level and basic nonskilled / low skill work in response to Canadian poor's posting. With education and skills better opportunities are available. Lack of ID (illegal immigration, criminal etc...), or other problems such as health etc... then yes that would result unemployability and then possibly homelessness. Here is some stats and info on help for the homeless in canada There is similar info and lists of actual shelters for the homeless here Canadian government services are listed here Here is the canadian governments site on homelessness and assistance programs and shelters There is a social safety net, if one has need of it then go to the public library for free internet access or to a government office or a local church and avail yourself of the help. for those that need eyeglasses then check out goodwill Of course, if one is able to work then that is the better way to go.

BTW: The stats and analysis of money should take into account purchasing power parity.

Brian Wang

Earth Policy institute has non-nanotechnology based suggestions and an assessment of the ecological and resource problems the world is facing.

I think bets should be hedged. Nanotechnology should be pursued agressively. Aggressive pursuit of efficiency enhancing technologies (diesel/hybrid cars, efficient buildings and lighting etc...) and energy production (nuclear, new solar cells, wind etc...) as well as more sustainable policies.

Richard Jones

Mike, your quotation in no way contradicts the assertion I made, carefully worded to say that global inequality in individual income has been falling, not rising, for the last 20 years or so. Certainly this kind of inequality was much greater both in 1980 and 2005 than it was in 1750 or 1840 - but that doesn't affect my assertion that it is less in 2005 than it was in 1980. And this isn't at all affected by what your quote says about the gap between richest and poorest countries. Remember, I specifically said I was talking about inequality of individual incomes, because that's the issue the web-site you pointed at addressed. This is obviously not the same as the question of whether inequality between countries is increasing. The statistics for individual income are very different from the statistics for countries; the former are highly weighted by the fact that two very large countries, accounting for a big fraction of the earth's population - China and India - have recently been growing very fast. There's a very careful discussion of all this in Martin Wolf's book, "Why Globalisation Works" (which, incidentally, is a very good read even if you are inclined to disagree with the premise implied in the title).

I think these distinctions are important. Firstly, it's a good general principle to be as accurate as we can, in economics just as much as science. Secondly, the simple-minded view that everything is just getting worse obscures the fact that we are now living through a process of massive historical significance - the potential restoration of China and India to the positions they held a few hundred years ago as leading world economies. This process is uncertain in outcome, it will both have negative and positive impacts, but it is world-changing in importance.

Finally, I think too much relentless pessimism about the prospects for the world predispose you to an unhealthily apocalyptic worldview. The problems of moving towards a world where everyone has a decent standard of living, sustainably maintained, are daunting, but we need to be trying to find political and technological solutions to our problems now, not waiting for some miracle to occur. You will, no doubt, bitterly resent the comparison, but there's a chilling article by Bill Moyers in last weeks New York Review of Books about the growth of the evangelical world-view in US politics and the effect of this on public policy and the environment. "The Rapture credo is summed up in 5 words "The World can not be Saved" ... why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the Rapture?" From where I'm sitting, there are uncomfortable parallels between this view and the idea that MNT will save the world in the techno-rapture of the Singularity. Both views, conveniently, relieve one of any obligation to try and improve the condition of the world as it is now.

Mike Treder, CRN

Richard, thanks for your extensive comments. I agree with you that the distinction between average individual incomes and inequality between countries is an important one. I also agree that it's a good general principle to be as accurate as we can. CRN strives to uphold that principle.

If you are implying, however, that we take a "simple-minded view that everything is just getting worse", then I must take exception. Your further statement about our "unhealthily apocalyptic worldview" is also inaccurate and unsupportable.

In fact, in a recent essay posted on the World Changing blog, rhetorician Dale Carrico emphasizes a significantly different opinion about CRN's views:

Now, I want to be clear about this: I am not suggesting that Treder and other technoprogressive nanotechnology enthusiasts (of whom I am one, after all) are frustrating the contemporary address of these problems by projecting their eventual solution onto some hypothetical more technologically sophisticated future. There are a lot of market libertarian technophiles who like to handwave about abstract indefinite futures in which injustice will somehow evaporate so as to help justify their own ugly indifference to injustice today. But I know for a fact that Treder, like most technoprogressives, is both enthusiastic and insistent about the use of whatever tools we have at our disposal today to address the problems that confront us today.

So your fear, Richard, that we are "waiting for some miracle to occur" is not borne out by the facts and is quite unfounded.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Richard, who has the view that "MNT will save the world in the techno-rapture of the Singularity"? I hope you don't think that view is ours, and I really hope you're not trying to tarnish us by association.

I have said that MNT can solve practical problems that probably nothing else can solve. The greatly increased throughput of smaller manufacturing tools implies that we could do planet-scale engineering in months instead of decades. That may be necessary if some major component of the global ecology gets into a vicious cycle. You live in England; how do you feel about the possibility of losing the Gulf Stream?

As to the Singularity, CRN is if anything trying to avoid a Singularity. We'd like to keep things just a little bit guidable (controllable would be impractical and probably result in missing too many opportunities).


Richard Jones

Mike, Chris, you're right, I shouldn't have associated you with the idea of a techno-rapture and I apologise for that. I'm very grateful to Mike for pointing me at the Carrico article, though, which I like a lot, and with which I find a lot to agree with. Its central point is the same as mine; many of the world's most pressing problems need political and technological solutions now, not in a post-MNT future. Malaria can be addressed now by cheap mosquito nets with controlled-release insecticide coatings. These need to overcome technical problems which are basically applications of incremental nanotechnology, economic problems of getting the incentives to do the necessary R&D to the people who know how to do it, and political problems in getting them to the people who need it.

Chris asks how I feel about losing the Gulf Stream. The effect of this on the UK would be very far from the most serious consequence of global climate change, but I don't think the solution to this problem is "planet-scale engineering" enabled by MNT. The problem is much more urgent; it has technological dimensions in developing non-carbon emitting sources of energy, and political dimensions, in persuading those responsible for the heaviest emissions to moderate their appetites. Holding our a mirage that there's going to be a painless, MNT-enabled solution any time soon seems to me to be irresponsible, to say the least.


You guys at CRN are doing a great job; I appreciate that you are taking the time to respond to public inqueries. MNT, in responsible hands, could realize the panacea of solutions often described, and so much more. But in our current geo-political state of affairs, I can't see how, even if a responsible party achieves MNT 1st; how it will maintain control. The problems above (malaria, climate change, lack of economic development) aren't technical or economic in nature. They run much deeper. Malaria capsules are cheap, global warming affects every nation with a coastline and every person who consumes grains or grain-fed animals, global education and employment acredition standards would make more pie for all. The entities responsible for this dichotomy will also have the first opportunity to use MNT to manufacture weapons, and might remake the world in their own dubya-istic or communist image. It would take a few weeks to use replicating nano instruments to sterilize the world of other programmes; if other entities achieve MNT before this, their 1st rational action would be to manufacture their own offensive weapons for defensive safety. If the world miraculously unites in its assembler efforts, AI algorithms will still be very easy to fashion and self-improving, limited only by the speed of the assembler. A singularity isn't inherentently a bad thing, it is still an ordered sequence of events we can plan for. But I think the critical measure is the moral intelligence of those likely to first utilize MNT, and it is lacking in our world today.


Sorry Mr. Treder, ignore previous e-mail; didn't realize most of my concerns were addressed on another thread. Very very rough timeline for a MNT, assuming atoms for the basic 10X10nm "nano-part" http://www.jetpress.org/volume13/Nanofactory.htm
must be individually coded in a quantum computer (176000 atoms), and assuming the number of q-bits harnessed follows Moore's Law (which it has, doubling evry 18 months very early in the game), then a sufficiently powerful q-computer should be ready to troubleshoot an assembler sometime around 2024. Plus build time minus last minute "Manhattan Project" interest. We still have lots of time, if atoms must be individually coded?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Richard, "The problem is much more urgent; it has technological dimensions in developing non-carbon emitting sources of energy, and political dimensions, in persuading those responsible for the heaviest emissions to moderate their appetites. Holding our a mirage that there's going to be a painless, MNT-enabled solution any time soon seems to me to be irresponsible, to say the least."

I don't see that persuading the heaviest emitters to moderate their appetites is a very reliable solution. And without some kind of fast, self-contained exponential manufacturing, I don't see us inventing a carbon-free technology and installing it worldwide in less than three or four decades--at the earliest. And even if that happens, it could take a lot more effort to reverse the damage already done--effort that would be very hard to muster if our tech base is still based on clunky products built by low-throughput semi-automated machines using mineral resources.

A solution based on molecular manufacturing would not be painless. There'd be all sorts of scientific and political squabbling over who got to control the climate. But MNT will give us fully automated high-throughput manufacturing based on covalent light-element materials and making high-performance products. That should make it inexpensive to build as much of a product as you wanted. And rapid prototyping of final designs should speed up the design process by at least an order of magnitude.

Why is it irresponsible to talk about this? Do you think MNT won't work at all? Or that it'll take longer than fifty years? Or that something fundamental (but not yet quantified) will overcome the massive scaling-law advantages of nanoscale machinery?


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