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« Law and Nanotechnology | Main | Nanofactories A Few Years Away? »

March 20, 2005

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Brett Bellmore

"Today, failing to use anesthetics in dentistry and surgery would be unthinkable."

Funny, I just "unthinkably" had some dental work done last week without any painkillers. Well, it was just a filling, perhaps you had something more in mind.

John B

Quoth Chris, The best answer I can think of, in this late-night philosophical ramble, is to work on the concrete problems first. If we can achieve a world where lack of wealth is no longer a cause of scarcity and tragedy, then perhaps the perception of money can start to shift. Imagine money as a tool of enrichment rather than competition--something that people bother to accumulate only when they have a good place to invest it, whether that be art, science, or exploration.

Since when has wealth been the only factor regarding scarcity? There's only so much Maui beachfront. Unless you're talking about 'making more', in which case you've set up a perceptible dichotomy - the 'real thing' versus 'everything else'.

As far as wealth linked to tragedy, wealth is also linked to joy, both for the self and often for others as well. Wealth IMO is but a tool, it has no 'good' or 'bad' intrinsically associated with it. Rather, moral distinctions can be drawn only in how it is used.

*shrug* As far as money not being used for competition, I cannot conceive of such a thing. If it's of use, some mentalities will want it for its own sake. Others will see a goal, and will struggle to gain the money - or other markers of value - to attain that goal. Hence, conflict.

Unless you have 'perfect wealth' - the ability to fund and support each and every want of all members of society - you'll have to make hard choices between which goals to support and which not to.

Note that scarcity of raw materials, positions, power, etc may well doom the dream of 'perfect wealth'.

I hate being a pessimist, but unbounded optimism tends to rub me raw.

-John

Karl Gallagher

The one scarcity that can never go away is positions at the top of the status hierarchy. Lots of ambitious people are unhappy because they don't have more whatever than their competitors do. If we can start a meme of "the highest status people make do with the least" you'd see famous actors living in tiny Beverly Hills garretts while wearing burlap tunics. :-)

Chris Phoenix, CRN


Brett, I think you're unusual. Were you trying to save money, or prove you could take the pain, or do you just really hate needles?

John, my optimism is bounded. I'm aware that there will still be scarcity. But scarcity in beachfront property does not threaten anyone's survival. Today, money is used both for survival (at one end of the wealth distribution curve) and for keeping score in competition (at the other end). That dual use causes problems.

Money can also used for allocating scarce resources for productive purposes. Since different people have different views of what's productive, there would still be competition for limited resources.

I'm suggesting two things. First, I think the world would be better if money or lack thereof is no longer coupled to survival--if poverty is no longer a cause of tragedy and pain. (In the long run, this may require low birthrate, but improving people's lives seems to reduce birthrate anyway.)

Second, I'm asking: If money were decoupled from survival, would this cause a shift in the application/purpose of money? Today, money can be used for luxuries, necessities, scorekeeping, and investment. It can be used productively (invested) or unproductively (and in this sense, mere survival is not productive.)

If money were no longer needed for necessities--no longer had that security-blanket association--would that cause a shift in its perceived importance and purpose? Today, we think of Bill Gates's billions as an entity in themselves. Perhaps if money were not associated with scarcity and survival, we would start to evaluate Gates, not by how rich he is, but by what he's using the money for. And perhaps that attitude would start to spread to the people who have the money.

You wrote, "Wealth IMO is but a tool, it has no 'good' or 'bad' intrinsically associated with it. Rather, moral distinctions can be drawn only in how it is used." I think we agree that this is the ideal. What I'm saying is that the current association of money and survival has created lots of "good" and "bad" associations that seem intrinsic. And I'm asking whether decoupling money from survival could get closer to the ideal where money is "just a tool" to everyone, and we don't envy Bill Gates's billions any more than we envy Joe Smith's bulldozer.

Gates, of course, would still have to work to keep his money from being acquired by better investors--there's your competition. But if I didn't want to play that game, I might not care about the people who do. And if I didn't need money to survive, I might not feel poor in relation to Gates.

Chris

John B

Chris says, ...scarcity in beachfront property does not threaten anyone's survival. If there's a big enough brouhaha over such property, to the point of a war, (as in the Falkland Islands, from some points of view) then it certainly threatens people's survival. And one way we humans seem to have found to deal with massive intersocial problems is just that - war.

Continuing on, Chris writes, Money can also used for allocating scarce resources for productive purposes. Since different people have different views of what's productive, there would still be competition for limited resources.

I don't see how this differs from my position - as long as there's disparate ideas within the human race, there'll be competition for limited resources. If we agree, great, but reading the rest of your response, I'm pretty sure we don't agree.

As far as providing the basics of survival without cost to the world, that's a truely laudable goal, and one I hope you succeed at. However, what you define as the basics others may well disagree with. Do the basics include the means to prove adulthood in each culture, be they a lion to kill, cattle to herd, a car & apartment, land to farm? Do they include a family life? Do they include required medical treatments - and if so, required by whom?

LOTS of incredibly thorny issues to deal with in just that goal, as truely laudable as it is. I dunno if they're soluable or not - but I would expect that you'd have rather more difficulty with the social issues than the technical issues, perhaps even more social problems than even economic difficulties.

Would money, decoupled from survival, change money's application? I rather doubt it. Your point that money is currently used for three things - survival, fulfilling wants, and as counters in a social pecking order - indicate that there's still 2 major reasons for people to still get nasty over money.

Additionally, given that the current power structure is used to dealing on terms of money=power, I'd expect that there'd be dramatic effort needed to change this even if the underlying survival question were overcome. Because then you're not dealing with biological survival, but rather in something many people take equally hard - social or power survival.

Chris wrote, But if I didn't want to play that game, I might not care about the people who do.

You may not want to play the game today, and many people instead play different games - how to game the system, between welfare, illegal activity, or other "non-productive" roles. Still others have a Goal that drives them beyond the need for monitary aquisition. Yet, even so, each of these still falls back on money as a means, either as a counter of status or as a way to achieve their goal.

(*shrug* To be clear about a hotbutton issue - I'm not saying everyone on welfare is cheating the system - I think the majority needs the help. But I *do* think that some welfare recipients *are* gaming the system.)

I think we're talking around the issue.

If we don't have physical survival requiring money, I think social striving and limited resources will still engender the degree of struggle that can cause social upset.

If we don't have 'money', something else will be used to keep social status. Maybe access to parties, or physical access to "desirables" and the ability to scren out "undesirables", or the right to vote, or so many other things it's not even funny. And each will cause a dichotomy between those who have these things and those who don't.

At least, this is based on my understanding of society and the human animal as we currently have it. Change the critter, change the problems. One such problem of course being making the current critter accept the changes.

-John

Brett Bellmore

Depending on how the requirements of life are defined, they can't be made available for free, on a sustained basis. From a static analysis it might look possible, but dynamically, any subgroup that was willing to reproduce without limit could eventually drag us all down to the minimum subsistance level. Even access to space only delays the problem; So long as we assume there's some finite limit to the speed you can travel, the resources available grow only as a cubic function of time, and must eventually be overwhelmed by ANY exponential function.

There have to be some limits to reproduction, then, to contrain it to comport with the available resources. They might be explicit limits, or implicit, but they have to be there. Scarcity is implicit in physical law as we know it today, and simulating it's absence is a recipie for eventual disaster.

Karl Gallagher

Brett, the demographics of the industrialized world indicate we won't breed ourselves into poverty again. Maybe we'll evolve into a faster-breeding species as we get wealthier but right now wealth is depressing birth rates.

Egg Syntax

On the topics of pain, tragedy, unhappiness & emerging technology, don't miss David Pearce's excellent site (around since '96 or so), the Hedonistic Imperative ( http://www.hedweb.com ). Pearce later cofounded the World Transhumanist Association, which (like CRN) is deeply concerned with the ethics of emerging tech.

Brett Bellmore

Oh, I agree that the overall effect of wealth is to suppress birth rates. My point is simply that any subgroup which DOES reproduce above the rate of replacement will eventually dominate the society, at least numerically.

todd

These are all very interesting comments and I would just like to say I agree with practically everyone. The issue of molecular manufacturing and its impact on society post MM is a drawnout and relevant discussion. We're left with many possible outcomes as to the effect the technology will have on money. And I would not disagree with any of the assessments given above. I would like to however, it on the timing. We have stated in the past we will have only perhaps six months time after the first self-deprecating assembler is produced in a lab before we have a full-fledged replicator capable of reproducing itself. Once we have a tabletop device capable of self replication we're left with only the software variable as to its capability of producing useful products.

Although the software variable amongst software writers could perhaps extend out several years from the initial deployment of the replicators we cannot count on this effect occurring. That is to say we cannot sit back and hold that the product deployment occurs slowly over time and allows for transition of wealth and more importantly jobs to new sources and a continuation of the current status. It is my opinion that we will see a much more dramatic and radical change occurring within literally weeks after the deployment of the technology in the form of a molecular manufacturing device.

Let us look at it this way in order to have a fully functional tabletop device capable of self replication so many other variables have to be in place that we see a situation where the technology needs to be significantly advanced. If one was to comment that the first generation tabletop MM would in some way be less capable the statement would seem unlikely to be consistent with the truth. So I would comment that we are looking at a profound and sudden change in the fabric of society. There will undoubtedly be many motivations by many individuals and groups to utilize the technology to their damage notwithstanding the military implications we see also a situation where the humanitarian organizations will wish to utilize this technology and will be perfectly justified in doing so. The underlying problem to this utilization is the worldwide knowledge of the existence of the technology and its profound use in solving problems. We have in the past discussed water purification and mosquito netting as humanitarian uses of the technology and the relative impact this will have on the standard of living of those some 30% of the society worldwide. We in the developed countries should not and hopefully will not turn our backs on the developing world and its needs.

In general this is a Pandora's box discussion we need the technology to make changes to benefit the world and its peoples. But as soon as we let the technology out individuals of the world will demand more of it. And it is this demand that the stabilizes the status quo and undermines the conditions that uphold wealth and power. I have stated several times in the past fundamentally molecular manufacturing represents freedom. This freedom extends to every facet of life to the individual. Once the technology is in one's possession and a list of even a few thousand useful products has been established. Freedom is achieved, we have fundamental variables for the sustainability of life food clothing shelter transportation these are all elements that will be available in quantities post molecular manufacturing. Only the food variable is questionable due to the timeframe involved with deployment and the delay in production of greenhouses and the additional delay in the growing of quantities of food.
The issue of money and wealth is undermined by the shortened timeframe post replicator. In order to continue the importance of wealth or the importance of individual dollars a situation needs to be in place for people to continue to earn money. If substantial job loss occurs after deployment of replicators we see a situation where 20-30- 40% of individuals no longer can earn money and will in my opinion turned to the technology to fill in the void left by the loss of income. In but only a few months time after the loss of the job independence can be achieved utilizing molecular manufacturing. The next question becomes the impact on the rich when the poor are removed from the equation. It is my opinion that as individuals leave the status quo and become independent and free we will see a situation where the very rich steadily become poor due to the loss of revenue from the lower class not purchasing products from the upperclass.

We would almost need to do case study on the effects of what occurs when a group of purchasers stop purchasing products. To the effect this has on the seller of the products. In general is my opinion that if we have a situation such as Wal-Mart where the poorest individuals in the United States stop purchasing products from Wal-Mart sales fall and Wal-Mart is forced to react. In the first case Wal-Mart reacts by reducing store hours laying off workers and reducing services to customers. But within a very short period of time Wal-Mart will lose money and will continue to lose money attempting to maintain their position in the market. And although the Company is worth billions only a handful of individuals notwithstanding stockholders possess this money. Once Company employees are laid off and management staff is retired and stores began to close we see a situation where the great wealth that was created by the Company is dissipated. In the case of Wal-Mart I cannot speak specifically to the numbers but it is my opinion that only a few hundred individuals possess great wealth derived from this company. And once all the underlying individuals are removed we see only a handful of people which have gained substantially from the existence of this company. I am perhaps out on some sort of bizarre tangent here and I woke up my remarks short in reference to specifics and Wal-Mart.

Fundamentally my point is the concern I am expressing is in the timeframe and its effects of this technology. It is my opinion there's not enough time for any sort of smooth transition from our current state to a new era post molecular manufacturing. And our greatest concern is the effects the technology will have on the Common Man. We need to give more thought to the deployment of the technology and to stabilizing the world after the new era begins.

todd

Chris Phoenix, CRN

John, I think we're communicating pretty well, and we're close to a point where we'll just be guessing if we try to figure out "who's right." I'm not even saying "let's agree to disagree." I'm saying let's continue to play with the interesting issues, without focusing much on areas where we disagree.

Yes, people can always find a reason to be unhappy. Yes, any form of competition can turn nasty.

I started to write, "It seems to me that perception of poverty--perception of wealth imbalance--can lead to resentment of a flavor and intensity that other kinds of imbalances usually don't." I was going to give an example of someone noticing richer people and feeling poor, vs. noticing more famous people and not feeling isolated. But then I remembered that social isolation, combined with moderate persecution, can lead to Columbine-type tragedies.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the discomfort of being isolated can be alleviated by a reasonably small group or clique. There's enough social contact to go around; it's not a fixed resource. (And technology may even help isolated people to connect.) I'm not sure that striving for fame is a response to isolation.

Of course you can say right back to me: "I'm not sure that striving for money is a response to poverty." But then why do most people strive for money, while relatively few strive for fame? Maybe just because no one has invented a currency of fame (it's hard to hoard)... or maybe because it's not tied to survival.

Status is another issue. And it's an aspect of human psychology that I don't understand very well. If status-seeking is part of our basic makeup, then it may indeed be an ongoing source of conflict.

Chris

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Egg Syntax, thanks for the link to the Hedonistic Imperative website. Very interesting reading.

Brett, if we're thinking about scarcity so far in the future, we should also think about time dilation in near-light-speed travel. People who are traveling very quickly will use fewer resources per (external) time, giving them time to spread out faster relative to their resource usage.

Of course, travel at those speeds requires the annihilation of several times the rest mass, but I think that's OK.

mass frac gamma ship speed volume
0.1 1.1 1.3 2.2
1 2 3.2 32
10 11 33 36,000
100 101 303 28E6

"mass frac" is the relative fraction of your mass you burn to achieve that speed (*not* correcting for accelerating the remaining propulsion mass along with you; leave it home and use a laser).

"gamma" is time dilation.

"ship speed" is apparent number of meters per second, divided by 10^8, as seen from on board ship.

"volume" is simply the cube of the "ship speed" number.

So by spending 10 times the mass, you get far more than 10 times the volume swept out in the same shipboard time.

I got these numbers from a "Relativistic Energy" calculation page.

Chris

John B

Todd wrote some interesting stuff, including the assertion We have stated in the past we will have only perhaps six months time after the first self-deprecating assembler is produced in a lab before we have a full-fledged replicator capable of reproducing itself. Once we have a tabletop device capable of self replication we're left with only the software variable as to its capability of producing useful products.

I disagree. You're making unwarrented assumptions.

Will the first self-replicating (I assume that 'deprecating' is a typo) assembler be able to create structural materials? Power supply? Heat dissipation? Generate feedstock?

I don't think you can assume that the chemistry (mechano-, bio-, or whatever other type you choose to use) exists which can lead to all such capabilities. Can you make silicon, one of the 2 materials that seems likely for mechanochemical manipulation, perform structural roles, such as containing a high vaccum?

Even if it is possible to fill each of these roles with the same material(s) the self-reproducing assembler is made out of, can you generate the templates for all such devices or components within that 6 month period?

In other words, I rather doubt that it's going to be 6 months from a lab success at a truely astounding feat - programmed self-replication - to use in the general public. Just too many other challenges to meet to make it 'user friendly', to say nothing about security models built into the device.

-John

Karl Gallagher

Status is another issue. And it's an aspect of human psychology that I don't understand very well.

A very, very strong recommendation on this subject:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679763996/qid=1111507452/sr=2-1/ref=pd_bbs_b_2_1/102-0148303-4304174

Really, anyone wanting to talk about social organizations has to understand how people behave in hierarchies. It's like understanding bricks for masons and wood for carpenters.

John B

Chris wrote, I think we're communicating pretty well, and we're close to a point where we'll just be guessing if we try to figure out "who's right." I'm not even saying "let's agree to disagree." I'm saying let's continue to play with the interesting issues, without focusing much on areas where we disagree.

Works for me. *smile*

Chris again, I'm not sure that striving for fame is a response to isolation.

Agreed. I think that's /one/ possible motivation, but I'd be very surprised were it the sole motivation, or even present in every person.

I suspect that striving for fame is for many another way of achieving goals - a mate, respect, ease of life, ego-gratification - such that the fame is just a tool (there's that word again) in their quest. Of course, some people will probably aim for fame itself as their goal, but I wonder if they'll end up being 'successful' in any long-term sense, or will rather get caught up in the rat race.

So, one /potential/ way to remove striving - something I see as a positive net force for all its negatives - is to remove goals, either through control, helping all achieve their goals, or some other way I can't think of.

Personally, that's not someplace I think I'd like to live. Goals IMO are often best as tantilizing potentials rather than actualities, for all the difficulties that that brings about.

*shrug* And status is similar to fame or to monetary wealth - it can be a goal by itself, or more often a tool saught to achieve another goal.

How does this mesh with the initial post that all this conjecture is based off of?

IMO - and it's just that, opinion - there may well be ways to utilise technology to reduce certain social stresses. Unfortunately, technology and especially new technologies seem to have strong social stresses associated with them as well. The society that survives these stresses may be more able to handle some stresses and less able to handle others, but it is clear to me that new technologies change cultures.

One great case in point is the development of the printing press, changing the written word from rare items of great value to throw-away newspapers. Society was greatly affected by printing, even if it was a relatively slow adoption process that eventually brought it to modern standards.

With enhanced speeds of social access - something mechanochemical nano seems to promise in spades - the social stress from new applications might be horrendous, simply from the speed and shock to the social system.

One alternate is to follow the so-called luddite position of relinquishment. Unless every sophont on the planet is either in agreement or prevented from attaining the technology, I do not think this a practical response.

Another is to go ahead and let the dust fall where it may. Given the postulated social ramifications above, I again do not think this is a practical response.

I'd expect that there should be be some middle way that acknowledges the risks and benefits available via new technologies, that leads towards some IMO inevitable but survivable level of social upheaval, etc. I am *not* talking about a command economy - everything I've seen over time seems to indicate that pure command economies are as poor performers as pure capitalistic economies.

Hope this helps,

-John

Chris Phoenix, CRN

John, I kinda' agree with Todd. I don't know whether 6 months or 2 years, or maybe even 5, but by the time we can build a desktop nanofactory we'll have design tools and predesign that'll make it pretty easy to build other macro-scale products. I expect design effort and maybe even calendar time to decrease radically once we can do hourly rapid prototyping of ready-to-market designs. And the sudden vast increase in computer power will help too.

Chris

John B

Disagreement's fair - kinda expected it, actually. *wry grin* However, let's assume that the only material that can be made into a programmable atomically-precise self-replicating assembler is diamondoid. (and at that I'm being nice - it could be pure silicon crystal with hydrogen-doped faces. Not the most physically resistant structural material, in other words)

How will you generate and conduct power with just diamondoid? OK, you could conduct via mechanical means, but how do you GENERATE power via pure diamondoid? Or are you going to limit yourself to non-selfreplicating power sources for your devices?

How will you fulfill an exponential need for feedstock with just diamondoid devices? Given a reasonably pure source of atomicly rigid materials, you might be able to pull off sorting rotors, but - how do you generate that reasonably pure source in the first place, and how do you scale that source up exponentially along with the need?

Design is a non-trivial element in the delay as well, which I suspect, like 'reusable code' in the software world, will get more and more 'tricks' in the toolbox over time. However - how long did it take to develop the current toolbox of programming 'tricks' in use today? Decades? And yet that was with "rapid protoyping" available since at least the 1960's mainframes...

I'm not saying it's impossible. It might be doable in 6 months, but I rather doubt it without a Manhattan Project. It might be doable in 2-5 years, as well, and I (as a guess, mind you) wouldn't feel that bad about that prediction. Once you have the doodad that makes itself, with atomic precision, reliably - it'll happen. I just think a half a year's going awfully quick.

-JB

Brett Bellmore

Once you have the doodad that makes itself, I'm assuming that adding a library of new mechanosynthetic tools, to extend it's reach to other materials, will be a relatively straightforward project; The design/test cycle would be remarkably short, after all. You might very well be able to develop them automatically, by using genetic algorithms.

John B

Chris wrote, in part, I expect design effort and maybe even calendar time to decrease radically once we can do hourly rapid prototyping of ready-to-market designs.

A further comment, if I may - isn't this putting the cart ahead of the horse?

Don't you have to make a functioning product first before you start commercializing it? And isn't the whole product rather more than just the self-replicating device in a closed system? Does it not include the controller for the devices (unless all you want is self-replicating devices, you'll have to control them somehow, not to mention error-checking and -correction routines), most likely some sort of clean chamber for atomic precision work, power supply, coolant (unless things go real slow), feedstock transport(s)?

And that list doesn't even begin to address the user-friendly functions. Does it talk to your local desktop computer? Does it receive checksums from somewhere verifying approved templates? Does it know not to seal the opening when someone's fingers are in the way? Does it know not to pump out the air/pump in the working fluid when Timmy's pet hamster is trapped inside?

In short - I do tend to get a wee bit windy *wry grin* -first off making the whole system work is going to take time. Then goof-proofing it is also going to take time, probably at least as much in my wild-assed guess as it takes to get it working in the first case. Any security testing would be additional time.

No, 6 months isn't enough time. Probably not by a long shot.

-John

Brett Bellmore

"Does it receive checksums from somewhere verifying approved templates?"

That's one of those user unfriendly features some people want...

Are we talking kitchen appliance safety levels, or shop tool safety levels? My table saw doesn't have any interlocks like that, neither does my drill press. Come to think of it, the only kitchen appliance I've got that has any safety interlocks at all is the microwave oven...

John B

Quoth Brett, Are we talking kitchen appliance safety levels, or shop tool safety levels?

I'd think that, given the potential dangers of a high vaccum device in a household setting, you'd need a higher level than either - more along the lines of industrial manufacturing line hardware, with 'safe places' for hands and feet when big heavy hardware gets moving around. Now, how to accomplish this in a 'user friendly' manner, I don't know.

'Course, if it's not a high vaccum required for however the nanofac works, it's much less of a problem, but still, you don't want Timmy's hamster inside when it kicks off. *wry grin*

As for user friendly/unfriendly 'validation' or security routines, by whatever name, I would think that anything going out to the general public will have something along the lines, if just for IP issues. *shrug* Such is the age.

-John

Svigor

I think you're barking up the wrong tree with your statement that Americans "have no right" to tell the rest of the world to be happy with what they have. They have every right, just as I have the right to tell you to go **** yourself (okay bad example, because I don't want to tell you that, but you get the point I think).

A better way might be the "9/11" warning, that is, "why not make life better for these folks so they don't end up flying jumbo jets into your pretty skyscrapers."

In other words, instead of declaring (somewhat arrogantly imo) that America has no right to act unaltruistically, why not appeal to her enlightened self-interest?

Svigor

Brett Bellmore
Depending on how the requirements of life are defined, they can't be made available for free, on a sustained basis. From a static analysis it might look possible, but dynamically, any subgroup that was willing to reproduce without limit could eventually drag us all down to the minimum subsistance level. Even access to space only delays the problem; So long as we assume there's some finite limit to the speed you can travel, the resources available grow only as a cubic function of time, and must eventually be overwhelmed by ANY exponential function.

There have to be some limits to reproduction, then, to contrain it to comport with the available resources. They might be explicit limits, or implicit, but they have to be there. Scarcity is implicit in physical law as we know it today, and simulating it's absence is a recipie for eventual disaster.

Brett, I think you've put your finger squarely on the single most important (predictable) issue facing humankind in the coming centuries. I think most of our problems are going to be solved via the new technologies, but this whopper will replace them.

Chris P
But then I remembered that social isolation, combined with moderate persecution, can lead to Columbine-type tragedies.

Don't forget pharmaceuticals. Those boys were hopped up on goofballs.

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