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« Ubiquitous shrinking technology | Main | Long-term medicine »

September 16, 2005


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Phillip Huggan

I'm researching various international treaties. Many of them started out similiarly to CRN's track: as loose collections of like-minded NGOs. By hastening MM's arrival into mainstream engineering awareness, there will be less risk of last-minute simultaneous research efforts and a subsequent arms-race because there will be fewer players able to compete. Tool/technique development costs rise the further back in time you go. A Nanhattan starting up earlier in time than it otherwise would, would be harder to disguise. There is little argument such an administrative body would be one of the most likely to use dangerous weapons/surveillence technologies. In addition, a Nanhattan started up early would have longer to possibly contemplate using its military hedgemony with its gloves on, the way the Americans developed nukes and then did not strike the USSR with them in the early 50's as the latter was stockpiling a deterrent.

I propose 3 courses of action:
#1. Continuing to build and consolidate alliances with like-interested NGOs as partners in the search for solutions to MM problems and to build awareness of MM.
#3. Use the leverage from #1 to petition for an international treaty that would possess as its explicit aim researching the steps required in using MM to disarm the world of competing MM research (and AGI?) programmes.
I think the UN General Assembly, for all its faults, is the best forum for this. Instead of confronting actors with large beaurocracies and nuclear deterrents and the most relative geo-political power to lose, this forum allows motions to be passed (assuming they are not relating to maintenance of international peace and security, but merely of a request for further research nature) with 96 national votes for out of 191. Efforts could be pooled towards canvassing the Group of 77 nations; least developed and with the most to gain from allowing the disarm step on their own soils in exchange for MM consumer goods and consumables. There are a few dozen tiny island nations which would be very easy logistically to disarm (might not even require MM technology), with no borders, and many of which will disappear without a MM solution to climate change issues. The virtue of such a General Assembly motion is not that it will lead to a global international disarm treaty likely to actually be implemented by the 1st MM power. The virtue is that such a motion, even if it fails to pass, will introduce MM issues to a significant % of the world's population. We still have time to mature before MM arrives.
#2. I'd recommend that a specific protocol for disarming the very easiest jurisdictions from MM research programmes be devised. Something much more basic than utility fog. I envision a sensor grid around a small island's borders, or monitoring its port(s) and airport(s), and a 2D plane of MM drills and mosquitoes, or particle beams, or whatever, sweeping across an island perhaps some distance below the surface as well, from north to south tip. The very simplest MM products and least invasive effective techniques should be used, along with repeated sweep interval estimates of as long of a time period as possible (the minimum time it would take an environment judged to be MM-inert, to achieve MM/AGI), hopefully months or years with removal of computers. Nauru is 21km2 with 13000 people. Its economy is dying and its populated areas will be flooded without a MM global warmiing solution. Tuvalu is 26km2 and has 11600 persons. Their administative locii would be easier to penetrate by NGOs than would the centers of power in the USA or other nations with nanotechnology infrastructure.

Janessa Ravenwood

Frighteningly Orwellian, at least it's RATHER unlikely to ever come about. The UN's on our soil, we continue to hamstring it (keep your enemies closer), and we'd never agree to that (heck, their attempts to "coerce" us into handing over control over the internet have proven to be highly entertaining reads - high camp value indeed). As for other international treaties of a somewhat similiar nature, see Kyoto. The rest of the world (well, not even that) may be interested in those solutions, we will not. You're never going get 100% global cooperation and I really don't see your dreams of "nano-monopoly" ever coming to fruition in reality. As a matter of fact, count me in the "rebel underground" opposition group to such an idea - I would actively attempt to subvert such a tyranny.

Phillip Huggan

But without a Nanopoly (I like that word: nanopoly), two parties with this technology will worry about eachothers weapons capabilities until one of them strikes. If their tech levels are close enough, it will be ugly. I only suggested the UN General Assembly because it looks like the highest meme return on networking resources; it avoids bulky big government bodies.

It is WMD being used against emergent MM powers which scares me enough to contemplate spreading the MM meme despite maybe hastening a Nanhattan. The treaty is merely a means to this. I don't expect it to lead to a global co-ordinated MM research effort, just to increase the # of minds working on MM implementation problems.

For the record, if the West would just pay a token amount (whatever 3rd world global warming damages to date are) to developing nations for the purpose of setting up clean technology research centres, we all win.

Phillip Huggan

There are many interested in stemming the threat of global warming. I think CRN could gain some powerful allies if it markets its MNT global warming solution.

Janessa Ravenwood

I reject utterly the argument that a “nanopoly” must exist or we’re all doomed. That’s just rallying for new nanny-state big government using the latest, most trendy scare tactic. Sorry, not buying it. You may be for law and order, I’ll take my chances with “Law ‘n Chaos.” And realistically, I’ve got a better chance for my side to win out here – it’s the default scenario if no one does anything exceedingly drastic at the regulatory level, which is exactly what normally happens. Lawmakers are clueless idiots who are always behind the technology curve. Nanofacs will be here and in commercial distribution before some members of Congress finally get around to convening a committee meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a task force to investigate the possibility of the parameters of possible legislation on this most assuredly pressing matter.

And the UN General Assembly *avoids* bulky big government bodies?! The UN *is* the world’s most bureaucratic body and its decisions mean little anyway – countries pretty much do as they please regardless of whatever it says (the only exception being when the big countries decide to throw their weight around to enforce it’s decisions when those decisions are in their perceived national best interests). That said, it’s still useful for us to keep hamstringing them with vetoes for whatever schemes they concoct just to save on bureaucratic PR hassle. The UN’s a toothless and corrupt parasite that’s an always helpful friend for the public image of corrupt dictators everywhere who routinely massacre their populace. Of *all* the international bodies you should want to turn to, the UN should be last on your list.

Phillip Huggan

Janessa, how would you stop me from using my nanofac capabilities to round up all the prettiest women in the world and... play with them?
The UN's Montreal Protocol has saved our ozone and the UN's anti-landmine treaty is slowly inching towards global implementation.

Janessa Ravenwood

Ludicrous, you necessarily assume in that scenario that you are the only person with such abilities and that no one could ever defend against them. Funny how the real world tends to not be like that. Another lame scare tactic. Sorry, not going to run to big daddy government sobbing Save Me!, Save Me! by creating a nanopoly.

As for the MP, it was reasonably minimal impact for us (and as I said before, in our perceived national best interests), so we went along with it. Note that with Kyoto, we told them to stuff it. And saying that the MP saved the ozone is a bit melodramatic. A member of Greenpeace, are we? As for the landmines, call me when they're all gone, OK?

Phillip Huggan

Forgetting the debate left vs. right or decentralized control vs. nanopoly, whatever MM defences do wind up being implemented, will have to be uniform and ubiquitous. One small tribal volume of civilization cannot opt out of the barest minimum security intrusion: having their environment rendered inert from MM/AGI construction capabilities. Simple MM can probably create AGI of the UFAI kind, quite easily. Moderate tech. level MM could be used to create near light speed projectiles or possibly destabilize the space-time vacuum. Advanced MM could make a time-machine or possibly utilize a naturally occuring one. I know this sounds sci-fi, but it is the world we are heading towards. If a libertarian community (or any others) wants to isolate themselves from the rest of society's security arrangements, this is fine but their own arrangement will have to be verifiably safe.

Janessa Ravenwood

You’re still not getting it, and that isn’t forgetting decentralized vs. nanopoly, that’s still nanopoly because you’re not going to *get* that level of *absolute* global uniform compliance without it. And you’re not going to get nanopoly without a very bloody campaign of global conquest – the voluntary cooperation will not be there 100%. Either Brett or Tom (I forget who) wrote about this in greater detail here at least several months ago, but their underlying premise is correct – you’re not going to implement a 100% global nanopoly with real teeth without a really big war, and at the end of that war the nanopoly governing body rules the earth (if they win). I will add that such a governing *cannot* be defined as anything but the worst tyranny ever conceived. And when and where the military resources necessary to achieve this are to be obtained aren’t really discussed by those advocating this approach (if you’re planning on asking the UN, feel free but I wouldn’t count on them being able to knock over a 7-11 without US military support).

Ergo, *any* realistic solutions that are to actually be implemented in reality (not just some dream world that sounds appealing to you but for which you do not have the resources to ever pull of in reality) *must* take into account that we do not have a 1-world government and quite likely never will. Get used to it and start over with that in mind. Or just keep dreaming ludicrously unrealistically and be very disappointed when the future of nanotech regulation finally does arrive and is very much not what you wanted to see.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

First: Both of you please remember that neither one is going to get 100% of what you want, and you have more chance of persuading others if you take less extreme positions.

Second: Philip, I don't think we know enough about really high-tech risks to include them in MM calculations. Some of them aren't even unique to MM; UFAI (UnFriendly Artificial Intelligence) could be enabled just by Moore's Law in a decade or two.

Third: Janessa, you say "Law and Chaos" is the default; what about the War on Drugs? Lots of lawlessness, lots of oppression. If everyone gets a nanofactory, do you think the US won't outlaw them and try to suppress them? Do you think things won't get nasty then?


Tom Craver

There will be alternatives to a nanopoly by simple force, by the time we need to worry about existential threats of the "puncture the universe" or "time travel" kind. Not all are very pleasant.

- Brain/mind science could allow anyone who wants it to become far saner and smarter. It would probably be considered insane to allow anyone who is NOT reasonably sane (or willing to become so) to become super-intelligent. So you could stay paranoid and destructive if you want - but the mental grown-ups aren't going to let you play with (or even understand) the really interesting toys.

- Enforced Sanity - for the most part, people have free will. But if they ever start thinking really dangerous thoughts, a MindMonitor intervenes, and literally changes their mind, without them even realizing it. This is unappealing to me, and leaves open the risk that who or what ever is in charge might become insane.

- One Mind - people might come to the conclusion that they can't be safe so long as others are allowed free will and private thoughts. So an invisible war takes place, with individual minds being taken over by group minds, and group minds being taken over by other group minds, until eventually there is only one mind, one will. At that point, most of those bodies become superfluous, and can be marched into the mulching machines.

Janessa Ravenwood

Chris: I don’t regard “generally being in favor of what the situation’s likely to sort itself out into as long as no one does anything really extreme” as an extreme position. And as for comparing future nano-regulation to the War on Drugs – if that’s what nano-regulation in the U.S. (at least) ends up like, then I have absolutely no worries at all about obtaining a nanofactory. Lawlessness? Generally contained to high-crime areas anyway, and caused by desperate addicts or (semi-) organized crime. Don’t really see crazed addicts to their nanofactories and if everyone can make their own illicit goods, that cuts the (semi-) organized crime out of the equation. Oppression? Certainly not good, but also not terribly effective in preventing people from obtaining drugs if they want them. And in recent years at least some of the worst excesses of law enforcement are finally starting to be reigned in.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Sigh... Janessa, maybe it's just your language that makes you sound extreme. That was my first point.

"I will add that such a governing *cannot* be defined as anything but the worst tyranny ever conceived."

"The UN’s a toothless and corrupt parasite that’s an always helpful friend for the public image of corrupt dictators everywhere who routinely massacre their populace."

Tone it down a bit, and the discussion will go better.

I was not saying that "Law and Chaos" was an extreme position; that was my third point, in which I said that it merely seemed unlikely. It still seems unlikely to me. You might, conceivably, have "civility and chaos." But...

1) I suspect that among all the chaos, there would be a few people who would do extreme things.

2) My point with the War on Drugs is that you won't have *only* Law and Chaos. You'll have Law, Oppression, and Chaos.


Janessa Ravenwood

My point with the drug war is that unless the govt gets a lot more competent about their oppression, I doubt it will be a real hindrance to nanofactory ownership, legal or no. That and if half the population (at least) owns one, there aren't enough prisons to put them all in. "Illegal" stops really mattering once you hit a certain percentage of the population doing it on a daily basis. If they were to round up everyone in the US who's guilty of breaking copyright law (bought and paid for by entertainment industry), it would break the legal system. So they go after public/flagrant offenders. Those who keep their heads down are ignored. I suspect it could very likely be the same with nanofactories. If you've got one in your house, keep quiet about it, and don't use it to make anything truly flashy/destructive, you'll end up left alone by the authorities, who have bigger fish to fry.

Phillip Huggan

I won't retreat from my position. Regardless if the conventional WMD tech level is close enough to an emergent MM power to trigger a devastating war, in the aftermath the survivors will still have to depopulate the world of MM/AGI research programmes. I don't know (yet) the most reliable political entity to effect this step, but it will have to eventually embark upon disarm, sooner or later. If you define this as a tyranny, so be it...

Janessa Ravenwood

Phillip: Go ahead, don’t retreat from that position. But you’re still describing a dream world with no practical plan to pull off a such a global conquest in reality. So I'm going to go with not being too worried about actually having to fight this particular vision of a nanotech future in the real world.

Phillip Huggan

I'm using Anthropic reasoning here. If the first MM developer doesn't achieve "conquest", a deadly war will result when it or one of the latter MM entities does use its MMed weaponry. If there are survivors and they don't die off or achieve AGI or another singularoty pathway, they will be in exactly the same position as the very first AGI developers. Regardless if the disarm odds I assign are assumed (near 100%), or if a smaller probability is assigned to this scenario, it is inevitable in the universes we don't die/shreik or transcend before MM.

If MM monitoring technologies are only used to surveil feedstocks, MM research tools and computers (to monitor AGI projects), a conquest of this nature does not have to be a tyranny. The practical plan to implement this is another issue, but I think even if only as a watered down meme, this blog is effecting real world positive change.

Janessa Ravenwood

You’re using ludicrously simplistic reasoning. Just because people possess weapons does not automatically mean that an apocalyptic war is absolutely going to occur and be completely successful. It also does not follow that the creation of the ultimate Big Brother world government is the *only* solution to such a scenario either. And, no, the practical plan to implement this *is* the issue – either present one or this is just a sci-fi dream you like to play around with in your head (while you’re still thinking of one, mature nanotech will arrive and the issue will be moot). Heck, I’m a gamer, and any GM from my Saturday night gaming group can write a better campaign scenario than that. As for this blog affecting real world change – show me concrete evidence of bills introduced or at least substantially influenced in Congress solely due to the political power of this blog or that’s wishful thinking as well. It may be intended as such, but in practice this is just a nanotech ideas presentation and discussion site.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Hey, don't discount the value of an ideas presentation and discussion site. Some good ideas have come through here.

Janessa, Phillip, you're not getting anywhere. Take a deep breath, take a step back, and realize that you have very different assumptions. Rather than trying to convince each other that your conclusions are right, start by making your assumptions explicit.

As far as I can see, Janessa assumes that any government capable of preventing widespread private ownership of nanofactories will be massively oppressive, highly undesirable, and worse than anything else she can think of.

As far as I can see, Phillip assumes that widespread private ownership of nanofactories will lead to massive misuse of those nanofactories--in particular, destructive conflicts and destructive AIs that would be worse than anything else he can think of.

Both of you, please correct me.

Then read each other's statement of position.

Then, restate it, to show you understand it, whether or not you agree.

Then, realize that even if each other's fear isn't the worst you can think of, it's still pretty bad.

Then come up with some scenarios that will avoid *each other's* fears as well as your own.


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Philip, "If MM monitoring technologies are only used to surveil feedstocks, MM research tools and computers (to monitor AGI projects), a conquest of this nature does not have to be a tyranny."

That's a really big If. Is there any reason at all to think that an all-powerful government would limit itself? Lots of people expect AGI to be naturally friendly, too.

Janessa, if you knew that your neighbors owned enough TNT to blow up your house as well as theirs, and let their five-year-old kids play with matches, would you be tempted to take any forceful action? Even if you don't believe that nanofactories will be that dangerous, can you accept that some people are convinced they will be?


Janessa Ravenwood

Chris: I’d say you’ve summed up Phillip’s and my (diametrically opposed) positions. Realistically, I’m not seeing a compromise here. He thinks I’m toying with the survival of humanity and I think he’s totally disconnected from reality.

Regarding the neighbors, I think I can safely say that I’ve never had neighbors like that. You’re presenting a REAL worst-case scenario there. Virtually all of the neighbors I’ve ever known are just your average Joes/Janes who work 9-to-5 jobs, come home, and watch TV. I’ve known heavily armed people, people with extensive chemistry and explosives knowledge, and people who were certified actual hackers (actually, my best friend of over 10 years now is all three of those things). All such “non-average” people I’ve met have proven pretty responsible with their knowledge/talents. The vast majority of people I’ve met period simply aren’t terribly vicious, homicidally antisocial, suicidally reckless, or raving destructive lunatics. In such a situation, likely myself and/or my neighbors would report such people to the authorities. Neighbors who possess the knowledge/ability to make TNT (I’ve met more than might think) will be left alone as long they don’t show any imminent inclination to manufacture a ton of it, store it insecurely in their garage, and give their kids matches to play with. Heck, I think anyone would report parents who just gave their kids matches to play with, much less ones that gave them access to explosives.

In short, we already have a (nominally functional) legal and social system that I would argue won’t do as bad a job as you seem to think dealing with antisocial individuals armed with the technology of tomorrow.

Sure, I accept that people believe that nanofactories will be dangerous. We have things that are dangerous NOW and humanity’s not extinct. Hence while I acknowledge that concern must be paid I see a lot of these people as Chicken Little’s screaming their heads off that the sky is falling when I honestly don’t see the situation as being quite that melodramatic.


The vast majority of people I’ve met period simply aren’t terribly vicious, homicidally antisocial, suicidally reckless, or raving destructive lunatics

I don't have to tell you that personal experience is no proof of anything. If it were, the US wouldn't have annual gun deaths that reach into the 10.000s or above, I don't have the exact numbers. Of course, organisations like the NRA stress that for them, responsibility comes first and thus there is no need for gun control. But even if they're truthful about that, there obviously are many people that don't give anything about NRA's or anyone else's policies and principles. These irresponsible people are the danger, not the responsible majority you know.

In such a situation, likely myself and/or my neighbors would report such people to the authorities

What good are authorities if they are powerless or non-existant? Time for mob justice? On the larger picture, if a single nation tries to police the whole world and make a profit at it, that's called Imperialism. International problems require international solutions.

We have things that are dangerous NOW and humanity’s not extinct

People today don't have anything even remotely as dangerous as an unrestricted nanofactory at their disposal. The only potential "doomsday weapons" we know of, i.e. nuclear bombs in quantities of thousands, are in exclusive control of exactly two governments. I doubt that any single organisation or individual will ever be able to manufacture such large nuclear arsenals against even the most casual of federal or other checks. This is not necessarily true for nanotech; we simply don't know what the upper limit of capabilities will be.

And as for why we did not get blown up during the Cold War, which was a very real threat: Judging from the chilling stories that have been reported of how flying geese and computer malfunctions triggered rocket alarms, we narrowly missed all-out war more than just once (Cuba crisis). So far we survived through luck and the intuition of experienced professionals. Average people are not professionals, and if there are enough of them, our luck might leave us sooner rather than later.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

I go back and forth on the question of whether average people will be able to manufacture or obtain doomsday weapons even post-MM. There's no doubt that something like a Columbine or a 9/11 could be a couple orders of magnitude worse. And there will be new ways to commit crimes, and they may be less traceable.

In the worst civil-disaster scenario, a lot of people would discover they can be nasty without accountability (anonymous road rage); traditional policing becomes impossible because humans in uniform are such an easy target; criminals quickly self-organize.

In the next stage, paramilitary protection self-organizes (feudalism). A process of competition leads to mergers and takeovers until groups do gain the ability to make doomsday weapons. At that point, we have MAD with many players, all of whom are politically immature.

And that's not even getting into the possibility of general AI being used for development and defense. If that's possible, it could quickly become disastrous.

On the other hand, in the worst power-concentration scenario, whoever's in power simply kills anyone they don't care about because it's easier that way.



I go back and forth on the question of whether average people will be able to manufacture or obtain doomsday weapons even post-MM.

Today every script kiddy can, without meaningful creative skills, download and release malware that makes its way through the Web in many cases, somethimes enough to make the headlines. The real smart people, those that wrote the malware, don't have to release their work, they know others will do that eventually and take the responsibility. Writing malware is not a crime, only releasing is.

If with unrestricted nanofactories the essential part of creating a device consists of obtaining its digital blueprint and no rare/controlled chemicals/elements are required as feedstock for its construction, then the script kiddy concept may translate into the real world. But I'm not the first one to note this.

A process of competition leads to mergers and takeovers until groups do gain the ability to make doomsday weapons. At that point, we have MAD with many players, all of whom are politically immature.

To which I could say, mergers and takeovers are not only a matter of brute force, but also of politics if you want to hold the group together for a longer period of time. It all depends on how difficult it will be to design, obtain, manufacture, and use those WMDs, and at which of these steps a group can skip because they have been done.

What will be the minimum size of an organisation with such goals, i.e., how many people and other resources does it take to be successful? The lower these requirements, the less political and other skills are required to hold the group and project together, the greater the immaturity and the greater the problem. Worst case would be a group of 1, of course, because it would produce a million Hitlers, Stalins, Saddams, etc, all free to put their twisted ideals into practice. In the best case, it required at least a mini-state like they exist today, for example for actual testing grounds or fixed resources. For example, renewable power is all nice and independent from centralized and thus more easily controllable generation, but won't large projects also require substantial infrastructure (covered area) because of high energy requirements?

Janessa Ravenwood

A) Proof? No, but a pretty good indicator of the average person. As for your gun control issue, talk to the UK and Australia about the success of their “less guns, more gun crime” gun prohibitionist policies. As for the US, we have the 2nd Amendment. Love it or hate it, deal with it, because the guns aren’t going away.
B) Umm…when did the authorities just suddenly disappear? And you may *think* this is an international problem that simply must have an international solution, but as I – for some reason – keep having to repeat, we do not have a 1-world government and none of you nano-prohibitionists have presented a real-world plan to conquer the world to get one. So instead of dreaming about one, how about considering the real-world scenario of multiple governments and multiple organizations who *will* take different approaches to nano-regulation when it gets here?
C) In the future, if everyone’s got a nanofac, I’ll take my chances with that scenario over some “Bureau of Responsible Authorities” who have the only nanofacs. You would sacrifice everyone’s freedom for security, I would not, and I guess we just disagree on that point.

BTW, you are the guy whose solution to nano-regulation is the Spooky Spinal Puppet Master (SSPM), correct? If so, sounds like you have some common ground with Phillip.


I can reduce virtually all the debates here to a single issue – Law Enforcement. Essentially, that’s what this is all about. On Side A are those who, like myself, favor continuing the reactive approach to law enforcement while retaining the current national structure of the planet (more or less). On Side B are those who, like CRN, Matt, and Phillip, favor proactive law enforcement under the aegis of a 1-world government (de facto or overt) that watches all of us all the time in the ultimate Big Brother state. And that’s really it – the majority of issues and debates here can ultimately be reduced to just that. Hence, I argue, now that we’ve established what the sides are and who’s on what side, the only thing really left to debate is whose side is more likely to win out? For Side A, all they have to do is…nothing, really. For Side B, they have to either peaceably unify or conquer every country on Earth and successfully put everyone on the planet under perfect surveillance forever.

I’m betting on Side A. I also strongly suspect that Side B will still be talking about how to achieve global unification (or conquest) years from now when mature nanotech arrives and the future takes a different path than the one they espouse.

I’ve also noticed that you immediately jump to the worst case scenarios when you’re pitching for greater nano-regulation (as do several others here). I tend to immediately disregard such arguments as scare tactics. Do you have any arguments that don’t boil down to “we must have transnational authority or we’re all going to die and no there is no other solution?” Also, do you have any suggestions that actually *can come about* in the real world (this leaves out the idea of getting every country on the planet to agree with each other when their national interests will dictate otherwise)?

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