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« Call for Papers | Main | Systems of Mass Disruption »

November 29, 2007


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Tom Craver

The only likely reason spam would fall, would be if response rates fell. Since google's pass-through rate appears to have been flat over the period of spam declining, that's unlikely to be the proximate cause.

I'd guess that the number of responses/sales per message finally hit a critically low percentage, as the number of spam-naive users fell below some percentage of the total.

Language/translation might also be becoming a factor, as the number of english speaking users levels off and spammers face translating and targetting their messages to a much more diverse base.

I.e. think of the English-speaking internet as a mono-culture that allowed the spam infection to spead, but which has now developed sufficient resistence to spam to make it unprofitable, while the new users are multi-cultural, making the population harder to attack.

For 3D object production, I don't think people will automatically render the objects to matter in the same sense that email renders email messages to your screen. If nothing else, objects would be displayed in virtual form first.

And I'd strongly recommend that nanofactories be kept off-line in any case, to eliminate the potential of remote hacking. You could still be social-engineered into producing a hostile design, but at least you're in the loop.

Tom Craver

A tiny bit of irony - the WIRED website registration for commenting on that article has a "privacy" policy that basically says they will give your email address away, and if you don't like it, you have to send them snail mail.

John B

Tom, if you take the nanofacs offline you are unable to have the 'big brother' watchdog that CRNano seems to prefer to focus on, unless you presuppose some sort of other networking overhead built up to handle the surveillance/sousveillance effort during the rollout of nanofactories.

Not saying getting rid of the watchdog isn't something that may have value in and of itself, but without some way to 'phone home' that Johnny Dangerously just created a whole crate of hand grenades, without license, you run into all sorts of fun issues, be they political, moral, ethical, legal, and others. A few examples off the top of my head - Arms control laws, possible NBC/WMD issues (depending on what's in those handgrenades), public safety, intellectual property rights protection (Yes, DRM will raise its ugly head with nanofacs, too), and I'm not sure what all else.

If instead you insist on trying to chop out capabilities in nanofacs that are released to the public I would suggest that there will always be people out there trying to push the edge of their systems' capabilities. The whole iPhone situation is a potential case study, as are most other high-tech releases of the last decade-plus.

If you insist on proprietary products with very high degrees of accounting of those products' use to allow nanofacs to be used (special feedstocks, custom nanoblock sets, crypto-signed templates, what have you), you have just created a high-profit item for theft, fakery, disassembly for reuse, and other potential skullduggery.

It's a very thorny issue, and one I've yet to see any solid solution to, anywhere. I heartily applaud CRNano for bringing this issue out as often and as loudly as they do - but IMO it's no where near a solved problem yet.


Tom Craver

I'm not an advocate of what you call the "Big Brother" approach. But I would point out that Big Brother could simply interrupt the design chain at other points - prohibit creating dangerous designs, prohibit posting them on the internet, prohibit downloading them to your PC, etc.

Overall, I'd much prefer a more social approach - create safe forums for creative but potentially dangerous activities. The Young Nuclear Scientists' club. The Creative Robotics club. Recreational Hacking. Etc. Use those to teach competence, safety and responsibility - and to quietly take notice of those who seem to be anti-social or angry and who may be learning only in order to do harm.

Of course, that has to be tied into a security apparatus that takes such warnings seriously - i.e. avoiding the 911 failing where flight school warnings were ignored. A "soft security" level is needed below the police, independent and objective enough to realize that most who get reported will not be killers or terrorists.

Yeah, that's a little bit "Big Brother" as well. But hopefully more on the order of "Big Brothers of America" than 1984 Orwellian.

It could certainly be done badly. Schools have taken this in a crazed direction - over-reacting at any hint of a child thinking any remotely violent thoughts. All they've accomplished is to teach kids to repress the *appearance* of having those thoughts - precisely counter-productive if considered from the perspective of information gathering for prevention of future school violence.

And if anyone can come up with something kinder/gentler or more effective, I'm all ears.

John B

Tom, I'd like to point out that each of your examples of some organization blocking malicious usage of a nanofac requires some sort of connectivity, which IMO just makes the point stronger.

I see very little different with your proposed social approach from a 'big brother' approach, in point of fact. If anything your approach seems to be a bit more Machiavellian compared to most public policies. When you tie it into some "security apparatus" we're back to a network. *wry grin*

I am afraid I do not have any answers here, either. I wish I did, but I expect rather more problems than solutions with any of the proposals I've come across thus far.

Tom Craver

I'm unsure what your point was then.

My point was that Big Brother monitoring / tracking / blocking didn't rely on having the nanofactory directly "online". There's value in having the nanofactory offline even if Big Brother watches in other ways.

Your offline nanofactory is less likely to spew out a swarm of killer bee-bots through remote control hacking. (Yes, there are still ways to get past this barrier, e.g. social engineering.)

As for the soft security approach I outlined - yes, I'm a bit uncomfortable with it also. It'd be very easy to do it wrong. At its worst, it'd probably be like what public schools now do where teachers encourage kids to write about their feelings - and then get them suspended if they use any violent words or images.

I hope you didn't get the impression that the idea was to trick people into joining activities, so that they get watch-listed. Joining Recreational Hacking shouldn't do that any more than owning a gun and going to a shooting range should today.

John B

My point is that the only secure system is one that doesn't exist. There WILL be breakins and spam of one sort or another as long as humanity as we understand it today remains as we understand it today. *wry grin* As such, we probably need to talk & plan at least as much about remediation for problems as for prevention of problems.

And what's the ramifications to having someone - "Big Brother" - watching what happens? What're the tradeoffs with regards to freedom, privacy, & the like? Will you come under OSHA (US reference) scrutiny with everything you do? Might make showers difficult - standing on hard, slippery ground while you're sense-deprived and dealing with other slippery compounds... *wry grin*

I don't think anyone who has an understanding of just what nanotech *might* be capable of and a grip on computer security & history will ever be happy or comfortable with this stuff. Even things that can 'only' print limited materials - say, clothing - could potentially be subverted in interesting and nasty ways. Clothing that has body-heat powered displays with "graffiti" that shows up only after it's been worn for a couple hours - and is also difficult to remove once the graffiti shows up. Concealable weapons, flexible or otherwise. Creation of hidden storage of one sort or another. Defenses against legal systems of restraint (tasers, chem-sealing, etc).

(Note that different portions of the above example could be considered a problem to different groups at different times.)

I understood you didn't think of "Recreational Hacking groups" as an oppressive social control, but I would like to point out that not everyone is as high-minded as you are. Also, there's lots of Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt out there even today with regard to hackers and the like. With the advent of networked, computer-controlled nanofactories I expect that FUD to grow radically.

This could/would expand even more quickly with the golem or warlock's apprentice problem - a device that does what you say, not what you want.


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