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« Russian Kids Doing MNT? | Main | A Foresight Offer »

March 31, 2004


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Mike Deering

Arnold Kling's suggestion to pass a constitutional amendment to create two new government agencies, one to watch us and the other to watch the watchers is a very bad idea for several very good reasons.

1. Any solution that relies solely on government to insure our safety and protection is historically short sighted. All governments have proven repeatedly that they can not be trusted. Even with some parts of government supposedly overseeing other parts to insure no abuses of power, there are always to nullify these checks. The watchers will find ways to hide from the overseers or collusion will develop between the watchers and the overseers. The only kind of oversight that has ever proven effective is oversight by the general public.

2. Kling's solution does nothing to prevent non-government entities and private parties from developing, deploying, and using surveillance technology. In the age of nanotechnology surveillance equipment will be cheap, effective, and completely undetectable. You can't regulate what you can't monitor. Laws will be ineffective as deterrents when people know they can't get caught.

3. Even if you could get everything to work like Kling describes, which you can't, it would never stay limited to anti-terrorism uses. The public would call for its expansion into crime investigation, missing persons searches, safety monitoring, even traffic control. The uses would continually expand until every aspect of our lives were under a nanoscope.

Basically, Arnold Kling's proposal puts too much power in the hands of government, and everyone knows how much we need two more government agencies. His ideas come out of a misguided trust of government and an antiquated desire for the preservation of privacy. Anyone who thinks you can preserve the right of privacy in the age of nanotechnology is living in the twentieth century and doesn't really understand the technology.

Mike Deering, Director,
Email: deering9 at mchsi dot com

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Mike D., do you think government will refrain from using new surveillance technology just because they don't have rules for how to use it? If there are rules, then at least they have to think before they break them.

If there are no rules, they can do things like activating and listening through your built-in car phone. This has already happened. See http://news.com.com/2100-1029_3-5109435.html for an overview. The court said, "Sure, you can listen all you like--just don't disrupt emergency services." All Cadillacs are sold with this OnStar system installed. (Currently, listening does disrupt emergency services, but that surely won't last long.)

The question is not whether we can maintain the levels of privacy we are used to. The question is whether we'll have some, or none. I would rather see an official bureaucracy in place, with an oversight system to back it up, than an unregulated situation where the government can do anything it wants with new technologies--which is pretty much what we have today.


Mike Deering

Chris P. I don't have anything against rules. I just didn't like those rules. I don't think we need to create a new government agency every time a new set of tools is developed. Agencies should be based on function, not technique. We already have too many agencies performing the same functions, and using surveillance technology. And trusting government to police itself has always failed. Any policy that concentrates power in the hands of government is dangerous.

We need to be thinking about how we can empower the private citizenry to protect itself from nanoterrorists and government both. The power of free communication and unlimited innovation by private citizens is the only strategy capable of meeting the challenge. This requires unlimited nanotechnology access.

Would you trust a government agency to protect your computer from viruses, worms, and cyber-attack?

I think David Brin has the only workable solution.

The government will not be able to limit the proliferation of MM capability. The government will not be able to match the resources, intelligence, or innovation of the hacker community. The only chance of defending ourselves is unlimited public innovation of nanotechnology and free communication to distribute the solutions. The unrestricted use of nanotechnology is essential to our continued survival. Your efforts to limit, or regulate nanotechnology are an existential threat. Also, limiting public access to nanotechnology would in effect slow space colonization which is counter-productive for our species survival.

There are already real efforts on the part of the existing power structures, governments, corporations, to ensure their continued survival at the expense of everyone else's freedoms. All products and services currently provided by business will be available freely through the public exchange of information. There will be no more need for money. All functions of government will be provided by each citizen for himself, such as security, or the function will be made obsolete, such as the police and court systems. More people will be working on defenses than offenses, therefore defenses will be effective, therefore crime will disappear. These power structures know their days are numbered, and they are desperate. They know they will have no power over the citizenry when it has mature MNT, mature biotech, mature A.I. and the freedom to exchange ideas. A war is coming. The lines are being drawn. On one side, the free citizenry. On the other, governments and corporations. In the post Singularity age, the continued existence of government and corporations are incompatible with a free citizenry.

Mike Deering, Director,
Email: deering9 at mchsi dot com

Chris Phoenix, CRN

I wish I shared your optimism. Seems to me, though, that the only way a free-for-all can turn out well is if human nature is radically different than history demonstrates it to be. I believe a free-for-all is an existential risk. Maybe that means no path is free of existential risk.

Your statement that "The government will not be able to limit the proliferation of MM capability" shows me that you haven't really thought through the issues. If the government were willing to be sufficiently repressive and destructive, it certainly could.

And I won't be even remotely confident that white-hat hackers can outthink the various black-hat people until my inbox is free of spam.


Brett Bellmore

"If the government were willing to be sufficiently repressive and destructive, it certainly could."

Well, sure, I suppose they could utilize the nuclear arsenal to bomb the world back into the stone age. Kind of difficult to bootstrap MNT from stone knives and bearskins. (Though I'm betting Spock could have done it. LOL)

Short of that? I doubt it. You'd have to start the repression BEFORE the breakthrough, after all. And such heavy repression of technology would be politically infeasible, prove to many people that the opposition was right, cause a mass exodus of people capable of the research, and destroy our status as a world power. (Which depends on a tech advantage won by skimming hte world's intellectual cream, not frightening them away.)

You really have got to work up some proposals for what to do if the monopoly on MNT your regulatory regime depends on never comes about in the first place, either because multiple programs achieve it about the same time, or someone in the program deliberately sees to it that the monopoly is broken right at the start. In all likelihood, the genie is going to be out of the bottle from the very start.

Mike Deering

Brett, I am in very much agreement with you. There are so many paths to nanotech that you would have to stop all research everywhere on all types of science. No technological advancements could be allowed of any kind. You would probably also have to roll back technology a couple of decades to prevent people from using a clever combination of present techniques to bootstrap their way to MM. You couldn't accomplish this with legislation alone. Most researchers would ignore the laws and press on. You would have to physically destroy the capability to do research, demolish all labs and equipment. You could try surveillance but rich motivated people would find a way to hide their labs. You would have to not only destroy the labs but also destroy the capability to build new labs, that means you would have to confiscate the fortunes of rich people. This doesn't sound like something that is going to happen.

The whole problem with making some kind of repressive limitation or regulation system work is who's doing it and how are they motivated. On the one side you have bureaucrats for whom the goal is just to do enough to keep their jobs, whereas on the other side you have highly intelligent and motivated individuals who are working to realize the ultimate freedom and power. Look how well the bureaucrats have done a stamping out cocaine use in the United States.

My best guess is that nanotech capabilities will be developed by government labs first where it will be kept secret and used for weapons development. Next it will be developed in a completely different way by a large corporation like IBM or GlaxoSmithKline who will use it in large industrial plants to produce high priced product. The equipment will take up ten city blocks rather than fit on your desktop. Next it will be developed by a lone PhD. in his garage. This will be the desktop model. Being an independent cuss, and seeing the way nanotech has thus far only benefited the rich, he will opt to mass produce as many nanofac's as possible in the smallest package possible and shipping them to independent cuss' in as many different countries as possible with instructions to keep up the distribution in secret as long as possible. By the way, don't look in that nice new warehouse in my backyard that I didn't get a building permit for.

Mike Deering, Director,
Email: deering9 at mchsi dot com

Chris Phoenix, CRN

I agree that stopping MNT would require stopping a vast array of research planetwide. Today, this would take nukes. But if one government got MNT significantly in advance of others, they could be a lot more surgical.

Technology advancement is not inevitable. Look at historical China and Greece. China deliberately went backward--and made it stick for centuries.

You don't even have to kill everyone. Just kill the educated people. There's a long history of revolutions killing educated people.

Note: I am *NOT* recommending this! I am merely pointing out that it's a distinct possibility.

MNT makes lots of extreme outcomes possible. Destroying research capability worldwide is one. (Just listen for electromagnetic noise... you can't run a lab without electricity. Yes, I mean wipe out all use of electricity except for whatever is used in approved products.)

Another extreme outcome is a few ruthless people each trying to own the entire world. That would probably kill everyone. If you ship nanofactories randomly worldwide, do you think only nice people will get them? Do you think nice people can defeat ruthless people? (They won't try--they'll go bleating to the nearest one for protection from the others.) Do you think ruthless people will let anyone, nice or not, remain independent?

If we do not develop a moderate solution, we will get an extreme one. Any extreme solution will be tragic. It's that simple.


Mike Deering

Chris, I like moderate solutions just as long as they don't involve the continuation of wage slavery, artificially inflated prices, stifled creativity and innovation, unnecessary death and disease, through a centralized stranglehold on advanced technologies. I am encouraged that you want to spread the benefits of advanced technologies far and wide, but the government giving people just enough to keep them happy and reserving all the really powerful stuff for themselves is only going to make some people mad. Not everyone is going to be satisfied to be treated like children.

As an aside, I want to commend you on your determination to maintain a forum that is tolerant of divergent viewpoints. The fact that I haven't been banned from the blog is a badge of honor for you. I know I can be sometimes challenging to your self control.

Brett Bellmore

I've never liked the term, "wage slavery", in as much as it mocks both the true evil of genuine slavery, and the moral integrity of obtaining value from other people by doing something of value for them.

That said, the term might actually be justifiable, were the government to arrange for people to have to work for a living even if it wasn't genuinely necessary.

Janessa Ravenwood

Oh, Mike, that's nothing - I'm sure I've been a far greater strain on CRN's patience. :-)

Mike Deering

Okay then, from all of us, Thanks for being stand up guys that aren't afraid of a dissenting opinion.

Brett Bellmore


Mike Treder, CRN

Thanks! In fact, I would say not only are we unafraid of dissenting opinions, but we seek them. We know we don't have all the answers -- no one does -- and we know our theories and proposals must be able to withstand or be reshaped by rigorous scrutiny. The only condition we insist upon is that dissenting opinions are expressed politely.

Brett Bellmore

So speaking as a dissenting voice, the one thing I've yet to see from you is an explaination of what you'd propose doing if MNT arrives without anyone having a monopoly. Which I find quite likely, as a result of either parallel development or leakage by somebody in the group which achieves the breakthrough.

It's 2009, and a working nanofactory arrives on your doorstep, with a note suggesting that you run off another and pass it on. And, oh, by the way, the initial distribution was to 5000 people... What then?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

A very good question. And it's true, you haven't seen that, because we haven't really thought about it.

A few possibilities, more or less tongue-in-cheek:

1) Start a crash program to invent a kind of Soma that can be built by a nanofactory, and spread the formula widely. "A gram is better than a damn."

2) Build a starship and get out as fast as possible.

3) Build a sensor network that watches everyone who comes near a nanofactory and records what they tell it to produce... so that when a remotely piloted bomb takes out a building, at least we'll know who did it. Soon, of course, we'll have to watch the Internet as well.

4) Launch a crash program to build an AI (hoping Eliezer is wrong) and tell it to solve the problem.

Brett Bellmore

Maybe some less tongue in cheek ideas would be worth generating. As they say, "Hope for the best, but plan for the worst."

I'd say you've got the beginning of two.

On #2, a starship would probably be overkill, but I'm scarcely the only person who intends if at all possible to get out of Dodge ASAP when nanotech makes it possible. Dispersing a fair sample of the species through the solar system would probably ensure human survival in all but the absolute worst case scenario.

Highlift Systems is planning on building a geosynchronus skyhook, which would be just the ticket for achieving that dispersal.

#3, Brin's transparent society, would make it awfully difficult to plan nastiness in secret, at least until somebody comes up with a direct neural interface implantable nanofactory. And it doesn't require much to achieve it if nanotechnology becomes widely available, besides distributing free designs for good survailance gear.


finally, plan b has been mentioned, or at least, somebody has mentioned the need for a plan b. I've been struggling to figure out a way of fitting such a topic in the various discussions for awhile.

My plan b is an Asimovian "Foundation." I actually feel that one has already formed, although its goal is not necessarilly that of collecting all the worlds knowledge; still, they know quite a lot in all those heads that have come together; i won't mention who they are; they don't even consider themselves a foundation yet(kind of like the way Harry Seldon hid a second foundation in his later foundation books), but as push comes to shove, I know where to go in times of crisis and so will they.

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