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« The Myth of Perpetuation | Main | The Arms Race Has Begun »

June 30, 2004


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Brett Bellmore

A lot could be done in the way of defense by human augmentation of civilians, not just soldiers; Part of the reason offense is so powerful compared to defense, is that humans are so absurdly fragile. We don't HAVE to remain that way. Even while remaining largely biological, you could infiltrate the body with a defense web which could close wounds, isolate toxins, mechanically reenforce against impacts. While the proposed respirocytes would allow getting by without breathing or bloodflow for extended periods. People who when full cyborg could remain human looking, while having capabilities like something out of a superhero comic book.

Smart cloth clothing would be capable of transforming at need into NBC gear, or ballistic armor.

Your average home, with nanotech, could be capable of sealing up as tight as a nuclear sub, and staying that way for long periods. Heck, every home could have access to a DEEP underground shelter, protection against nukes mere moments away.

Indeed, with much improved VR and telecommuting, people might spend most of their time in those shelters.

Also, I'm having trouble squaring your predictions of incredibly rapid covert military buildups, with your estimates of power consumption for replicators. Buildups will be power limited, I suspect.

jim moore

Question M recovering from a nano-tech gap--

I think as long as the leading group doesn't invent a strong AI (or strong IA) the trailing groups very well could catch up (if given a chance) because every group would be limited by human creativity.

The leading group might be very tempted to use their million fold greater computing capabilities in a brute force fashion for every problem that they come across. Trailing groups without that option would have to be more creative in their problem solving.

Sub question N nano-nations vs non-nano-nations--

I think that your answer here reaffirms my belief that it is the early years of MM that pose the most danger.

Diane Anderson

If man goes to war or terrorizes because of injustices in quality of life, isn't it possible that nanotechnology might alleviate these injustices thereby negating the need to harm or kill others?


Diane: MNT might probably negate the material injustices, therefore negating the material incentives to kill and terrorise. But it will certainly not negate ALL reasons. There are many non-material reasons to injure and kill each other, or even for states to go to war with each other. To some, religion, love and hate, even simple madness provide enough "reason" for slaughtering.

I, too, believe that MNT will reduce material incentives for most, if not all people, but those people that remain in the mood for killing will have the power to do more evil on their own. It will be the deciding question which trend outruns the other in the short as well as in the long run.

Then there still remains the possibility of a simple combination of fear, uncertainty, doubt, bad luck and a trigger-happy soldier in the wrong position to eliminate us all. If today´s overall political climate carries on into the era of MNT, we will probably face a row of nanotechnological Cuba Crises between Nano-Super powers, which can plausibly be almost any country in the world. It will then be enough for only one of these crises to turn ugly to pretty much spell doom for mankind, or at least a considerable portion of it. Once things start to go out of hand, it´s going to be ugly.

The best way to ensure mankind´s survival is probably not the attempt to prevent such scenarios from happening (although it might not hurt either) for all time to come, but its simple spreading-out over the solar system, be it space stations or other moons and planets.

Leigh Mortensen

Self-replicating nanotechnology or superhuman artificial intelligence inevitably and rapidly leads to a cascade effect in which either technology allows us the ability to create the other technology. Soon enough we will understand how the human mind is imprinted in the brain and will be able to transfer the mind into a computer network as a virtual molecular simulation and then back out again through some form of molecular reconstruction. Basically you have about a month after the cascade effect of either of these technologies before some weisenheimer gets the idea of making himself nano-active. Forget ideas about conventional arms races. Think more along the lines of contagious immortal teleporting indestructible shapechanging superintelligent supermen and then you are starting to get warmer. If we are lucky and this technology happens to fall into the hands of someone with a remotely postive worldview, that is.

Leigh Mortensen

Oh there is one other thing, to those who are out of the loop the changes that will happen to the world will seem like they are happening in the twinkling of an eye. But to those with nano-enabled conciousness subjective time will be stretched out so that the change from their perspective will take what seems like eons, seeing as how they will probably be thinking millions of times faster than us.

Mike Deering

Leigh, I can't wait to replace all of my biological support systems with nanotech machinery. "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" in a human body. But a mind running on molecular circuitry in a nano-machinery body is a beautiful thing, from evolutionary design to intelligent design. Just think of the power, the freedom, the tax advantages (do machines pay taxes?).

michael vassar

First off, you say that a nuclear nation "might" not be able to deter nano attack because aerospace superiority "could" make it easier to build a missile shield. We REALLY need to know more about this. How much easier, etc.

Second, I think that the potential boost to Introspection from real-time brain monitoring may be among the more important, though less dramatic, effects of MNT. Add nano-equivalents of existing drugs, but modulable at will and with reduced side-effects, modulation of neuro-chemistry, and simple genetic enhancements, and it seems likely that someone with good science skills and a propensity for reckless experimentation (Karry Mullis for instance) can become very strange and in some respects mentally transhuman very quickly (we already know three genetic and two environmental techniques for boosting mouse cognition significantly, one gene that boosts human IQ by an average of 8 points, and have a number of candidate genes, neutropics, etc. Even improved circulation might do a lot). What they become, in terms of personality, goals, etc, in the process is not at all predictable, and if they knew the effects before hand they might not have taken the path they will take. It is probably impossible to seriously examine the effects of transhuman intelligence, especially combined as it would be (in this scenario) by strange goals emergent from human cognition+drift. The cautious approach is definitely to prevent its occurance, but this will require a regulatory environment antithetical to Transhumanist hopes, although one probable as a result of luddite political pressure. Some nations or criminals will probably pursue Transhuman mental enhancements if not prevented. In nanowar these are probably the ultimate decisive weapons.

A human with a vasculoid is immune to pathogens, natural or nano, and to most poisons. Replace collagen with spider silk (as is actually currently done with crude spider silks in some artificial skins) and you make most tissues impervious to most mechanical tearing. The vasculoid can also protect against concussion, diffuse impacts throughout the body, etc, (a liter of nanosprings accompanying the vasculoid might enable absorbtion of much energy, and a liter of water would provide protection against heat). Rapid acceleration should also be possible and safe. Utility fog surrounding a vasculoid protected person, and in contact with a wide-area sensor array should enable a person to be removed from the path of any rapidly moving objects which are expected to intersect with them, and should also enable such objects to be intercepted (consider the velocity associated with the multi-layer actuated surfaces from the recent NASA study). Acceleration to speeds exceeding those of shock waves from explosions should not be difficult, though tissue damage from unprotected travel at such speeds might be serious. Over-all, automated defensive systems enabled by nanotech intermediate between what I would call "simple" and what I would call "mature" should protect adequately against essentially any terrestrial natural or accidental harms, and against any current weapon or nano-enhanced version of a current weapon. It may not be practical to shield against lasers, charged particle beams, plasmas, etc, but it may also be practical. Low mass solutions to all of the above are not difficult to enumerate, at least in general terms,(magnetic deflectors, active diffraction grids, ablative water defenses, nanomedical repairs, diamondoid (iscotopically purified)active lense systems for diverting light, and speculatively "wellstone" reflectors rapidly occur to me). Ultimately, a sufficiently large quantity of energy directed at a target will always be able to overcome defenses, but it looks to me like an equal mass of inconspicuous defensive equipment may be able to counter a given mass of offensive equipment, given MNT that is neither mature nor rudimentary. I don't know much about the capabilities of mature nanotech, and neither does anyone else.

Janessa Ravenwood

Mike: if machines don't pay taxes, then they aren't citizens and have no civil rights. You can't have it both ways.

John B

Regarding subquestion M:

Mr Moore's comment is (I believe) correct, in that until/unless IA/AI occur, you're still limited to human creativity. However, I'd also posit that the changes will take place over multiple directions. That is, Country A will find breakthroughs on railguns, Country B directed energy weapons, Country C militarized disassembler ('khaki') goo, etc. This is a GREAT multiplier towards destabilization - your potential threat count just went through the roof.

As Mr Vassar addressed, defenses are definitely possible for known threats assuming an unlimited number of brilliant nanotechnicians. The difficulty becomes knowing the threat, and finding the right technician to develop the right defense.

As in many analysis of World War II, brain drain may become a critical aspect of the conflicts of the future. (This will probably be wisdom only truly usable in hindsight, as we've no way of predicting what person will have the critical insights.)

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Michael, John: I agree with what John said: defense may be possible, but has to be implemented and has to be the right defense for the attack. Even if attacks can be withstood by roughly equivalent masses of defenses, this is virtually useless unless you know what attack the enemy will try next.

Brett: I can't see people making such a huge lifestyle change wholesale, at least not in the U.S., at least not until a lot of people have already been killed and/or we acquire a totalitarian government. As to your question about nanofactory efficiency: The efficiency I calculated is a lower bound; nanofacs may be one or two orders of magnitude more efficient than that. If a solar cell can pay for the energy cost of its construction in a day or even a week, you don't have to worry much about energy.

I think Diane and Matt are both right: MNT will greatly reduce many reasons for war, but not all. Also, it'll make nations less interdependent, which reduces stability.

Leigh might be right about the potential for a "hard takeoff" in which technology rapidly leads to improved technology. Once we learn to run human brains in simulation, or apply massive brute-force computer power to AI, most of the "thinking" that goes on will be done by the AIs. This is another destabilizing factor--and not just for arms races. Hm... I think we'll have to include the potential impact of AI in several of our studies in the next version.


michael v

I agree that you need the right defense for any given offense, but since MNT stuff is cheap, why not just give everyone the defenses against every known attack. I am simply assuming that there is MUCH more intelligence devoted to overall defense than to terroristic offense, as there appears to me to be today with respect to biotech. The set of defenses I describes appears to me to be pretty comprehensive. I know of attacks that would penetrate them, and which would penetrate any defense I can think of, but I have been thinking about this stuff for quite a while and haven't spread any really aweful and purely destructive ideas. While it may be quite arrogant, I am thoroughly convinced that I have put more quantity X quality of thought into this issue than all the terrorists in the world combined are capable of. Terrorists are just not that bright, not on average and not even at their best. Can anyone here name one modestly complex technology that has ever been invented by a terror or organized crime group.

Brett Bellmore

"I can't see people making such a huge lifestyle change wholesale, at least not in the U.S., at least not until a lot of people have already been killed..."

Guess a lot of people are going to end up killed, then.

It's my expectation that early adopters will pick up on the human augmentation technologies, and then they'll become highly fashionable. After all, we're being psychologically prepped for it already; A couple generations have grown up reading superhero comic books, and at least one viewing superhero movies... Why wear a Spiderman t-shirt, when you could wall crawl and shoot webs?

Then there are the applications to "extreme" sports. Scuba diving without scuba gear. Skydiving without parachutes. Martial arts that look like something out of anime.

The biggest obstacle will be the medical/regulatory system's absolute hostility to human improvement. Anything with the potential to actually improve people beyond normal health immediately gets made a controlled substance, and cut off except for treating illness. Your totalitarian state wouldn't be forcing it on people, it would be denying it to them. Fortunately, prohibitionist laws have never been very effective at stopping harmful vices, to expect them to stop benefical treatments...

James Jaeger

The only solution I can see is to evolve war and armaments to a state of illegality.

It would follow that any one that resisted this or disagreed with it could be considered an enemy of human kind.

A start could be by passing international laws that make it illegal to LEND or BORROW money for the purpose of either waging war or manufacturing weapons.

James Jaeger

P.S. See my 900 posts at the MIND-X


"A start could be by passing international laws that make it illegal to LEND or BORROW money for the purpose of either waging war or manufacturing weapons."

Yeah, that would be a slow, easy start, restricting parts of the weapons trade and restricting the very way the US wages war. If that´s for starters, then I want to hear about the hard part.
"USA" and "international laws" are mutually exclusive if these laws are anything but trivial to ignore by the US. Sorry for my sarcasm if it shows through too much, I´m just writing off a little frustration.

John B

Quoth Michael V: "but since MNT stuff is cheap, why not just give everyone the defenses against every known attack."

Michael, I agree that this is probably the sanest response, but I disagree that it will happen, especially with the incredible amount of 'intellectual property' and corporate investment involved in such development. In my opinion, it will take a while before the technology will be available to the general user, potentially leading to some form of open development/freeware kind of establishment, and I agree with CRNano's prediction that the development of such an establishment could be extremely dangerous if significant countermeasures aren't carefully built into the whole system from the get go.

The other thing to realize is that many (all?) proposed defenses are also usable offensively! That is - utility fog is a wonderfully/ horrifically adaptable weapons system, remote sensing is critical in most modern combat, etc, just as a couple examples off the top of my head.

Also from Michael: "I am simply assuming that there is MUCH more intelligence devoted to overall defense than to terroristic offense, as there appears to me to be today with respect to biotech."

This may be the case, but it doesn't handle the 'breakthrough' situation.

A wonderful modern exemplar of just this kind of limited-offense, massive-defense fight is the antivirus industry. To my mind, there's very little evidence of massive virus writing organizations, but there are clearly quite large numbers of people and systems dedicated to wiping out viruses. Yet, perodically some bright boy or genius girl comes up with a new virus which gets past the safeguards causing significant disruption.

This is bad, but compared to the problems nanotech could potentially cause, it pales into near insignificance.


John B

Quoth Brett Bellmore: "Why wear a Spiderman t-shirt, when you could wall crawl and shoot webs?"

Why wall-crawl (and risk falling, or arrest, or close encounters with seagull droppings) and shoot (and clean up) webs?

Well, escapism is NOT reality, and most who'd go the 'extra mile' for such capabilities are not ones I'd want to have such! *wry grin*


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