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« Civil Rights in the Nano Era | Main | Off-Topic, But Important »

July 19, 2004


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Brett Bellmore

"It's easy to imagine a nanofactory package that allows completely self-sufficient living, off grid and without money, while retaining modern first-world comfort levels. However, a modest amount of advertising would make this unattractive to most people."

I'm unclear about this; Do you mean that advertising could persuade people that being self-sufficient was undesireable? This strikes me as unlikely, as being self sufficient IS a rather attractive goal, if it doesn't come at the cost of self-denial.

Perhaps you mean that advertising can persuade people to want products which the base self-sufficiency package wouldn't deliver? THAT seems plausible.

What I picture is most people being situated so as to have at least the potential to be self sufficient, to fall back on, and then engaging other people in commerce to rise above that baseline lifestyle. Like somebody who's got an annuity covering their basic living expenses, who takes a job to be able to pay for luxuries.

One obvious source of social friction is that a self-sufficient lifestyle based on solar energy probably requires a fair amount of land. Nothing outrageous, a few acres would allow for raising crops in greenhouses. Less than that if energy from high efficiency solar panels could be efficiently converted into food energy in a paletable form. (I expect however that food synthesizers will be second or third generation products, requiring as they do complex molecules in non-rigid configurations.) And, of course, highly dependent on local climate and latitude.

A lot of people will move out from the cities in search of someplace to settle down, only to find that all the land is either privately owned, or held by governments. Private owners won't want to sell, as land would remain a scarce good, expecially quality land, and valuable. And governments? They're notorious for hording land, as much as they can get their hands on, and refusing to let it be settled.

I forsee a LOT of squatting going on.

Not just on land, too, as it would be feasible to set up on oceanic rafts, and subsea volcanic vents would provide access to power and energy at the same time.

There will be numerous attempts to set up societies outside the borders of existing countries, in order to escape the social and technological regulations they attempt to impose. Specialized groups pursuing exotic goals which might be infeasible without technologically supplied self-sufficiency.

Since if left alone, they could rapidly gain sufficient power to be dangerous adversaries, governments could become quite hostile to these attempts. It's possible, however, that governments would have so much on their plates as to be quite overwhelmed.

Unregulated nanotechnology will probably result in a rapid expansion into space, as this is a frequent desire of people with the technological grounding to exploit nanotechnology, and nanotech would make it relatively easy. I imagine the result might end up looking something like Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix.

Brett Bellmore

Excuse me, subsea vents would provide chemicals and energy at the same time.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Brett: "Perhaps you mean that advertising can persuade people to want products which the base self-sufficiency package wouldn't deliver? THAT seems plausible."

Yes, that's what I was thinking.

I like your approach: guaranteed subsistence, with commerce for the luxuries. Any humane government should support that, regardless of whether personal nanofactories are allowed.

Whether that can work in practice depends on human nature, and on the systems we develop to channel it. Can we make the Protestant Work Ethic obsolete? Can we temper the corporate urge to own everyone and everything, and the governmental urge to control everyone and everything? Can we implement a police system that can cope with nano-enabled aggression and coercion, while still preserving civil rights and liberties?


Mike Treder, CRN

Whether that can work in practice depends on human nature, and on the systems we develop to channel it. Can we make the Protestant Work Ethic obsolete?

Someone named Barry Brooks has published an excellent and intriguing web essay on "Refining the Work Ethic".

He asks some very interesting questions about why we work -- and explains why we should work less. He begins by pointing out that we don't open cans of food full-time just to make maximum use of can openers, then asserts that keeping everyone employed is just as wasteful:

Now that we have machines we don't need everyone's full labor, but the existence of surplus labor has been obscured because we have been able to waste enough to keep most workers busy, so far. Should we continue to waste scarce natural resources to keep all workers busy?

Some other intriguing quotes:

The greatest obstacle to building an efficient and durable world has been our failure to separate the economic and the social functions of work.

The production of goods and services could be much more efficient if we didn't make the use of all human labor one of our goals.

The core of his argument:

Without the use of demand stimulation, war, and other methods of increasing waste, there will be a shortage of paid work in any automated economy. But there will always be plenty of unpaid work, like motherhood, that could be done properly if people weren't too busy being wage slaves. If human dignity hinges on work why not give unpaid work its due respect? Must money be involved for work to be good?

The entire essay is well worth reading, and certainly pertinent to any discussion of economics in a nano-enabled society.


Janessa Ravenwood

Concerning the arms race, I got this from InstaPundit:

Brett Bellmore

Of course, can openers don't get twitchy and irritable if you leave them in the drawer. Humans have some kind of setpoint for activity, and not mindless activity either. You might be gardening instead of working in a factory, but you're going to be doing SOMETHING if you're healthy, and plan to remain so.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

It's also worth mentioning the Play Ethic:


Tom Craver

Just an odd idea - it has problems, but I thought it was interesting, in the context of efficient use of human labor.

Suppose wage scales were forced to increase by 20% each day of the week, starting on Monday. So if you pay workers $10/hr on Monday, you'd have to pay $12 Tuesday, $14.40 Wednesday, $17.28 Thursday, $20.74 Friday, and so on through Sunday.

Some interesting possible results:

- Everyone could get a job, as employers would want to hire as many workers as possible early in the week.
- There'd be more net leisure time, spread more evenly over all workers, as employers would want to minimize labor late in the week.
- Base wages would increase, due to competition to get as much as possible done early in the week.
- Self-employment and partnerships would increase as workers seek to augment their incomes later in the week when many conventional businesses would shut down. This would be better for them and the nation in many ways.
- Automation would be encouraged, since machines wouldn't cost more later in the week. In the net this is a good thing.
- Marginal uses of human labor would decrease - the hours people work would be more valuable.

It'd be great if this could happen without govt involvement, but that didn't happen for the transition to the ~40 hour/~5 day work week.

Brett Bellmore

And it would be all but impossible to get served in a restaurant on Friday. LOL

Tom Craver

The sort of "disaster" I worry about more, is a disaster of mind-control. We have ample examples of charismatic leaders creating new religions around themselves. Imagine the impact if that were even only *slightly* augmented using nanotech - not even to the extent of direct mind or memory control.

For example, I will use air-borne nanobots to administer short-lived "natural" drugs to induce feelings of well-being and joy among those in my presence and hearing my message. Fast acting painkillers will be administered when I lay my healing hands upon someone. Through those effects, and the slight depression that would follow leaving my presence (as followers come down from their high), an inner circle of a few hundred would quickly become conditioned to believe in and obey me.

Soon my inner circle will be "allowed" to convince me to create a technology to project my powerful aura over even greater distances - yea, even where only video of my presence is possible. They will find that no more false than the idea that a video can accurately reproduce my appearance and the sound of my voice - yea, even less false, for the video without the emotions my presence evokes will seem false and hollow to them.

Once a sufficient mass have joined my flock - surely no more than a few months to reach into the tens of thousands - my many disciples will begin to go out into the world, spreading my wise message of peace and harmony through obedience to my word, to all the nations.

Television will carry my image and my voice, while the water supply delivers the modern, nanotech means of reproducing the effects of my presence. Let tremble, those who deny my truth, for their false ways will soon fail them and carry them into suffering and destruction they could have avoided if they had only heeded and obeyed.
OK - I'm not going to do any of that - I just used first person to make it sound as creepy and dangerous as it should. SOMEONE will try this, guaranteed.

Tom Craver

Brett: Well, I don't want to discourage criticism - I recognize the idea has some problems, not least of which is that it requires government enforcement, which usually means things get screwed up somehow.

But we already have lots of laws regarding wages and hours, and distortions due to taxes, so things are already pretty screwed up. If there were a serious chance that we could get rid of all such interference, maybe there'd be no benefit from wacky schemes like mine.

What do you think - would people work less in a true laissez faire economy, taking better advantage of automation?

[BTW: Crowded restaurants on Friday and the weekend would seem to represent great opportunities for small family/partnership restaurants. I think that aspect would quickly balance out.]

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Tom Craver: I think your nano-cult scenario is covered in Study 25. The study is: "What effect could this have on civil rights and liberties?" The subquestion is: "What effects could new medical technologies have on personal autonomy and sanctity of thought?"

I'm more worried about government doing this (depending on the government) than about private individuals doing it. Private individuals will want to manipulate their targets, meaning they'll need communication channels beyond just the psychoactive. Governments will do it for your own good, or for the good of society; with simpler, more universal goals and less overhead, it'll be a lot more tempting to do it wholesale.


Tom Craver

Government, government leader, con-man, religious fanatic - Stalin, Mao, Amin, bin Laden, any number of high priests throughout the ages - it doesn't matter.

The biggest disasters - lost and wasted lives - throughout human history have been due to masses blindly following "The One Who Knows Best". A-bombs and sarin gas and machine guns - and eventually nanotech - are just their means of expression.

Perversion of ideas, as a means of control, are what we most need to guard against.

Mike Deering

Many of our problems are due to scarcity of resources. This need not continue after the development of MM (molecular manufacturing) and AGI (artificial general intelligence). Real estate too expensive? Build a new planet. AGI's will take care of IP(intellectual property) costs.

Threats, existential risks, disaster scenarios: Can you solve post Singularity problems with pre-Singularity intelligence? Eliezer says no. I say maybe.

Listen hard. Do you hear voices telling you to wake up? To stop living in the dream world of tomorrow being the same as yesterday. The human race is on the cusp of a great technological change. We are running out of time to make well reasoned plans for the transition will be disruptive, catastrophic if we ignore it. The greatest threat is going into the Singularity blind to the possibilities. The greatest defenses are knowledge, communication, and imagination.

Karl Gallagher

CRN asks: why should unearned income be good for the rich and bad for the poor?

It's generally not good for the rich. They wind up spoiled, miserable, in unstable relationships, and drinking themselves to death. The inherited rich, that is. The ones who earn it do okay. This why I think Bill Gates is smart to not let his kids inherit too much.


All I want to know is why no one ever mentions Greg Bear's Blood Music when talking about the Grey Goo scenario. That hack Crichton is always used. Bleh.

Brett Bellmore

'Cause Blood Music is excessively optimistic?


So most of the western hemisphere is taken over by the goo and you call that excessively optimistic?

Or perhaps the few who were naturally immune? (Is that even possible?)

Give reasons man! :)

John B

re: Blood Music -
Because everyone ended up happy and 'living'. Even if they were coerced into doing so by nanite infestation affecting their CNS (Just because the nanites admit to reading doesn't mean they can't write...)

As for natural immunity to something like that, it's a great plot hook and helps explain what's going on to the reader, but I rather doubt such would actually occur. *shrug*


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