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« Nanofactory Proliferation | Main | Serious Stuff »

July 09, 2004


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Brett Bellmore

I think you've got to seriously distinguish violent and property crime, from victimless crimes. The latter are almost impossible to stop even now, with conventional technology. And attempts to enforce victimless crime laws are probably responsible for most crimes which DO have victims, especially those committed by organized crime.

If we can stay away from the nanotech regulations being aimed at victimless conduct, the civil liberties threat becomes much less, as does the motive for creation of a black market.

And the sort of people who usually commit crime will probably vanish into VR fantasies, and never be seen again...

Tom Craver

WRT question B - even if a nanofactory can't produce specific molecules, it could easily produce a desk or even pocket sized automated chemical lab for converting common household chemicals into a specific drug.

Once some clever college student designs it, any junkie will be able to download the design, print one out, dump in the wrong household chemicals, and really mess himself up.

I'm kind of hoping that one side benefit of the war on terror might be that we'll realize we have better things to do than the War on Drugs. It's already working in Afghanistan :-)

So my general comment here is that I think the emphasis on crimes where the primary victim is the criminal, is misplaced.

I won't go so far as to call them 'victimless' crimes, but I'd say that if such things were de-criminalized, we'd have a lot less real crime and we'd be able to deal with the relatively moderate collateral damage caused by drug users and such.


I agree with Tom, that many things must be de-criminalized, I think it would also alow for a greater concentration on violent and terror like crimes.

This is just my opinion, but I do not see the government, namely a civil liberties driven democracy at least as we know it working in light of MM. I hope im wrong, but if a weapons black market skyrockets due to MM then I am afraid to say, I think that a stong hand may be required, and the power granted to the common person may need to be limited. Perhaps voting privileges may need to be restricted to those who have completed a term of civil service, or possibly just law enforcement or military. this may "help" to weed out government influence by anti-government people. However I dont think these steps should be implemented prior to MM's public release, I do still believe we should "hope" for the best, but plan for the worst. If major restructuring becomes necessary I hope it will only happen when it is absolutly needed, meaning after something bad happens.

One possibility of a structured law enforcement in light of a crazy armed criminal population may be to 1) have a huge network or sensors and scanning robots/materials to colect and report information in real-time, flag suspicious behavior, or even continously scan every person and track individual movement, at least in public places. I am not one for that type of monitoring, but if it is a question of safety, then by all means, I dont care if someone knows when and what grocery store im at, or which hall I may be walking down. 2) very diverse teams of law enforcment, from network monitors, to special forces like military units, to non-leathal units aimed at simply taking down large groups, civilian and criminal at once, then sorting things out later. 3) this may be a stretch, but MM will give us the possibility for structural materials to be able to nuetralize threats with tranquilizers, electric shock, or with self replicating nanobots, possibly transformation and comfinement, be it AI controlled or human controlled. 4) Law enforcment coruption may need to be delt with as treason, violent and nonviolent alike.

With all the great things that MM will bring forth, the power granted to the individual will have to be met with tough decisions and tough sacrifices. To me I see it the same as the automobile making walking in the streets unsafe and therefore illegal. The population will adjust if their lives depend on it.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Brett: The people who commit victimless crimes may also tend to vanish into VR fantasies.

Tom Craver: Haven't you heard, drugs support terrorism? We must increase the War on Drugs to prevent funds flowing into the hands of the terrorists! (I'm honestly not sure whether I'm being sarcastic or not.)

Mark: If you wait till the last minute to restructure, you're likely to do it cluelessly. I don't know if restructuring will be necessary. It might be. But it won't be easy to invent something better than the democracy we have today, even with all its flaws. And it would be very easy to restructure our way into something worse.


Brett Bellmore

Well, that's true, Chris, I'm just not sure why it should concern me. Or to put that a bit better, I'm not sure why that's something we should feel compelled to do something about, since of course, we CAN be concerned about things we understand we don't have a right to do anything about.

The consequences of trying to keep people from ruining their lives generally seem to be worse than the consquences of letting them do as they please, in as much as the former course of action harms people who aren't self destructive, too.

We're already seeing a movement towards the police using teleoperated gear in dangerous situations. Nanotech will only push that trend along. The police could have remotely controlled robocops pre-positioned all over the place, ready to be activated at a moment's notice. And in place of universal survailance, each person could be provided with a radio link that runs 24/7, encrypted, allowing them to report if they get in trouble. Going to a data store with a third party key holder. With a deadman switch option, criminals couldn't simply block the signal, either.

Tom Craver

Regarding MNT schemes relying on surveillance:

Privacy is not just a matter of avoiding embarassment, as many people in orderly countries with relatively benevolent governments seem to assume. The biggest need for privacy is as a buffer against government excesses, and secondarily against individuals or groups (e.g. gangs) that in theory should be suppressed by government but often are not.

The "Transparent Society" proposal by David Brin might work - except that I have a hard time believing that any existing government would ever allow itself to become truly transparent. Those with power and responsibility are always going to be thinking of "good reasons" why some things need to be kept secret. Maybe a wholly new and isolated society could wean itself from secrecy - I'm not sure how any existing one could.

Even with a truly transparent society, people's thoughts (for now) will be secret. And there's the lesser form of secrecy by obscurement - critical information hidden in the mass of information.

For example, an angry and suicidal person could use total access to information - and the secrecy of their own thoughts - to develop and implement a plan to bypass open security measures (such as guards and cameras and time delays) to cause a disaster. This would be especially true with the availability of MNT.

About all I can think of as a solution to this would be to assign every person a personal AI 'conscience', that monitors their every action and learns to predict their actions so it can warn others (or at least let others see) if that person starts heading down a dark path. Are we willing to go that far into transparency?

Mario Marquinez Otalora

Mark: You said "I dont care if someone knows when and what grocery store im at, or which hall I may be walking down", It is valid untill the hall you are coming down is aimed to as enemy (fisycal, mental or politically) by the big brother . Belive me, for an innocent it is far more difficult to prove his total innocence, than to culprits to obtain alybis.
Everyone: Whenever the inicial topic is, we ends discussing freedom and policy. It is interesting.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Brett: I was answering your call for decriminalizing victimless crimes. I wasn't moralizing about disappearing into VR. Just saying that some people who today take drugs or have illegal kinds of sex will tomorrow use VR instead. And that's less likely to be a crime, so there will be less victimless crime, so it's at least a little less of a problem if it's not decriminalized.

Tom (Craver): It may be that psychiatric monitoring will be easier than an AI conscience. If there's a detectable neurochemical state that's the correlate of amok/terrorist thinking, or criminal intentions, or control freak nature, etc, then it may be possible to use a simple blood test to tell whether someone will be a good citizen in the next five minutes or not. And this leads to the idea that people could be drugged if their minds start going into undesirable modes...

Shades of Greg Bear's idea of "therapied" people who can be trusted, and those who refuse therapy and get ghettoized. Except that refusing therapy may not be an option...


Tom Craver

Chris: "It may be that psychiatric monitoring will be easier than an AI conscience."

I can't say that either is very appealing. The AI conscience at least fits with what I understand of Brin's Transparent Society. It would just monitor external behaviors, same as anyone else in the society could do, if they had the time and desire.

Tom Craver

I think it's worth considering what happens if everyone really does get wish boxes to make anything they want, given a few square meters of high efficiency solar cells.

Parents will have a hard time telling their bored and rebellious kids they need to stay in school (what's the point?) and if they push the kids too hard to toe the line, the kids can just burn a copy of the wish box and take off. Once they realize it isn't safe to be alone on the streets, many would join or form gangs.

Their parents, seeing gangs springing up all around them and feeling threatened, will probably join with their neighbors to "seal up" a building or neighborhood as an enclave - forming their own tribal units for safety the police can't provide.

Meanwhile, with no one feeling the need to work, city services might rapidly fall apart, and be replaced by self-sufficient solutions. What was once a city might become a maze of competing tribes and alliances and feuds. With the end of the power grid (who'd maintain it? And why?), the access to sunlight might become the literal source of power for gangs.

Sure, a lot of people will flee the big cities if things get this bad - but will that fundamentally change anything?

What's going to prevent this grim scenario?

Brett Bellmore

People will darned will have to flee the cities if the power grids break down, as a pure reliance on locally generated solar power pretty much mandates a low population density. "A few square meters of high efficiency solar cells" just won't cut it if you're trying to be totally independent, unless you're into serious self-denial.

What's going to prevent the scenario? Well, wish machine lockouts for minors, (The first wish any parent makes!) for starters.

Mario Marquinez Otalora

Tom: Your tribal scenario with only solar sun gathering, remind me of the Hunting and gathering people, long ago in teh past oof our civilizations.
This system do not allow to exist more than a number of inhabitants.
Suppose every inhabitant in this scenario will wish to have its own wish box. Every human will need at least a pair of Sq meters of a sun collection system, so once all the earth is coverd with panels,the next one who is seeking for energy will have to figth for it.The population will be very evenly distributed along the land, connections between them will no longer be easy, people will marry relatives because they will not be able to travel to much far from they are.
Interesting to think what would happen if New York city or Hong Kong citizens wants alltogether to assure their sun light portion.
In these case some sort of cooperation between them will be necessary, so, besides robbery that will be a super foolish thing and passional crime,
the scenario seems to have a sort of auto regulation.


Tom, why do you think you have described a "grim" scenario? What exactly are the downsides?

Brett, why won't a few m^2 not be enough? With current efficiency, you can get 100 watt in a couple m^2. With higher efficiency, you might be able to get 1KW. 1KW is plenty for self-sufficiency. The average home has at least 100 m^2 roof space, and then there's the sidewalk and street. I wouldn't be surprised at 100KW / person available energy.

Mario, you do realize that the land surface area of the earth is 148 million km^2, which is 148 million million m^2 ? That would give each existing person at least 20,000 m^2.

Brett Bellmore

In 1994, (I didn't take the time to look up more recent figures.) per capita energy consumption in the US amounted to about 10kw, 24/7. Not including solar energy involved in agriculture.

Let's assume 50% efficient solar cells. Depending on location and weather, you can probably count on 1-200 watts per square meter worth of sunlight, averaged over the course of 24 hours. So, to achieve 1994 per capita energy consumption, you'd need about fifty to 100 square meters of solar panel.

You can reduce that somewhat by assuming products that last a very long time, and are energy efficient, but I don't believe you're going to get by with a couple of square meters, unless you're planning on adopting a lifestyle almost indistingushable from a plant.

Mike Deering

In our solar system the planets receive a minuscule portion of the total solar output. Why waste the rest? This is probably why 75% of the mass in the universe is dark, all those systems surrounded by shells.


Brett, you last post on per capita energy consumption, just a thought, did you consider MM taking over may factories. I did not look up any numbers, but it wouls seem to me that a huge portion of the energy we used in 1994 was used in the industrial sector, or somewhere else that MM MAY reduce.
The duplex I live in has aprox 625 meters of roof-top, lets say that solar cells can average the 50% eff. you stated, thats 12.5 kw of power, I believe that is more than enough to meet at least most of the needs of any 2 small families. tie that into a neighborhood grid with the roads and sidewalks able to contribute and im sure you would be able to meet the needs of a small comunity.


didn't even think about this one, we've all heard about Konarka’s solar film. reading how they test it by obviously putting it under light made me think. why just put solar collecting material outside, heck if its cheap enough to make paint with it, or layer your inside walls with it, you could lets say capture 30% of the light you make indoors and recycle it back into your home, cutting the surface area needed outdoors down. I know not a way to make the power initially , but a heck of a way to save some of.


sorry just remembered this was a thread about policing..........

on that note, I think I posted something similar to this on another thread.

to maintain some sort of control over products made with MM, maintain some sort of economy, and probably make every person on the planet happy and mad at the same time, you could just not allow people to own a true MM, most things people will need could be made from much larger building blocks than atoms, let the goverment or company control MM, make different kinds of blocks and distribute them. Have home factories simply put the larger blocks together. This would also allow the government, military, police, whatnot to have access to far superior technology that the common citizen, basicly putting us in our place.

Now I dont agree with this what-so-ever, but it might be a good way to start introducing MM, and adjust policy at a pace most people can deal with.

Brett Bellmore

I think that your typical single family dwelling could be self-sufficient, based on solar energy captured by it's roof, given easily anticipated advances in energy efficiency. Probably not high rise apartment buildings, though. But I don't see much call for such, given that high density living like that is mostly driven by factors that would tend to be abolished by nanotechnology, such as the need to be able to commute to centrally located jobs.

I think you'd see a lot of people homesteading currently unpopulated areas in the south-west. You could live quite well on a few acres in Arizona.

Mike Deering

Picture this.

A guy owns ten acres in the Mojave desert. In the center is a high dome that covers about five acres. The outside surface of the dome has solar panels but lets enough light through for the crops inside. The inside is temperature controlled by the solar panels and humidity controlled by the dome being air and water tight. Robots tend the crops and take care of the facilities. There is a house, mostly underground, with a recycling center in the deepest basement. Everything is recycled; water, air, trash, even diamondoid (high energy, but possible). In the next to the bottom level is the nanoblock assembly plant that supplies all of the nanofactories in the house.

Now things are going along just fine until the ATF agents show up at the door to the dome. Suddenly everything starts to dissolve/evaporate/disassemble. In a few minutes there is nothing left. The agents wonder what the heck happened but their surveillance records don't go down to the microscopic level so they have no way of knowing.

Brett Bellmore

I'm unclear about the implication there, Mike; Is it that the owner disolved everything to frustrate a search, or that the BATF destroyed everything using miiitary disassemblers?

Sounds like a nice setup, though.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Mark mentions the possibility of centrally controlled manufacture of nanoblock "toner" for private 3D printers, suggesting that it could provide some benefits to people while maintaining government power. He closes with, "Now I dont agree with this what-so-ever, but it might be a good way to start introducing MM, and adjust policy at a pace most people can deal with."

This is very, very similar to CRN's proposals. "Adjust policy at a pace most people can deal with" is one of our biggest motivations. And I think proposals like this may be a pretty good way of achieving that. Does it maintain the status quo longer than we might like? Yes. Does it limit people? Yes. Does it preserve the rule of law? Yes, at least for a while. Does it avoid a mad scramble to fill a power vacuum? I think so. Does it allow standard of living improvements that are massive by today's standards? Yes. Is it prone to abuse? Yes, but so is every proposal I've seen.

Note that in addition to giving governments a warm fuzzy feeling and thus reducing the chance of political collapse, it also reassures businesses that they can maintain enough of an artificial scarcity to avoid economic collapse. This will annoy a lot of people, but I can't see sudden economic collapse leading to anything good; it would create a lot of lost/helpless people and another kind of massive power vacuum. (Remember that free off-grid technologies won't appear overnight.)


Tom Craver

If a person needs 2000 Kcal/day, that's equivalent to 135W on average over those 24 hrs. I estimate creating that much food energy would take at least 10sq-m of solar collector.

From the nanofactory paper, producing 1kg of diamond material takes about ~150KWhr - probably around 3000sq-meter-hours. 10sq-m should be adequate, since a lot of energy can be saved by building most stuff with easily recyclable nanoblocks.

Tack on another 10sq-m to run gadgets, lights, etc.

So to live pretty well, one person might need about 30sq-m, and a family of 4 might need about 120sq-m. That's quite a bit of area - a bit inconvenient even for a large suburban home with a yard to roof over.

Brett Bellmore

That's only about 1300 square feet for reference; The roof of a modest ranch with a garage will top that. Single family dwellings aren't going to have much trouble achieving energy independence, it's the apartment buildings that won't be able to make it.


When calculating how much m^2 of solar panel every person on Earth needs, we shouldn´t forget that other energy sources aren´t likely to disappear.
While photosynthesis (== bio energy) might be less efficient than panels and thus be reduced for producing electric energy, wind, tidal, geothermic, nuclear and (maybe) eventually fusion power are likely to stay, since they take away virtually no space when compared to solar panels and supplement panels where and when these don´t work well. At least for cities, energy shouldn´t be a major concern, at least no more than it is today.
Note on nuclear power plants: while maintaining them doesn´t seem to be strictly necessary, they can be made more efficient, and safer by MNT. Atomically precise and strong materials (constantly maintained by robots) can directly increase safety while the nuclear waste can be put deep (I mean DEEP) underground or simply be shot, or flung from a space elevator, into the sun. I don´t know what speaks against burying the core for operation as well, to further protect against meltdown consequences; are there any basic concerns other than cost? With cheap digging machines you can have any fundament you deem necessary and sufficient.

As for self-supply:
Nuclear would still be no great idea in the hands of individuals, although fusion might be, if it really can be made as safe as I´ve read it is expected to be. Geo, water and tidal energy is of course not available everywhere, while bio energy looks OK for most places on Earth that people would want to inhabit anyway. A combination of solar and wind energy should be possible under every planetary condition, while space looks like "panels only" (without external fuel supply).

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