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« Quarterly Report | Main | Nanotechnology Definition »

September 05, 2004


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Mike Deering

"Most of the factories are also burned..."

No one is ever going to burn up a nanofactory.

Chris Rae

This is a little off topic, but I was wondering if CRN has a contingency plan for the event of a totalitarian government emerging to dominate the globe. Im my opinion this is not only probable, but an inevitable consequence of the fascist regime currently in power in the US.

Mike Deering

I like your scenario. Hypothetical situations are a good way to explore the solution space of a problem. And because no hypothetical can ever be perfect, it is a very brave thing to do, exposing yourself to detailed criticism. That said, I think it is our responsibility to poke holes in it. We will all learn a lot through the back and forth exchange of ideas. I learned quite a bit during the "pirate" discussions. Thanks.

If nanofactories are available why don't they already have them?

Once you drop nanofactories into a society you change it forever. There is no going back to the way it was.

You are using oil for feedstock, I like that. And you have chemical plants to convert biomass into feedstock, I like that too. But why airlift in so much oil? Why not airlift in chemical plants, tents, food, a water purifier, and other immediate need items? Fine tuning the emergency supply mixture will come with experience, but the general idea of using some pre-made items and bootstrapping the rest from local materials is the way to go.

I have a different scenario: nanofactory made helicopters airlift the entire population out and put them up in a modern 5-star hotel. After the flood recedes a team of volunteers (peace corps) goes in and using nanotechnology, rebuilds the entire village and surrounding area back the way it was before the flood, including housing, farms, infrastructure, etc. When it is time for the villagers to go back, they refuse, and instead melt into modern nanotech enabled society leaving their agrarian existence behind forever.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Mike, why do you say "No one is ever going to burn up a nanofactory"?

First, consider that the technology will advance rapidly. Someone from the 1960's, seeing the specs of a 100 MHz desktop computer, might say with just as much justification, "No one is ever going to throw out one of those."

Second, consider that there'll be no reason at all (this side of Singularity) to run nanofactories full-time. And they'll take space to store. If you can build a new one in an hour or 100 overnight, why not get rid of them until you need them again?


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Tongue in cheek answer to "Why don't they already have them?"

Because they couldn't afford them. Under the WTO's 2011 Nanofactory Convention, nanofactories can only be given away in a humanitarian emergency. Aside from that, they cost $100 per kg of product, plus $1 per teraflop of computer. The village was doing OK, but would have had to wait another 5 years to buy the nanofactory.

The health problems stemming from the lack of nanomedicine were not considered to be a humanitarian emergency, though by 2014 there was growing pressure (resisted by the U.S.) to allow cheap medical equipment to be distributed for such purposes. The compromise strategy looks like this: only FDA-approved treatments can be provided under this program, and only at a discount, not for free.

Developing nations make use of loopholes in the law to keep a few nanofactories after the emergency is over. (Removal of nanofactories would create humanitarian problems; the problems were there before, but that was a sin of omission, while forcible removal would amount to actively creating new problems. It took the lawyers four years to settle this.) But transfer of nanofactories from the site of the emergency, or even too-wide distribution of their products, is "piracy" and can be met with WTO sanctions against the offending nation.

This policy has led to a lot of people moving their towns right next to rivers that flood frequently.

Attempts to develop independent nanofactories, of course, are Threats to Global Security. So far, exponentially increasing surveillance has kept pace with the exponentially decreasing difficulty of building an unrestricted nanofactory. It made the news and civil libertarians complained when the number of cameras exceeded 1 billion, then 10 billion, but most people (at least those quoted in the media) said they "felt safer" with the cameras.


Mike Deering

Oh my God! Why don't we just blow up the whole world and forget the whole thing!

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Chris Rae: No, CRN doesn't really have a plan to deal with totalitarian domination. As far as I can see, there's no way to deal with it. Once they can watch everything you do 24/7, with computer image processing to flag anything "unusual" for human attention, you're completely out of luck.

One obvious answer is to give everyone a nanofactory, figuring that totalitarians won't arise if the people can defend themselves. But I don't think this will work. As long as you have government in any meaningful sense, the mass of people will follow its rules, and the totalitarians will not. Even the government itself will be hamstrung by its rules.

Could we throw away government, and let people self-organize into mutual protection groups? Sounds nice, but I think it's unstable. Two groups would start "protecting" against each other until the situation degenerated into war.

The U.S. seems to swing between totalitarian-ish and personal-freedom periods. Each authoritarian period threatens to be the one that tips us out of democracy. So far that hasn't happened. If we're lucky, MM will be developed as we swing away from totalitarianism. If MM brings the abundance that it's capable of bringing, we'll certainly have a lot less scarcity to fight about than we do today. But if we succumb to artificial scarcity and unnecessary security fears, things could be very bleak indeed. Of course, there will be some necessary security concerns as well; the hard part will be dealing with them without letting the totalitarians in.


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Mike: I thought my "couldn't afford them" scenario was reasonably hopeful, though cynical/realistic. At least there were loopholes being found. BTW, the paragraph on health problems was directly inspired by the ongoing AIDS medicine controversy.



Mike, I share your concern and appreciate your hopelessness in the face of this technology. We stand at the doorway to a New World and with all change comes uncertainty. If we all of us do not make it we should recognize that we did everything we could do to get through it, to benefit everyone around us. If we do this then the time we spend here will be well spent. I am not a religious man myself, I believe in the "Truth" though I admit I do not know what it is. When I die, and if there is something more I hope, I can look back on my time here, and say to those on the other side, I did everything in my power to help.


Mike Deering

There are many current problems that could be solved with changes in policy alone. That is a shame, a black mark against humanity. But there is still hope. Advances in molecular nanotechnology, molecular biotechnology, and artificial intelligence will make all problems of needless human suffering extremely easy to solve. If after the development of these technologies people still have so little regard for one another as to let needless major suffering continue then humanity will not be worth saving, and I will personally destroy every primate within 50 light-years of here, and let evolution try again. Maybe when frogs develop general intelligence they will do better.

Don't tempt me. I can do it.



2004 today
2011 first generation molecular assembler's/replicators
2018 first space elevator deployed
2023 first AI passes turning test
2025 second generation molecular assembler/replicators capable of producing copies of living things. I.e. your pet dog
2027 robots outnumber mankind
2030 immortality achieved

This is my best guess based on readings and interpretations of trends. I am looking for something positive to say about government in general. I find that I am drawing a blank. When I compare the difficulties facing my life here I am not afraid of my neighbor. And I find I am not afraid of Russia, Japan, Australia and the like France troubles me a little bit. As to the United States government they are a greater concern. And although we can vote a group out of our we still are in a situation of a four-year delay. And with MM a four-year delay is an eternity. We've been here for some 200 plus years and I like to think the United States is the greatest country ever formed or conceived by man. We have a self balancing government with give and take capabilities that has endured many tragedies over the years. And although this technology is unprecedented we can be hopeful that are government will remain and will continue freedom.

As I've written another pose I believe the word "independence" is the word of the new era. When all men are independent then we'll see true progress. The road independence in the past has always been bloody. And there's no reason to believe it will not be that again. Each wore progressively has gotten worse and more devastating to those fighting and losing. If we moved to a new world war we should expect casualties unprecedented. But after this war the survivors perhaps will be "independent". 1000 years from today the historians will have written our story, I will wish they speak well of us, and of our world we are about to create.

jim moore

Tongue in cheek answer to why they would have nanofactories already.

2011 and Cornucopia Inc. (the first organization that has a working nano-factory) begins its plan to employ the entire population of globe as designers / testers for nano-factory products. The founders of Cornucopia Inc. realized that wealth and power come to those who have first access to new technologies. And they realized that design and litigation costs out weigh by billions of times the incremental costs of making another copy of a product from a nano-factory.

The "business" plan was as simple as it was bold: Enter into contractual agreements with everyone (who wants to) as testers of products from nano-factories. In exchange for limited liability and being able to monitor the behavior of the device and your reactions to the device, you get to test and keep 1-10 kg of new nano-factory products each week. People who also want to be designers have a contract that says in exchange for access to design software and a wide range of pre-existing designs you submit all of your designs to Cornucopia Inc. and get payment for your design based on usage.

To the outside world Cornucopia Inc. only sells products from nano-factories never the nano-factory itself. The only people with access to nano-factories directly are the designers from Cornucopia Inc.

By the end of 2014 every one in the world was a an employee of Cornucopia Inc. except about ~60 million people who did not want to join.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Jim, I *really* enjoyed this scenario. I hope it turns out to be workable. Especially since, with the users tied into the system, there could be a lot of voluntary monitoring, and a large number of designers trained to be productive.

You'd want to fiddle with the incentive structure so that people would have an incentive to design defenses.

If Tom Craver starts running his simulation games, I look forward to playing opposite you--and I hope you win.



I agree Chris I am looking forward to the simulation of Tom's if he decides to move forward. One thing that might help is if a prize is given or perhaps two or three prizes one for Tom and perhaps one for the last man or woman standing. Not that we would want to encourage fighting amongst the players. So perhaps everyone at the end it would simply vote on who they believed had positioned themselves in the best position during the game. One thing we should limit the number of rounds to perhaps 20 or so and the game time to perhaps 100 days or something. So that we can find a conclusion in a timely manner and if necessary repeat. I believe the panel of experts reviewing the comments is a very good idea we could send out a generally alert to everyone reading these posts if they are a "expert" they could comment on the individual modes. It was earlier stated that a 500 word limit might be invoked I would like to see that number increased to some number not exceeding a short story. As you know why do not type end use a verbal input software and it is sometimes difficult for me to simplify and clarify my words in such a short essay.

As to the prize or prizes they could be given as I'm sure they are tax write-offs perhaps someone could donate three computers and the they could be given as prizes. This should also promotes the affair and bring several other players to the table that perhaps would otherwise not play.

Mike Deering

I think limiting each move to 500 words is a good idea. Players should be teams of three. They can discuss their move via email and have the best writer produce the move and send it in. Referees should produce rulings like the supreme court by majority vote and with a majority and a minority statement.


Quick question can a solar cell be transparent and if not why not ?


One of the other points that is coming out from time to time in the order of predictions. It seems that the many predictions tend to move a few years in the future after MM. And seemed to skip over this element and bring new and other predictions. Although these predictions seemed coherent and consistent with many of the patterns we're seeing today I have my doubts. One thing that seems to be pervasive is the general disregard for the first few years after MM. This time seems to be to me the most critical and relevant to any and all of these discussions. As the dangers will be considerable we begining with the what if's.

1. The United States government develops MM.
2. A major university in the United States develops MM
3. A corporation such as IBM develops MM

Which one of the possibility seems more probable is open for discussion perhaps a sharing of information between all three could produce the final product. Although in this case the government would likely remain in control. So I find myself asking what will the government do with this technology. All I can do is look back on history it as to what government has done with new technologies as they have become available and what is there history. This technology is far more powerful than any technology in the past and that's the concerns out way any in the past I would even go so far as to say they out way the issues with the atomic bomb.

Given the impact on industry that the technology will have in the opening days in this is one of the issues I want to clarify here. We are not talking about years we're talking about days. The self assembly characteristics of MM and the self replication elements are destabilizing to say the least. On the first day we are likely to have only a few products although this may not be the case as we have discussed before there will be a six-month window where the technology is working and the players can prepare for the first day of the existence of a molecular assembler/replicator. As we're dealing with the government we are almost assuredly dealing with military implications and the impact on the military will be profound. One of the first products that would seem reasonable on the list would be some sort of projectile weapon. Perhaps diamond version replacement for the M-16. We also see a situation where body armor can be deployed throughout the forces.

Which brings us to another discussion outside this discussion that is what if a 1/2 inch breastplate worn by a soldier in combat made from a combination diamond carbon nano tube composite. What would it take to penetrate this piece of armor.

Back on subject in addition to armor and hand weapons the next most logical step perhaps would be some sort of vehicle. And here we see the first destabilizing elements brought to bear by the technology. If the military develops a tank that would be one thing but, if the military develops a Jeep or transport vehicle now we see direct crossover to the civilian sector. As a civilian version of this vehicle could then be replicated in quantities. The military would certainly wish to have perhaps 200,000 or so of these vehicles available and distributed throughout the world to use in day-to-day affairs.

So we have but a replicator and only 4 products at this point. And yet the impact on the market economy is already sealed. The impact on the automobile industry will be profound if the assemblers are distributed to the general populace and this one product this military version of a transport vehicle hits the market. We will see the end of the automobile industry in America this'll cascade through the steel industry as well as several other underlying support industries. Hundreds of thousands of individuals will be laid off and United States unemployment rate will move into double digits.

It should also be noted the impact on the banking industry as individuals will perhaps stop paying payments on vehicles they have already purchased as they no longer need them or will attempt to return said vehicle. This issue carries through to all current debt and I don't believe has been addressed in the last few months as to the impact on banking if individuals stop paying their bills in the case of automobiles, motorhomes, motorcycles, ATVs and the like. Although individual will likely continue to pay their rent or mortgage. The continuing payments to things that can be replaced by MM would seem unclear.

I would also like to comment on the impact that immortality will have on the life insurance industry, well perhaps not today :).

michael vassar

Chris, I'd like to know more about this simulation game. Sounds interesting. Something like Bucky Fuller's worldgame?
Your scenario with the WTO sounds plausible and reasonably optimistic.
I'm still waiting for that contact suggestion.
Of course, if intelligence enhancement develops as fast as it may, 3 year out scenarios may not be at all realistic after all.

Janessa Ravenwood

Jim: To quote Brett - "Just how far away from Earth do I have to get to escape this nightmare scenario?" The incentive to develop another nanofactory in that scenario would be immense, what with one company controlling the planet because of that monopoly. Put me down for a spot on the pirate/rebel nanofactory design team in that world. I doubt you'll manage to stop us all.

Karl Gallagher

Todd asked: Quick question can a solar cell be transparent and if not why not ?

The power produced by a solar cell is proportional to number of photons that aren't allowed to pass through. A transparent cell will produce no power. A 100% efficient one will be opaque.

Karl Gallagher

Mike - how do you stand on self-inflicted suffering? How about suffering that can only be alleviated by overthrowing a kleptocrat?

And, hoping this can be kept reasonably tongue in cheek:

General discussion - given that Mike has threatened to kill all of us given MM tech, when can we plead self defense if we kill him? Now? After the first molecular assembler has been developed? After he begins designing his primate exterminator? After he kills a primate?


Hello, everyone I hope today is passing well for all of you. First let me say thank you to Karl, for his description of a solar cell. I was planning on covering my spacecraft in solar cells and was hoping I would still be able to see out. As I do not wish to miss any of the remarkable views.

Today I in reviewing the relative information known in regards the space shuttle. I am confident that the entire ship is part for part contained in a database and in a AutoCAD format. There are many many parts I believe the total number was quoted somewhere on this web page I seem to recall reading. The ship is defined as a low orbiting spacecraft in that it cannot reach the upper atmosphere. I wonder if this is because of a weight issue. Where the shuttle fully loaded with crew is simply too heavy to move into the upper atmosphere with the available rockets. If this is the case than it seems reasonable rebuilding the shuttle in diamond would reduce the overall weight substantially as well as the weight of the casing for each of the Rockets. This weight reduction would translate into a higher orbit capable craft. And perhaps a system that would allow movement to the moon or other locations in the solar system. If this is the case as all technology is it already defined and designed for the space shuttle we have a simple ship which can be duplicated in numbers and sent up giving us a foundation for deployment into space. It would seem at first glance that simply building 200 or so shuttle's and connecting them together in some way in space. Launching each one individually could be accomplished and would give us a reasonable size space station to build from. Although we would have considerable redundancy in many elements of this approach is not without merit.

So the question for today is using MM to build the shuttle's and support Rockets as well as a launch facility all of which have already been designed and designs are already on computer in the form of AutoCAD files. What is the estimates on the complexity of transitioning this technology over lock stock and barrel to diamond MM. Radiation shielding seems to be one issue outstanding and undefined. As well as the heat shield currently used on the shuttle. Although it should be noted if we are not planning on returning the shuttle to earth we do not necessarily need a heat shield on the ship. The current launch fuel used I believe is liquid oxygen and some form of solid fuel as well this information can easily be obtained if this detail is necessary. It doesn't seem unreasonable the using MM the equipment that is used to produce the liquid oxygen could be easily produced again I'm assuming the design is available in AutoCAD and could be converted easily to diamond MM.

The entire system would seem reasonably automated if one where to move to a secluded location somewhere near the equator. Set up a solar/wind/geothermal power system. Construct perhaps even paying oil platform looking system. Once again the designs for the oil platform are already in play. Produce a quantity of energy and began sending up shuttle's filled with necessary material for a extended or permanent stay in space.

Once again the what I'm going for is to relieve the complexity of the situation and to look at what is currently available in designed and easily deployed without undue expertise. Perhaps after six or seven launches you could simply ride along on the 8th launch has each lunch is identical the margin of safety would seem reasonable. Lunches would continue until ordered to stop. Modifications to payloads could be than anticipated as you are in space and needs are more defined. If the entire launch procedure boils down to generation of power as to the restriction on the number of lunches. We see a situation where even two or three lunches per day could be achieved if energy was available and utilized.

As to connecting the shuttle's together perhaps simple pipes could be connected from shuttle to shuttle. The pipes would enter the craft from all six sides and connect it to six other shuttle's one above, one below, to the left, one to the right, one in front, and one behind, this grid would continue regardless of whether you have 100, 200, or even 1000 shuttle in the mix.

This approach assumes that no additional improve designs will be found and all technology post MM will have to utilize the current design structures without modification. This would seem worst-case scenario but would also show that deployment to space is still possible as "most" of the pulmonary design specifications are already in place. And although these characteristics are grossly over redundant and would be far too expensive to utilize with today's technology they are within reason utilizing MM.


Just incase anyone was wondering I thought I would look this one up, as I do not recall ever hearing this word before.

< klepto kleptomania >
SYLLABICATION: klep·toc·ra·cy
NOUN: Inflected forms: pl. klep·toc·ra·cies
A government characterized by rampant greed and corruption.
ETYMOLOGY: Greek kleptein, to steal + –cracy.
OTHER FORMS: klepto·crat (-t-krt) —NOUN
klepto·cratic —ADJECTIVE


Todd, I think it might be more efficient to build a space elevator for space access. This would eliminate the need for rockets completely, and alow you to just ship up feedstock and fabricate a space station and space-craft from orbit. Just a thought.


Mark, I wholeheartedly agree a space elevator would be better. We're not looking at a situation where we have a space elevator based on current predictions until 2018 this number may be offset slightly by MM. But we're likely to have MM years before a space elevator. And if a general destabilizing affect from social, governmental, and military occurs. We will need to look to technology that we currently have on the shelf and ready to go. In order to move off earth and distance ourselves from the "kleptocracy". So my point is even if great upheavals occur and individuals are left with little to no new technology post MM there's still hope to move into space.

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