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« Nanofactories vs. Chimeras | Main | Unanswered Questions, Part 1 »

November 22, 2004


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Tom Craver

Will the rewards of nanotech themselves prove to be a source of risk?

- Environmental impact?
- Meme-war? (Goods and information and work become near valueless, so intangible ideas dominate our lives.)
- Fragmentation of the human race via accelerating proliferation of mental and physical variations?
- Unguessable Outcomes? (Singularity)

CRN wants to focus on how to best get through the nanotech transition era. But how do we know what path is best, if we don't know where we want to end up? The safest path might lead to a closed, static society using mind control to keep everyone happy and cooperative. The most deadly dangerous megadeath path could lead humanity to the greatest wisdom and impetus to do better in the future.

John B

Good points, Tom. Just because we don't dissolve into grey goo doesn't mean nano won't be a major problem in our world - in fact, being as transformative as it appears it may be, it might be kinder to society as a whole to dissolve into grey goo!

Unfortunately, this is a highly chaotic situation. Inputs may help limit out some of the more obvious risks - like grey goo - but increase others at the same time - the worldwide surveillance required to prevent grey goo from getting out of hand, given self-supplying and -replicating nanotech could easily play into the hands of a Bostrom style 'scream' authoritarian surveillance society.

Personally, I think asking questions about the ramifications of the benefits is at least as important -if not more important - than discerning the detriments of the technology. Worldwide healthcare is a laudable humanitarian goal, but it would put tremendous stress on the social structure we have today. As would prevention of starvation/malnutrition. As would cheap life extension. As would cheap computronium. As would cheap solar power. As would any other benefit touted as a resultant of developing nanotech that I'm aware of!

This could be taken as a luddite position. Not my intention - I don't think the (nano)technology genie's going to go away short of a Mathusian 'solution'. I'm just worried that this world that I live in - and we all live in - is due for a swift kick from the applications derived from nanotech.

My goal isn't to stop nanotech. Nor is it to protect society as it exists today.

My goal is simply to try to ensure what I'd term a 'friendly' society continuing into the future. The details of 'friendlyness' are flexible in many extents, thank goodness - there's a chance that the stresses could develop into something stable and 'friendly'.


Tom Craver

I keep coming back to thinking that one major key to a successful post-nano period must be freedom, and any steps taken to get through the transition period must take that into account - even if it appears in some way to increase dangers.

Dimitar Vesselinov

Former CIA Case Officer Provides Terrorist Profiles

"Jihadists were overwhelmingly educated in sciences and engineering with few receiving religious or humanities educations."

"Al Qaeda’s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee."


Something to worry about...

Tom Craver

Interesting tidbit Dimitar - though I'm not quite sure how you wanted to tie it into the current discussion?

Michael Vassar

I would say that Dimitar's post further supports the case that less developed countries are incapable of developing MNT. We know roughly what terrorists are capable of. If these people are representative of the engineers from their countries, we have little to worry about.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Michael, is there any reason to think the terrorists are representative of the best & brightest of their countries? One of the factors in becoming a terrorist is an inferiority complex. I'd be interested to know whether engineer-terrorists tend to do poorly in school, reinforcing feelings of inferiority.

It's also worth pointing out that most of them had very little religious background: probably atypical for their countries.

So I don't think we can assume that terrorists are representative.


Karl Gallagher

Terrorists with engineering degrees generally have been unemployed rather working in their field. Nothing like total boredom to make spending every day listening to sermons appealing.

I think this does reflect the handicap of the 3rd world in MNT research in that resources tend to be allocated by nepotism or other forms of corruption instead of where they're most useful. So if a dictator's nephew is a big fan of MNT he might get to set up a research project. And he might get a research team that works hard instead of embezzling funds to support their clans. But I think the odds still favor the 1st world.

John B

I think the beginning of Karl's post is somewhat misleading - I'm a Sysad on a R&D program, and there are several 'born-again' and 'fundamentalist' people associated with the project, some of whom are really quite bright and clever. (About on a percentage par with the rest of the people on the project in the 'bright' and 'clever' departments.)

Also, some devout people leave the business world for religious reasons - either 'God has told them to' or they feel a need to concentrate more on the sacred. *shrug* Thus, their engineering skill may not be indicated by their lack of s job. After all, allegedly the terrorist groups are all devout, at least to their own interpretations of their scriptures.


Karl Gallagher

John, I think you misunderstood my comment. I'm quite familiar with religiously devout engineers and have no problem with their technical abilities.

The point I'm trying to make is that recruits require intensive indoctrination to become suicide terrorists, more time than is available to somebody also holding down a job. A few sermons a week won't cut it. So someone with useful skills who's unemployed anyway is a perfect candidate for the jihadis.

John B

You're right - I misread your statement. Sorry 'bout that.

The question is, however, how much attention is enough to drive someone to a homicidal/suicidal state? I posit that it's different for everyone, with a very few people immune to such attempts and a very few extremely vulnerable to it. It's also culturally dependant to some degree, as seen in the Iran/Iraq war, the kamekazi of WWII, etc. (I don't have a good example of societies that reject dying for a cause, offhand)

In this case, the fanatical leaders of a sect may sound out as large a group as possible, and gather those who're deemed succeptible to such action for 'further education/enlightenment/pick yer term'. Of course, they have to be careful not to alienate the rest of those they reach, but that's jugglable - possibly by setting up 'ranks' in their organization of greater and greater esteem, leading up to the martyrs.

And I'll leave the thought at that point, as it's incredibly off-topic for a nanotech board. *wry grin*


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