• Google
    This Blog Web

October 2011

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          

RSS Feed

Bookmark and Share

Email Feed

  • Powered by FeedBlitz

« Environmental Risk | Main | Вы говорите по-русски? »

May 21, 2005


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


If the the future holders of non-MM military and police powers feel that it is not in their interest for MM to exist, they may take pre-emptive miltary/police measures on a suspected MM operation, be it private or rival national. Though maybe not the most likeliest contingency, this is perhaps the hardest to defend against. If we can make it to the point where we're bickereing over who has the legal rights to control non-weapons MM industrial capacity, I will be somewhat relieved.

Tom Craver


If you want a model of the default MNT future, look to the oil rich nations. Concentrated wealth, most people poor, and an economy getting by only because the wealthy "generously" pump a lot of "their" money into the economy.

The path to the default MNT economic system will be fairly straight-forward. Recognizing the "vast potential dangers of uncontrolled access to MNT", all MNT installations will have to be licensed, registered, regulated, monitored, etc.

That will create artificial scarcity (licenses) and artificial "economies of scale" (small businesses won't be able to afford the overhead of the piles of paperwork and other requirements), allowing those with "old economy" wealth (if they move quickly) to convert it into "new economy" wealth and power.

Those on top will of course have strong incentives to maintain that system, avoiding another upset as threatening to them as the one they just went through. As nanotech gets better, the wealthy will realize they don't need the masses, but still must fear the masses getting MNT. Expect the system to get far more repressive and hopeless for the disenfranchized masses.

I'd love to hear why that future won't happen. White-hat "underground railroad" types spreading nanofacs? Expect them to be treated as terrorists by all civilized nations. Idealistic wealthy types setting up legal and licensed MNT enabled communes? Expect bad things to happen there, to prove that model isn't workable, so the masses don't start getting dangerous ideas that they could live outside the artificial economy. Sea-going free colonies trying to form their own independent MNT-enabled communities? No, those will be "dangerous potential sources of nano-weapons of mass destruction", that must be broken up before they turn to piracy and selling nano-weapons to terrorists.

Tom Craver

I should say - I do think there is a way to avoid that future: Insure that there will not be a government-controlled/assigned monopoly on MNT by getting MNT into everyone's hands as quickly as possible.

Maybe that doesn't mean "un-restricted MNT" - but I think we have to start from that position and consider what restrictions are absolutely, minimally necessary, rather than taking total restriction as the starting point and considering what we can safely allow people to have.


Nah, I'd much rather die from the result of a nano-tyranny than from a nano arms-race. I'd much rather have my head in a cage with a giant rat and then later by snipered by CIA/KGB types, than die from a massive neutron bomb attack.


OK were talking about the future something I give a great deal of thought to every day the way I see it we have molecular manufacturing on the horizon the device arrives tabletop 3 x 3' capable of producing anything based on file and input the device has USB hard drives serial cable wireless connections and any other form of connection including a CD-ROM. The device converts the file which is essentially an AutoCAD file of a particular item in to through the use of convergent assembly and carbon the prescribed useful item. The device can self replication. The device uses electricity dissipates minimal heat. The device can self replicating two hours. I think it will probably be black and color ).

The files will be easily created and spread to the Internet as file sharing is done today. It will be impossible to monitor the Internet short of shutting the entire Internet down for these files. Collections of files will be created on CD-ROM and sold through distribution points whether these points be the corner of 5th and main or on eBay. There will be some minimal size restrictions for the products they can be manufactured that is to say you will not be able to produce an entire battleship with a single replicator. Although you will be able to produce each individual part and in time put the entire ship together.

The device cannot be detected other than to be standing next to it and see one. With a two-hour replication only a handful of the devices will be able to supply the entire planet within a few days every single person will have one. If units are rounded up or some sort of organized military operation this will fail. As if only one were left behind the one device will be able to replicate itself again be spread throughout the entire planet within just a few days.

This in my opinion is an inevitability and cannot be stopped. There is hope from one Avenue in that in general it is my opinion that large complex devices will not be easily designed by individuals. So complex useful items capable of causing great harm and destruction will not be available to terrorists for some time in the initial months post molecular manufacturing. What will be available is a wide variety of pots hands so where and spare parts for cars. A short useful items that require only a few hours of time with minimal training using the design software to create set item. A collection of hobbyists will put together useful items of greater complexity with each generation each generation will however take some time for the design. I for see considerable use of plug-and-play devices adding to existing designs where individual components are interchangeable and the overall useful product becomes more complex as they are implemented.

This is the future and I would not describe this as alarming. The delay in the timeframe for developing complex useful products should allow time for the vast majority of people to become accustomed to the new technology and its ramifications on the market economy, government, and the military.

I cannot see a situation where any group even large governments can maintain any sort of monopoly over the technology given the above variables. And any attempt to restrict the technology will fail. I do believe though that the general set of laws will still be in play post molecular manufacturing these laws will defined the punishment for criminal activity through the use of the technology. Specifically genocide will be dealt with strongly.


Tom Craver

Todd - I tend to agree, but I think it's important to examine possible ways that that scenario might be thwarted.

For example, suppose the government tells people it has MNT and nanofacs - but also says that if it finds anyone possessing one, they will be instantly put to death - no trial (the risks of MNT escaping their control being more critical than the risk of killing someone who has been framed, for example). Backed up with propaganda that makes nanofacs sound like a cross between weapons of mass destruction and meth labs, and people might accept the situation.

That requires a repressive government - so let's suppose that one government isn't sufficiently ruthless, and their people get nanofacs. Wouldn't it spread from there? However, other more ruthless nations would likely demand that that nation "take steps" to eliminate those nanofacs - or "have it done for them". That way lies war.

Now if war appears inevitable, the target nation MIGHT take the unusual step of a "first strike" consisting of covertly distributing nanofacs within the nations that threaten them, so sow dissent. On the other hand, knowing that possibility exists, the repressive nations might not even warn the less repressive nation, but simply attack.

I think nanofacs may spread rapidly - but there appear to be ways that the spread could be suppressed, if governments see it as critical to maintaining order (keeping power).

Tom Craver

Another point worth considering - the first nanofacs are likely to be somewhat limited - requiring special feedstock (making secret use difficult), perhaps only producing things made of carbon, probably somewhat slow, hot, energy inefficient, etc.

Early designs are likely to be somewhat simple and conventional - i.e. "ports" of electronic gadgets to nanofac design rules, purely structural objects (cups and plates made of diamond), etc. No killer robots, ray guns, conventional explosives, etc.

Given that, just how dangerous could nanofacs be in their first incarnation and first year of availability? What's the worst someone could make in that first year or two of limited nanofacs, without extreme design skills - just simple stuff? (i.e. no laser pumped hydrogen bombs or jet assault fighters or chemical plants to produce poison gas).

Maybe a carbon-oxygen bomb - an oxygen separating mill that compresses O2 into a sparse matrix of diamond, plus a spark igniter? Maybe a water vapor condenser and electrolysis unit, to make an H2-O2 bomb?

How about a centrifuge bomb - spin up a very strong disk to extreme angular velocity, then trigger releases along fracture lines, to let it shatter and spray shrapnel. Could enough power be packed into nano-springs or capacitors, to power an explosion or at least a projectile weapon?

Nanofac security is going to be an important issue - even if most hackers wouldn't distribute viruses to build such extremely dangerous objects, criminals might pick up on hacker's technologies to create more threatening objects.


The question how quickly one could create destructive products using a simple and basic molecular manufacturing device is a good question. It is my opinion it will not take long to develop a single device a weapon using basic physics and the significant improvement in structural strength of diamond. However the development of a single handheld device capable of killing a handful of individuals within proximity of the user already exists and no additional development would be necessary i.e. the gun. The greater concern and the one which we have spoken of is how long will it take for the development of products which kill by the millions not by the individual. Although certainly there will be products developed in my opinion that are lethal and ingenious in their use of simple geometry and physics these products I do not consider threats to our way of life.

It is in fact the products third or fourth generation where developers have purposely utilized aspects of the technology to develop weapons of mass destruction. Chris has in the past stated there will be a shortened prototyping of useful products as individual products can be designed on computers and printed out in their fully functional states. However it would seem that a weapon of mass destruction would require more than just a few parts and thereby representing considerable man-hours in development.

Not to counter my own argument but there could be a scenario where a simple device is manufactured I will describe one here. The device is roughly 1 foot circular all of diamond the device has a single 8 inch-long dagger protruding from one side the device is coated in solar cells the device has three rotating blades at its top which provide motion the device possesses a motion detector and a random movement software device simply flies in one direction for random amount of time looking for anything moving. Once a moving object is identified the device accelerates to maximum velocity and penetrates the dagger into the object moving. Additional software modifications could be implemented that would allow the device to extract the dagger after a certain period of time and continue with a random search for additional moving targets. The device can be manufactured in wholesale quantities using manufacturing perhaps millions of them could be let loose on a single day over metropolitan area. Indeed even proximity to a area of considerable population would be close enough.

Although this device is more complex than a plate or knife or cupholder it is nonetheless not overly complex that it could not be developed by an individual given a few weeks time. This individual will likely use a set of preprogrammed software pieces where for instance the helicopter blades and their corresponding parts are already designed for toys for young children. And where motion detectors are already designed for household security. And where the dagger is already designed in a cutlery software package. And indeed the solar cells are available as well as a simple software addition to a useful product. These elements although not harmful in themselves are brought together to form a massively destructive product.

Tom Craver

I think there are a few problems with the specific design you describe - solar powered flight would mean it'd have to be pretty light - perhaps lighter than air - limiting it's speed and momentum.

I'm sure something dangerous could be made in large quantities with early generation nanofacs. But I really just don't think it's a very common danger, outside of war.

E.g. one could easily use man's oldest geometrically self-replicating technology (Fire) to cause mass destruction, under the right conditions. But instances of arson causing mass destruction are pretty rare. There just aren't enough people who want to cause such destruction, to make it worth worrying much about it.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Todd is right: a lot of destruction could be wreaked with relatively simple devices.

Tom is right: we have to consider not just the capability to do harm, but the incentive.

But that cuts both ways: there may be new incentives that aren't very predictable today. For example, graffiti is incentivized by gang territory. At least one large computer infection was apparently the result of some kiddie trying to insult another kiddie. What if new kinds of vandalism are incentivized by similar "games"? If you can destroy a building or kill a person with the touch of a button, what's to stop a group of kids from making a game of it? Or perhaps governments (or political parties) will want to discredit each other by killing random citizens to prove that the party in power can't protect their citizens. Or...


Tom Craver

I think the answer to your question is still the same - it can be kept under control by personal morality, fear of getting caught for a minority, and countermeasures where those are insufficient to counter a tiny minority of truly determined and highly motivated criminals, terrorists, etc. While there will be ways to make attacks easier and more anonymous, there will also be ways to correspondingly increase the chances of getting caught.

For example - labelled dust: Sprayed everywhere (bio-safe, of course), labelled with the time and location of spraying, decaying over a week or two. It will be difficult to keep any object from getting some on it from the moment it is created or deployed. To use Todd's example, a few dozen flying killers would be shot down, scanned down to the atoms, and all labelled dust particles statistically analyzed to extract patterns to give clues to where they were launched. And that'd just be one of a number of new ways of back-tracking otherwise anonymous attacks.

Today's equivalent might be to infiltrate the script-kiddie scene with useful tools that infect a system to make it insert a few subtly encoded bytes into anything produced by a range of known scripting tools, and which somehow allow back-tracking to the source of a virus. As that tactic becomes known, there would be a side benefit effect of "poisoning the well" - creating fear to accept new tools among would-be script kiddies.


Naw. Every system is limited by some input, and there is always a smallest input, so scarcity is always an issue.

Raw materials and information will become scarce. Investment will follow the profits, shifting from building factories and distributing products, almost entirely to producing designs and distributing designs and materials.

We have a name for these societies: subsistance societies. As in previous subsistance societies, the people controlling the resources will be on the top, probably for as long as they own the resources. Clever management of capital and techniques (i.e. engineering) are just not going to be as important as they are now.

As in previous subsistance societies, the government/warlords will be near the top, because safety-licensing will be both justifiable and critical to a society with MM.

If Bobbit (read "The Shield of Achilles") is right, and government constitutions compete on efficiency, then the most efficient society will ultimately win the nanotech wars, and such wars are indeed inevitable.

If governments are deeply concerned about MM, the least intrusive regulatory regime will be most economically efficient and therefore win the wars. The least intrusive scheme I'e thought of is to license private "digesters" (to make usable raw materials) and product designs, not factories. A better factory would be universally lauded and rewarded. There will be public-domain product designs, but they will be universally recognized as a sign of poverty- and underused.

The important reason to license digesters is that a militarized MM system will require one, even if it is an innocuous logistic-replacement system to support troops.

Radical decentralization of society is already possible, but not happening because people are social, and don't want it. If we all did, we'd all just buy an EarthShip(TM) house, and withdraw from society. We'll all have solar cells, because they come cheaply with the new roof, but we'll still live in the suburbs.

Everything that is safety-critical, such as medicine, food production, sewage processing, air-travel, etc. will still be highly regulated, and therefore be highly, and expensively engineered. There has to be some regulatory and economic regime to recover the costs of this safety.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Ray, I'm not sure you're right that the most economically efficient design of government will win the nano-wars. At least, the analysis is less simple--and useful--than it sounds. For example, instead of increasing their own efficiency, combatants could work to reduce each other's efficiency. A system might be very efficient in the absence of e.g. sabotage, but less efficient when it tries to prevent hostile actions. Especially if those hostile actions result in non-monetizable damage such as the death of citizens.

Also, you say "Everything that is safety-critical ... will still be highly regulated." But regulation today is a hodgepodge. Many states don't outlaw cell phone use while driving. So it's not safety alone that causes regulation.

You distinguish between designs (subsistence products) and techniques (engineering). But engineering is patentable.

In previous subsistence societies, weren't materials more important than design? Without rapid innovation, designs will diffuse naturally and won't be an economic resource (though they will improve the economy). You seem to be saying that the "information economy" is actually a subsistence economy. But information is typically non-rivalrous (and needs artificial scarcity to be useful in economic terms) whereas materials are of course not non-rivalrous. I don't think you can lump them together like you appear to have done.


The comments to this entry are closed.