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« Inside CRN, Part 2 | Main | Inside CRN, Part 4 »

December 07, 2005


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michael vassar

The following two quotes are obviously irreconciliable.

"The annals of history are replete with figures who struggled against the establishment until their iconoclastic ideas were finally proved correct, often posthumously. But there are doubtless many more persons lost to history whose unpopular ideas proved to be fallacious. So the unpopularity of our ideas does not signify anything about their correctness. "


"However, the fact that certain learned people are convinced we are wrong should lead us to carefully consider our positions and examine them for error. "

If it is doubtless true that many more ideas that differ from consensus are false than are true, then differing from consensus DOES tell us that an idea is less likely (by the ratio of cranks to correct iconoclasts) to be true. However, other evidence may tell us that there are more compelling reasons for considering the idea likely to be true anyway.

The latter quote is clearly the true one, though it begs a few questions such as "have we examined our views for errors with an open mind and found no critical ones?", "who count's as 'learned' for these purposes?", and "After finding no errors, about how certain can we be of our views?". I would answer these with "CRNano has found no critical technical errors, but Eric Drexler made at least one serious technical error and has not acknowledged it, falsely claiming that he never thought 'grey goo' was a critical MNT risk. This undermines his claims to rationality slightly. CRNano and Drexler both arguably have made Huge policy errors in choosing to be Idealist rather than guardian in a world where all the powerful guardians have blatantly degenerated into guardian-commercial monsterous hybrids". It is unfortunate that I have to admit that no-one is likely to study MNT enough to count as an expert who's judgement is relevant unless they believe in its feasibility. This reduces the quality of criticism available and makes us vulnerable to group-think. Finally, given the lack of compelling counter-arguments, the shortage of informed skeptical experts, and the importance of the question, I think that CRNano is not rationally justified (though they may be rhetorically justified) in stating that MNT is "nearly certain" and I am confident that they are not rationally justified in stating that MNT within 20 years is "nearly certain" but they definitely ARE justified in acting as if it is likely, and the preferred actions given the hypotheses "MNT is nearly certain" and "MNT is likely" are indistinguishable compared to the vast gulf between them and the consensus among policymakers.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Michael, I think when Mike wrote, "So the unpopularity of our ideas does
not signify anything about their correctness." he meant to say, "So the
unpopularity of our ideas does not make them more likely to be correct."

Be careful citing Drexler; he's so often misquoted. He did say in EoC,
"...we cannot afford certain kinds of accidents with replicating
assemblers." (Keep in mind that current MM proposals do not include
replicating assemblers.)

What did Drexler say later? I don't know which quote you're referring
to, but he may have said (for example) that he never thought gray goo
would be a critical nanofactory risk.

I found another quote from Foresight that may clarify the discussion:
"When asked, "What about accidents with uncontrolled replicators?" the
right answer seems to be "Yes, that is a well recognized problem, but
easy to avoid. The real problem isn't avoiding accidents, but
controlling abuse."" In other words, yes, accidents have to be avoided,
but they are less of a concern than other things.

You list "the lack of compelling counter-arguments" as a reason for us
to be less certain about MM. I don't understand that.


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