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Diamond Age Approaching? 750

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-friggin-hope-so dept.
CosmicDreams writes "The CRN (Center for Responsible Nanotechnology) reports that nanofactories (like the ones that were installed in every home in Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age) will arrive "almost certainly within 20 years". In short they claim that molecular nanotechnology manufacturing will solve many of the world's problems, catalyze a technologic revolution, and start the greatest arms race we've ever seen. They conclude the risks are so great that we should discuss how to deal with this technology so that we don't kill each other when it arrives."
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Diamond Age Approaching?

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  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @01:57PM (#9009426) Homepage Journal

    One of the great promises of nanotech are mini-attack bots which can eliminate cancer cells, viruses, germs, etc etc. What, though, will happen when someone comes up with a way to attack cells based on the DNA within? Racial cleansing, removal of unworthies from the pool. It may not happen but it very well could if they don't come up with global policies and laws. (even then...)

    Yeah, that's likely far in the future but 50 years ago a desktop computer was impossible.
    • Yeah, that's likely far in the future but 50 years ago a desktop computer was impossible.

      No... you just needed a really big (and strong) desk.

      • by H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:22PM (#9009795) Homepage Journal
        In the past, people probably predicted that replacing hardware with software would solve a lot of the worlds problems, because software costs zero to copy or modify. It would even every one etc. and educate us all etc. etc.

        Now look at the world, paying per-computer licenses for binaries you're not permitted to modify.

        Copyright and patents are being applied to software the way farmers might use copyright to prevent "Food Replicators" from solving world hunger.

        Stallman was the only guy that got it all those years ago. Nanotech will need someone of his character if we're to see any actual benefit from this technology.

    • Oh that's no problem. In today's society we'll just download a patch after releasing a market-rushed, extremely flawed, half ass version 1.0.

    • Not gonna happen. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CrystalFalcon (233559) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:03PM (#9009517) Homepage
      Your wish about laws and treaties - or rather, effective laws and treaties - ain't gonna happen.

      Anything man CAN do, man WILL do. Regardless of if rules are in the way.

      Even if we had such a thing as global laws (which ain't gonna happen anytime soon, either), the difference is that nanotech engineering would just be performed by outlaws instead of official scientists. Anything that carries a reward will get done, by somebody, somewhere. The greater the potential reward, the more people will be attempting it.

      Whether it is legal is secondary to many enough people that it won't really matter whether it is.
    • They conclude the risks are so great that we should discuss how to deal with this technology so that we don't kill each other when it arrives.

      Take my word for it...as we gradually run out of oil [economist.com], (and we will reach the halfway mark sometime between 2015-2030 according to that article), the rising costs, scarcity and worries will spark many more serious wars than the current one (of which oil is the root cause, I believe) a long time before the "final crunch".

      It remains to be seen if we will have a fut

    • by GoofyBoy (44399) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:07PM (#9009575) Journal
      If we outlaw nanotech, only mad scientists will have nanotech.
      • by Brandybuck (704397) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @03:09PM (#9010603) Homepage Journal
        Absolutely!

        Today people think the phrase "if guns were outlawed only outlaws would have guns" is silly. While it certainly is trite, there is a lot of truth behind it.

        It doesn't matter where you stand on the issue of gun control, only a fool would think that a total ban on firearms would result in their total elimination. Every nation in the world, regardless of their gun control laws, has criminals possessing guns.

        The purpose of gun control is not to eliminate firearm possession, but to eliminate legal ownership of firearms. To some this may sound like nonsense, but it does provide for some small amount of social engineering, if that's the goal.

        The point is that when nanotech arrives no one is going to be able to put that efrit back in the bottle. You might be able to outlaw it, but you won't eliminate it.
    • by grahams (5366) * on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:08PM (#9009583) Homepage
      Ummm, why do we need special laws for this. Wouldn't the existing anti-genocide laws apply?

      There is no reason to create new laws when existing ones apply.
      • by TheMMaster (527904) <{hp} {at} {tmm.cx}> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:15PM (#9009680)
        Yeah, I don't really see why the world would be better of with a "anti-genocide using nanotech" law...

        That would imply that NOT using nanotech is OK.

        Court: Did you kill all those poor people with hindsight?
        Evil dictator: I did, I hate them
        Court: DID YOU USE NANOTECH?
        Evil dictator: No, of course not, that's against the LAW!
        Court: OK, you are free to go

        I mean, really... EACH AND EVERY piece of technology will be used to kill people.
        And if it isn't in the first place, someone will find a creative and interesting way to use it to kill people...

        people are very creative when it comes to killing other people... sad, really
    • I'm envisioning a new method of government sponsored assassinations, where diplomats pass the nano-attackbots on to the intended victim via handshake. The diplomat would have a proximity sensor implant that tells the nano-attackbots to attack when they are more than 1km away from the sensor. Leave the embassy, get safely away, and you'll never hear the screams....

      Hmmm...this has so many nasty implications...
  • Sometimes I doubt... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kiriwas (627289) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @01:58PM (#9009431) Homepage
    There has been talk after every revolution that we're going to destroy ourselves. For better or for worse, I sometimes doubt its possible. We're like cockroaches.. even our most fatal diseases end up having a few people immune to them. Every technology comes along and integrates itself into our society. These will too. I'm not really worried.
    • by GoofyBoy (44399) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:10PM (#9009617) Journal
      >Every technology comes along and integrates itself into our society ... so far.

      The chance of a global nuclear war occuring is much less than it was during the 80's because of pro-active action, not by saying "those bombs will eventually be integrated into society"
    • by jafac (1449)
      Other technologies don't have the capability to wipe out all life on the planet.

      One thing is certain. You can sit a representative of every nation on the planet down, and let them talk about it until they're blue in the face, or until they "agree" to some peaceful future.

      Within 5 years, that agreement will have either been violated openly, or in secret, or the group of representatives you started with now exclude a whole range of new "players".

      We've proven this over and over again, with nuclear weapons,
      • Other technologies don't have the capability to wipe out all life on the planet.

        Nanotech doesn't either. Almost all forms of life have something called an "immune system" that is very effective at getting rid of unwanted microorganisms.
        • by Jerf (17166) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @05:06PM (#9012427) Journal
          Immune systems and viruses have co-evolved. If a nano-bot develops that is made of a metal skin, that pretty much bypasses anything the immune system can throw at it, even if it's almost biological inside the metal skin, since most (all?) of the immune system keys off of proteins on the surface of cells.

          Immune systems work because viruses have an evolutionary barrier to get to anywhere the immune systems won't work (i.e., a "half metal" virus can't mutate into being; such a thing may be possible but the gulf to get there is too wide; evolution is powerful but kooky and definately not omnipotent, it does have limits and in many ways, people overestimate as much as they underestimate). Nanotech will have no such restrictions. A self-replicating plague of some kind would still be limited by what kind of elements we have in our bodies, but there's enough iron and a few other metals to make enough nano-bots to kill us... and the nanobots have all day, metaphorically speaking, because the immune system will never even see them, let alone attack them, so they can kill cells at their leisure.

          Not to mention the biological judo a deliberately designed killer could apply, recruiting the body's own immune system to help.
    • "We're like cockroaches."

      Okay, Agent Smith...

      hehe
    • by pubjames (468013) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:18PM (#9009716)
      Dinosaur one: It's great ruling the world isn't it?
      Dinosaur two: Yes, it's great!
      Dinosaur one: It's like, we're the best! You can't beat us!
      Dinosaur two: Yes! Like, we're the tops! Go dinos!
      Dinosaur one: Go dinos!!
      Dinosaur two: Yes! Go dinos!! Go go go!!!
      Dinosaur one: Look at that pretty light in the sky!
      Dinosaur two: Oh yes. Pretty! And growing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 29, 2004 @01:58PM (#9009439)
    "almost certainly within 20 years"...so right after those flying cars and human-equivalent AI that are about 10 years off, right?
  • More info (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CosmicDreams (23020) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @01:58PM (#9009445) Journal
    I've written in my journal about their proclaimed timeline. Excert here:

    "The Space Shuttle took less than ten years to design and build, from 1972 to 1981. The atomic bomb took only three years, from 1942 to 1945. Both of these programs involved more new science research and more development of new technologies and techniques than an assembler program would likely require. As analyzed above, they probably cost more too. The main question in estimating a timeline for fabricator development, then, is when it will be technically and politically feasible. There are probably five or more nations, and perhaps several large companies, that could finance a molecular fabricator effort starting in this decade. The technical feasibility depends on the enabling technologies. Even a single present-day technology, dip-pen nanolithography, may be able to fabricate an entire proto-fabricator with sufficient effort. At this point, we have not seen anything to make us believe that a five-year $10 billion fabricator project, starting today, would be infeasible, though we don't yet know enough to estimate its chance of success. Five years from now, we expect that a five-year project will be obviously feasible, and its cost may be well under $5 billion."

    source [crnano.org]

    Journal [slashdot.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 29, 2004 @01:59PM (#9009448)
    "and start the greatest arms race we've ever seen. They conclude the risks are so great that we should discuss how to deal with this technology so that we don't kill each other when it arrives."

    50 B.C. - What a terrible weapon the catapult is!
    600 A.D. - What a terrible weapon the crossbow is!
    1550 A.D. - What a terrible weapon the cannon is!
    1865 A.D. - What a terrible weapon the machine gun is!
    1945 A.D. - What a terrible weapon nuclear weapons are!
    2004 A.D. - What a terrible weapon nanotechnology is!

    we have been hearing the same stuff since the beginning of history.

    Im sure we will be JUST FINE.
    • by eggoeater (704775) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:02PM (#9009495) Journal
      Im sure we will be JUST FINE.
      Famous last words if there ever were any....
    • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@NoSPAm.gmail.com> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:07PM (#9009570) Homepage
      we have been hearing the same stuff since the beginning of history.

      So it will never be true? By that logic because a weatherman incorectly predicts rain for 3 days, if on the 4th day he predicts it again it's a 100% guarantee it won't happen?

      This technology if successful will transform humanity, and we should try to achieve it. But to insist that we should just proceed without thinking about the consequences on the basis that "well that crossbow didn't destroy us" is a little naive.
      • By that logic because a weatherman incorectly predicts rain for 3 days, if on the 4th day he predicts it again it's a 100% guarantee it won't happen?

        No, by the 4th day, everyone will have realized he had no credibility and stopped watching his channel.
  • In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrystalFalcon (233559) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @01:59PM (#9009457) Homepage
    In other news, Center Dedicated To Promoting Specific Technology reports that Technology, which is just around the corner, will revolutionize the economy, end world hunger, provide limitless energy, and make your teeth whiter while you sleep.

    All in about 20 years, by which you will well have forgotten this press release.

    Nothing to see here, move along.
  • "Molecular nanotechnology will be a significant breakthrough, comparable perhaps to the Industrial Revolution--but compressed into a few years. This has the potential to disrupt many aspects of society and politics. The power of the technology may cause two competing nations to enter a disruptive and unstable arms race. Weapons and surveillance devices could be made small, cheap, powerful, and very numerous. Cheap manufacturing and duplication of designs could lead to economic upheaval. Overuse of inexpensi
  • Can't Wait! (Score:4, Funny)

    by WwWonka (545303) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:00PM (#9009464)
    and start the greatest arms race we've ever seen.

    Awesome! There is nothing better than a watching limbs battle it for supremecy on a mile oval!

    Although I may be more excited about the detached ankle crawl obsticle course.
  • by KimiDalamori (579444) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:00PM (#9009468)
    It is my opinion that since the dawn of literacy, People have been predicting the impending doom caused by new technology. Anyone ever read about how ther were worried about setting the hydrogen in the air on fire when they did the Manhattan Project? Yes, as any boy scout will tell you, being prapared is usually a good thing, but please can the gloom-n-doom because the world isn't going to end just because we made really small machines. *grumble*
  • WMDs (Score:5, Funny)

    by AtariAmarok (451306) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:00PM (#9009469)
    "Well, we were pretty sure that Saddam Hussein III had at least 18 microscopic nuclear warheads hidden in the Arabian desert. We've not found them yet, but we will! We will!"
  • grey goo (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spune (715782)
    Queue in the Grey Goo theorists. Personally, it's probably be to humanities benefit to be turned into a nanomechanic slop if we're irresponsible enough to make this buggers self-replicate without a suicide switch.
  • by drsmack1 (698392) * on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:01PM (#9009485)
    I welcome the diamond age - it is nice to finally put the bronze age behind us. I look forward to my diamond ax head.
  • by Idylwyld (324288) <(aehaar) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:01PM (#9009487)
    While the nano-replicators Stephenson envisions in Diamond Age are pretty cool the two things not well discussed were the source of raw materials (glossed over) and the power source (not discussed at all). We've still got a long way to go before these things can be worked out.

    -The whole world is going to hell and I'm driving the bus...
    • by Kenja (541830) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:14PM (#9009664)
      You must have been reading an abridged version. The nanites where built from carbon due to its abundance and tenselary strength compared to its weight. The Vitorians pulled their material out of the water supply, relying on the impurities that the rest of socity intoruced into it. Most of the nanites used clockwork or RF transmited power (a filiment that vibrates when exposed to certain frequencies of radio waves, same place that RFID tags get their juice).
  • by jbum (121617) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:02PM (#9009490)

    Burbank, CA - The CRP (Center for Responsible Predictions) reports that articles
    about nanotechnology (especially ones that mention Neil Stephenson and/or Eric Drexler)
    will "almost certainly" contain over-optimistic estimates of the arrival of nanoassemblers.
    In short, these claims will be far enough in the future to protect the prognosticators
    from immediate ridicule, while still appearing chillingly close.

  • Software Assembler? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PoPRawkZ (694140) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:02PM (#9009500) Homepage
    How exactly does one write code for the placement of billions of molecules? Is it algorithmic or a huge array?
  • by IncarnadineConor (457458) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:03PM (#9009506)
    It seems like these days someone manages to predict all the new tech before it comes out. Has it always been this way? Did people see the atom bomb coming before it did? Because I have to say, this prediction thing is really taking the fun out of everything. Rather then being plesantly suprised by new things I am just pissed that I can't buy stuff I'm reading about.
    • by gclef (96311)
      Yes, folks did see the Atom Bomb coming, but only the folks who understood the Physics (there was even a patent filed for an A-Bomb in the UK in 1934). The difference between then and now is that communication is much easier, so people proclaiming "this is the next amazing thing" are actually heard, even if they are full of it.
  • this just in - (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dAzED1 (33635)
    by 2001, we'll have a giant spaceship with a mental-case AI on board named HAL. It will be cool. By 2010, there will be big babies floating around jupiter (or where ever it was...sorry, its been a long while).

    Really though, everything is going to cause the end of the world within 20 years these days. Did you know 15% of the world's methane comes from cow farts? And that methane is one of the worst greenhouse gases? And as Al Gore said back in the early 70's, we'll be dead by the late 90's if we don't

  • No not the "Source", the source of this article. They say in their FAQ:

    "What is your source of funding?

    Got any ideas?? Seriously..."


    That noted I can't wait to install Linux on my new matter compiler and go to work on some serious hardware using my pirate material templates.
  • Cool! (Score:3, Funny)

    by csnydermvpsoft (596111) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:03PM (#9009518) Homepage
    Could I get one of those nanofactories installed in my flying car?
    • If you do, you could use it to build a videophone, so you could call your grandmother on the other coast.
  • Copyright? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hanssprudel (323035) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:04PM (#9009528)
    The promise of nano-manufacturing puts into perspective a lot of the issues we face with copyright of information today. Will the motor companies become the next RIAA when it is possible to make a perfect copy of any car? What will Coca-Cola say when I can nano-replicate coke from water and hydrocarbons?

    I can almost imagine a future a where we could have unlimited resources, but the necessary machines are forced by law to be user hostile monsters extorting fees from the user anytime something they make comes close to a perpetually copyrighted object.

    Or will people finally realize that when the means of production are endless, human means of invention drive themselves?
    • Re:Copyright? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Zanek (546281)
      If that happens then you'll see Zero-day cracks of the Pepsi-Nano-fabricator released on the galactical interweb, and the like.
      There will always be those who try to limit, and those who try to make things limitless.
    • Re:Copyright? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ziggy_zero (462010)
      To paraphrase what Bucky Fuller once said, once humans reach a point where there are enough resources to feed and house everyone on the planet (although it is debatable that this is true now...I think it will become realistically possible within the next few decades), we'll shift from a product-oriented society to a service-based one.
  • They certainly don't suffer from any lack of ambition!!! goodness... :)
  • Ben Bova's scenario (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ra5pu7in (603513) <ra5pu7in@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:05PM (#9009542) Journal
    Riots on earth and complete banning of nanotechnology when it is learned by the masses that it is possible to engineer them to harm humans. Of course, on the up-side was improving the ability of humans to withstand more natural threats.
  • by Featureless (599963) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:06PM (#9009562) Journal
    Fascinating that this movie [imdb.com] should become so topical again.

    Dr. Edward Morbius: In times long past, this planet was the home of a mighty, noble race of beings who called themselves the Krel. Ethically and technologically they were a million years ahead of humankind, for in unlocking the meaning of nature they had conquered even their baser selves, and when in the course of eons they had abolished sickness and insanity, crime and all injustice, they turned, still in high benevolence, upwards towards space. Then, having reached the heights, this all-but-divine race disappeared in a single night, and nothing was preserved above ground.

    (I'd hate to give away the ending, but it's extremely relevant to this story! Rent it and see for yourself!)
  • In short they claim that molecular nanotechnology manufacturing will solve many of the world's problems, catalyze a technologic revolution, and start the greatest arms race we've ever seen. They conclude the risks are so great that we should discuss how to deal with this technology so that we don't kill each other when it arrives.

    Politicians: Yay. More legislative work means we'll forever be yammering about stuff.

    Missionaries: Yay. End world hunger. I can go home and stop building bridges.

    Eco-groupies: Boo. This will destroy the environment.

    Engineers: Screw the consequences, I want ot play with one! Less talk, more tech!

    Your Rights Online Whiners: We have to pass laws NOW about this technology. Because there's nothing like an archiac law for a technology we can't understand the ramifications of until it's been used for many years.

    Console Junkies: Wha...? Can this wait? I'm almost through to the boss...

    Babies: YES! With this power I alone will rul - WAAAAAAAAIMHUNGRYAAAAAAAA!

    -Adam
  • never happen.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by isotope23 (210590) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:07PM (#9009571) Homepage Journal
    This will never happen period.

    Why?

    Because of the tremendous shift in social power such a device would create. If you think the MPAA and RIAA are bad, imagine the stance of the entire corporate world to these devices being in the hands of consumers.

    Not to mention the fear this ability would create within government circles.

  • P2P (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:09PM (#9009594) Homepage
    One of the issues I see being a BIG deal in the future when we have these is copyright. What if in the future its not just songs and movies you can trade on p2p, but schematics and design plans for a mercedes. You download the file, print it in your molecular 3D printer, and BAM, instant (well, maybe not instant) Mercedes, probably for a fraction of the cost.

    If you think its been bad with the RIAA and MPAA going after people, wait until you see GE, GM, Daimler-Chrysler, pharma companies, etc. start to take action when people are duplicating their products for a fraction of the cost without them getting a single cent for it.

    I personally think this is great, as it would put many things within reach of people who would never have had a chance of ever being able to afford those things, but the ethical issues are the same as they are today, only perhaps escalated due to the increased value of the things you could duplicate.

  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:14PM (#9009662)
    Thanks a lot, Cmdr. Now I can't get that Sade song out of my head:

    Diamond life, lover boy.
    We move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy.
    He's a smooth opewata,
    smooth opewata,
    smooth opewata,
    smooth opewata.

  • by freejung (624389) * <webmaster@freenaturepictures.com> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:14PM (#9009669) Homepage Journal
    The dangers of this technology are real, and definitely worth discussing. However, what is most interesting to me, and perhaps to others who were not terribly thrilled about the industrial revolution, is a potential benefit which is somewhat overlooked.

    The article talks about how a suitcase of equipment could create a village-sized industrial revolution. But this technology is, at least potentially, post-industrial. That is to say, it can be used on the small scale, making advanced technology available in a way which is independent of big corporations and large-scale manufacturing facilities. This is a huge thing.

    If it is allowed to develop along these lines, it will mean the restructuring of our entire society, in a way which I and many others have been waiting and hoping for for some time now. It will mean we can have our cake and eat it too: we get all the benefits of advanced technology, without all the horrible detriments of the hegemony of megacorps. Whohoo!

    Unfortunately, I doubt this will be allowed to happen, at least not at first. Here's a prediction: as soon as this becomes imminant, we will see the massive implementation of extremely restrictive measures to control it. These will be adopted in the name of security, but incidentally they will also have the effect of making it virtually impossible to use this technology independently, without relying on megacorporate support. This will probably mean continued widespread poverty in the third world, but we will accept it out of fear.

    But at least the potential will be there.

    On a completely unrelated note: most human-scale products would consist almost entirely of empty space

    Actually, to be precise, everything consists almost entirely of empty space. "The solid parts of this rock, the neutrons, quarks, protons and electrons, compose only one quadrillianth of its total volume... you could pulverize that mountain and sift through it like breadcrumbs for the rest of your natural life, and you would never, ever, find... this!" --Buccaroo Banzai.

  • by addie (470476) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:17PM (#9009705)
    First of all, I'd like to point out the article doesn't make any mention of the substantive amount of energy one of these molecular assemblers would undoubtedly require. If I understand the science even remotely, will it not take energy to break and form atomic bonds that are not naturally occuring? I understand chemical means can be used, but those chemicals need to be manufactured as well. Ignoring such a huge part of the problem doesn't give this article much credibility. Does it matter how far we push technology if we don't have the means to power it?

    Aside from that, I can't say I'm overly impressed by the source of the article. The CRN FAQ [crnano.org] doesn't inspire much confidence. The two directors have a single undergrad degree between them. I appreciate their enthusiasm in promoting the discussion of nanotechnology and its implications, but I think I'd take it a bit more seriously from a more credible source.

    It was an interesting read, but sounded more like wishful thinking from a sci-fi fan than from someone who has a grasp of all the issues that factor into such a huge leap forward for technology.
  • by stienman (51024) <adavis@u[ ]ics.com ['bas' in gap]> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:17PM (#9009707) Homepage Journal
    we should discuss how to deal with this technology so that we don't kill each other when it arrives.

    Are they implying that we don't kill each other now with current technologies? Or are they saying that the technology alone will turn average homo sapiens into blood thirsty murderers?

    Where's all the dicussion about how this technology could reduce current stress?

    Our economy, and wealth, is currently based on a system of scarcity. When you can take raw molecules and arbitraily combine them into useful/necessary/life saving objects then scarcity dissipates. Many, if not most, of today's conflicts revolve around scarcity or perceived scarcity.

    I say bring it on. The consequences will sort themselves out as they always have upon previous technology.

    Think about how many in the previous world viewed modern health care as cheating darwinism/survival of the fittest and that the resulting overpopulation of lesser fitted humans would be catastrophic. Can you say now whether they were right or wrong? Can you believe they would have made the correct choice if they could have caused researchers to halt experiments on such common materials as antibiotics?

    -Adam
  • Give certain people the right and duty to kill the people who kill people without the right or duty to do it. And make doing it accidentally illegal, too.

    Then we won't use it unless safety is built in.
  • by Lispy (136512) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:21PM (#9009770) Homepage
    back when I first heard about nano this was my first thought. I tried to get my friends into a discussion about what ethical and sociological questions might arise from such a tech and they were all like "no, no you are worrying too much!" Most other people I heard talk about, even some Nanotech Professors seemed to enjoy the topic as a thoughtexperiment but never really took the threads serious. It was more that they enjoyed it as a theoretical construct. But this stuff scares the shit out of me. I would love to see it arrive since it is really the only way construction should be done, but on the other hand THIS could be the reason for the "Where is anybody?" theory that asks why all intelligent alien civilisations might be silent. Not Nuclear Weapons...

    why is it always a tradeoff between good and bad?

  • by FJ (18034) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:22PM (#9009788)
    ...by the year 2000 we'll have flying cars and whole cities on the moon."

    While this may be comming in our future, I think 20 years is a little optimistic. People have difficulty predicting technology 2 years in advance, much less 20.
  • *yawn* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by misleb (129952) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:23PM (#9009799)
    Yeah, and nuclear energy will make electricity "too cheap to meter" and people will be zipping around in flying cars by the year 2000. Am I the only one get gets sick and tired of the fantastical future promises of technology?

    -matthew
  • by linzeal (197905) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:26PM (#9009852) Homepage Journal
    The The first advanced nanotech conference [foresight.org] is about to occur and Eric Drexler [foresight.org] is going to be steward ushering it in. I wish I could afford to go, you are welcome to donate [blogspot.com], heh I'm allowed to panhandle as I live in a place called hippyland [google.com] amongst dirty hippies that do it to me (that makes this right, heh). I will be reading Drexler's book Engines of Creation [amazon.com] as soon as I am home long enough to get the damn fedex in this 2 fedex truck town.
  • by captainClassLoader (240591) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:29PM (#9009889) Journal
    ...My favorite sentence, found halfway down this page [crnano.org]:

    A large spacecraft design must account for fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, vibration and resonance on many time scales, avionics and other control, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, combustion dynamics, hydraulics, cryogenics, and biomedical issues. (Thanks to an anonymous poster on Slashdot for pointing this out.) (Emphasis mine.)

    If they're using Slashdot as a source for information, how can we possibly take them seriously? :-D

  • by Teahouse (267087) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:32PM (#9009934)
    The right nanotechnology could be self replicating, and lethal. Imagine a biological or chemical weapon that is 100% lethal and can identify and target it's victims. Then you have the right idea.

    Increasing kill ratios without having to commit troops to a battlefield is extremely seductive to those in power. Creating a weapons delivery system that can be dropped in an enemy area and begin sending out millions of tiny assasins within hours is indeed frightening. Assign a few thousand nanotodes to each victim. Their job is to simply inject a molecular amount of Ricin, just one molecule each. The amount of product the factory/delivery system needs to carry is minimal because every molecule reaches it's target. No area-wide spraying is needed. The system could devestate an entire army or city within hours. There would be no residual radiation, no explosion to announce it's arrival, and the nanos could simply be switched off after the slaughter is done.

    Imagine two nations fighting with these weapons. Or imagine a self-replicating version that gets out of control. If you thought the A-Bomb was bad, imagine what these could do. From an ethical point of view, I think this is a good conversation to be having now. In 20 years, we have no idea where this technology could be, or what DARPA will make it capable of.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:34PM (#9009972) Homepage
    Free-floating nanomachines will be severely energy-limited, like biology. Making something the size of a tree might take as long as it takes to make a tree. The power has to come from somewhere.

    Assembly lines of nanomachines on IC-like substrates, supplied with external power, though, may actually be a useful manufacturing technology for small things.

    I'm more worried about synthetic biology. So far, bioengineering has been a very crude trial and error process. Direct design of viruses and enzymes, let alone bigger organisms, doesn't work yet. But there's steady progress, and no reason it shouldn't work. That's going to mean designer diseases.

  • by Chairboy (88841) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:35PM (#9010000) Homepage
    If the Diamond Age comes to fruition, I imagine that our expansion into space would take a whole new look.

    Imagine, if you will, teams of people around the world contributing either CAD/CAM files that painstakingly reproduce technical drawings and assembly instructions for things like Saturn V rockets OR teams that design simplified heavy rockets that take advantage of nano reinforcement to make strong launchers with few moving parts.

    Once the designs have been reviewed and tested, I imagine that either hobbyist or impromptu launch sites would start sprouting up and eventually people would start lobbing payloads into orbit. During this time, I'm sure there would be a frantic effort by the government to either outlaw or control the technology, but eventually it might reach a point where a committed individual might:
    1. Design a modular living space
    2. Go out to some island.
    3. Pour a nano-construction farm out onto the beach
    4. Sit back and wait for it to finish building a launch pad and Saturn-V or Energia class booster out of materials nano-mined from the ground.
    5. Check the CRC on the structure or whatever it is a nano-inspection system would do.
    6. Have it fueled by a system that breaks down the seawater into fuel and oxidizer.
    7. Have it launch part 1 of his new home into orbit.
    8. Rinse, repeat steps 4-8 until all components are in orbit (and docked, why not?)
    9. Make one last man-rated launcher and put him/herself along with family up to dock with their new digs and take off.

    If the main cost is the design time, there are certainly enough space-minded engineers and contributors out there to write up working specs and enough people to validate the designs. As the technology advances, the simulation of the constructs will become more accurate. If the construction cost is minimal, then the sky is quite literally the limit.
  • Treaties shmeaties. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:37PM (#9010029) Journal
    There will always be "rogue nations." To North Korea, we're the rogue nation. To us, it's North Korea. I think we're right, but whatever.

    Both of us will weaponize nanotech, treaties or no.

    What we have to do ASAP, is develop countermeasures. There *will* be a nanotech arms race. Otherwise, "rogue nations" will realize the age-old desire to reduce their enemies to bloody soup. The arms race is ok, so long as the defense keeps up against the offense, and we can get a nice, heady detente.

    Unless this advocacy group has some really convincing argument, I don't see how they can say, "It's going to be like Diamond Age, except that for us, treaties will work." Explain why treaties will work. Neal Stephenson already explained why they wouldn't. I liked his argument.
  • by theCat (36907) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:40PM (#9010076) Journal
    So nanofactories will replace corporate factories and this is _bad_ to the current power structure so government won't let it happen so we're doomed to be slaves to the heartless System.

    I have an idea. Forget about the nanofactories for now. Go to the hardware store and purchase some basic tools. Saw, hammer, the like. Find some suitable dried wood, old fences are a good supply (get permissions first!) Buy a book on woodworking. Try a few projects.

    And never buy another stick of furniture. See who cares. Other than family and friends nobody will care. And you'll have fun.

    And this: Buy a sewing machine, pick up broadcloth on the cheap. Make clothes. Other than family and friends nobody will care. You'll have fun.

    Learn to cook. Learn to repair engines. Learn to garden. Learn to teach your children. Walk. Ride a bike.

    You are small, compared to a corporation and a government you are nano-scale. Your life is tiny, your labors are tiny, your production is tiny, your marketing reach is zero to none. You are a factory, but on the nano-scale. Make what you need yourself, say good-bye to Nike, and fall from sight.

    And you won't give a thought to what happens with nanofactories 20 or 30 or 80 years from now, because you will _be_ a nanofactory.

  • by gobbo (567674) <wrewrite@gmail . c om> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @02:52PM (#9010277) Journal
    As with most powerful tech, once this gets under way, the real challenge to our safety and the emancipatory possibilities of the tech will be the ownership structure that's established.

    Much of this nanotech will overlap with biosciences patents, as biomechanical structures get emulated, discovered/invented, patented, and deployed in commercially strategic ways. The compensation for use of this tech will be horrendously complicated, and its inclusion in products (or design frameworks) will be subject to all kinds of IP battles. What is good for you and me, society, the biosphere, and the mineral planet, will be secondary to these concerns, since people will be jockeying to be the next B.Gates.

    If ever there was a concern about analogies to closed API's and the bugginess produced by these kinds of closed-source strategies, it's here, where the molecular engines can make drastic and disastrous changes, that we need to pay attention to opening things up.

    Access is the core issue. I suspect that software to model this stuff is the first place to start. Easy for me to say, I'm not a programmer!

  • by geekotourist (80163) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @03:44PM (#9011068) Journal
    These guys look like the new kids on the block. The Foresight Institute [foresight.org] has already held its Eleventh annual Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology [foresight.org].

    Back in 1999 the Foresight Institute released the first version of the Foresight Guidelines on Molecular Nanotechnology. [foresight.org]. These guidelines, interestingly enough, ended up in the US Congresses' recent (2003) bill on Molecular manufacturing / nanontechnology studies.

    One point that the F.I. makes that often gets missed in discussion of nano: molecular nanotechnology != self-replicating machines. As Eric Drexler writes: "Much has been made of a concern I raised in 1986, under the name "gray goo" -- a hypothetical scenario involving runaway replicators. Building fully self-replicating machines would be difficult, however, and building machines that could replicate without external help would be more difficult still. Current work in the field shows that it will be easier and more efficient to develop molecular manufacturing without building any self-replicating machines at all."

    One measure of the existence or success of a field is the jobs available in it: jobs certainly exist in 2004 [workingin-...nology.com]. By 2014 it should be really interesting. Another measure is "does the field have its equivalent of Slashdot?" Yup, Nanodot [nanodot.org].

    The F.I.'s website has much good material: FAQs [foresight.org], Reviews of nano for the technical or non-technical reader [foresight.org], reviews of policy issues [foresight.org] and more. In their policy section they discuss how to avoid high-tech terrorism [foresight.org]: it involves more nano, not less. Another of their essays [foresight.org] talks about 6 lessons from 9/11 that should be applied to molecular nanotechnology:

    1. Foresight's concern for the long-term potential abuse of nanotechnology has been confirmed and strengthened. Those who abuse technology -- from airliners to anthrax -- for destructive ends do exist and are unlikely to stop before full nanotech arrives, with all its power for both good and ill.
    2. Foresight's position favoring speedy development of advanced nanotech has also been strengthened. The longer we wait, the better the infrastructure worldwide, the smaller the budget and project needed -- and the easier to hide the work. Let's do it fast, while it's more difficult, expensive, and harder to conceal.
    3. Our advocacy of openness as the safest strategy has been validated. In under two hours, the problem of airliners hitting buildings was solved -- by passengers in the fourth plane to be highjacked. They did it "open source style": shared information on the need, collaborative design, and unpaid group implementation. (With earlier information, they might have been able to save their own lives, as well as those in the building their plane was meant to hit.) Their example can inspire us as we work to find a "bottom-up," distributed, networked, immune-system-style defense against the abuse of nanotechnology.
    4. There are no good excuses for lack of foresight. We've got to be pro-active, not just reactive. Environmentalist-architect William McDonough wrote the following about environmental disasters, but it applies just as well to Sept. 11 or a future abuse of nanotech: "You can't say it's not part of your plan that these things happened, because it's part of your de facto plan. It's the thing that's happening because you have no plan...We own these tragedies. We might as well have intended for them to occur."
    5. It would
  • by goldmeer (65554) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:35PM (#9012020)
    I pray to my diety that these nanofactories do not get conntcted to any type of computer network. If they are, you just KNOW that there will be some kind of virus or worm that will attack these nanofactories and have them create any kind of nastiness.

    If this comes to pass, the next computer virus could very well kill you.

    I can see the virus threat warning...

    ========
    W64.nanodeath

    Discovered on: April 2, 2044

    W64.nanodeath is a mass-mailing worm that attempts to spread using mail and file-sharing networks. The worm also opens a backdoor on an infected computer.

    When the worm runs, it activates all network attached Microsoft NanoFactory(TM) systems in the local area network. The affected Microsoft NanoFactory systems will randomly produce MicroSoft MicroMachines(TM) designed to do one of the following:
    * Destroy human flesh
    * Destroy bone matter
    * Destroy human brain tissue
    * Produce plush penguin toys

    Also Known As: Die.MSUsers.Die, Long.Live.Linux

    Type: Worm
    Infection Length: varies

    Systems Affected: Windows 2020, Windows 2016, Windows 2013, Windows 2010.
    Systems Not Affected: Everything Else
  • by bitspotter (455598) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @05:16PM (#9012558) Journal
    There are two problems with consumer manufacturing (nano or not):

    1) creating and selling the fabricators is not a business model. Once you get a few seeded out there, people will just make copies of the fabs themselves, and sell them to others, until the market is so saturated that people just give them away.

    2) Regardless of whether today's police state has faded, the potential of the common people to make their own weapons, be they blades, guns, explosives, or other chemical dangers will be too much for government to tolerate.

    The solution that I think will likely be deployed is a "Trusted Manufacturing" or "Trusted Fabrication" architecture much like we already see today with "Trusted Computing" and Digital Rights Management systems.

    You will not be able to own a fab - you'll rent it, like your cable box, or your music CDs (*cough*) today. Tampering with someone else's property is obviously illegal (not that it will stop everyone - see below). Furthermore, the fabs will only be permitted to produce goods whose designs are whitelisted - ie, digitally signed - as "approved" by either the manufacturer, some industry consortium, or some government agency whose job it will be to thoroughly review designs to insure they are "safe" from abuses 1) or 2) above.

    Unlike current TC designs like the TCPA, there will be no "taking ownership", where consumers will be able to choose whom to trust or not trust about what signed software/products to run/produce. That decision will be pre-decided when you get the fab, and you won't be permitted to change it "for public safety". ...and the designs for the fab itself is NOT very likely to be on that list.

    Not that the law will stop everyone. Someone will find holes in the system, and they will break it. One of the first things they will do will be to make an unrestricted fab, which will make the rest. They'll spread, underground, to anyone willing to take whatever risks are inherent in having one. Considering that the perceived dangers of possessing an unrestricted desktop fab are MUCH higher than the perceived dangers of having an unrestricted media player, I think it's likely that the legal consequences of being discovered with one will be harsher, potentially branding perpetrators as "terrorists" despite having intentions equivalent to wanting to play your own DVDs on your own Linux box in a world full of copyright piracy.

    As usal, coporate/governemnt restrictions on consumer products won't be uncircumventable, but they will keep circumvention out of public life. On balance, I think such a state of affairs to help to make the transition more manageable - both for the good things, and the bad.
  • When? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Guppy06 (410832) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @07:42PM (#9014025)
    "will arrive "almost certainly within 20 years."

    So will this be before or after viable fusion reactors?
  • ain't gonna happen (Score:5, Informative)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @10:12PM (#9015108)
    I work in nanotechnology, and while it might be possible that in 20 years the world will have gone to hell, I highly dount it will be because of this work that no one is doing. The actual work being done in nanotech, is another matter.

    These guys make molecular manufacturing sound easy. I'd like to see them try it! None of this is easy, and I would say most of us think molecular manufacturing isn't even possible. The set up described in Drexler's book is not attainable. There are no big names in nanotechnology working on molecular manufacturing, but plenty working on lots of other things.

    There is more than enough to be worried about with what is ACTUALLY being done with nanotechnology. It's insulting to those of us in the field, that our research on gas detectors, bio-electronics, nerve regerneration, nanometer transistors, pathogen detectors and drug delivery is deemed so umimportant that it's not even worth talking about. Moreover, there are tremendous issues involved in those projects, which no one is talking about. Any warning about ACTUAL dangers in nanotechnology is being drowned out by ignorant shrills simply seeking the spotlight.

    We need a debate on what sensitive explosives sensors are going to do not only for security, but for farmers, scientests and anyone who works around incriminating chemicals. I don't want to be taken in for questioning every time I board a plane. We need to talk about what happens with illegal drugs and steroids when drugs can be delivered to a specific organ and leave the rest of the body largely unaffected. We need to talk about what it really means for education and health when computers are small enough to fit inside the body. The reason I read slashdot is because every once in a while these things come up here. There are plenty of large moral issues literally around the corner, but almost no one is paying attention! Live in the present, it is a fascinating time, and we have many, many unanswered questions.

    Debating how to prevent a fictional future arms race depending on a scientific advance many scientests doing the work don't believe will happen in our lifetimes is plain stupid in comparison.

    To be fair, I think molecular manufacturing WILL be seen in our lifetime, but it will not be cheap, nor easy, nor fast. Go ahead and calculate how long it will take to make one kilogram of something at 1000000 atoms a second, it's around 1 trillion years. Plain old wet chemistry (aka "bottom up nanotechnology") still has a lot of time and use left. For the first 10 or 20 years molecular manufacturing is around no one will know what to do with it because it will not be this holy grail the media has worked it into. This is based on the history of science, from the steam engine to microscopes capable of atomic resolution. We've always set our sights on these goals, only to be surprised at their implimentation. It's always taken the big breakthroughs a decade or two to get used.

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