X-Message-Number: 21694
From: "MIKE TREDER" <>
Subject: CRN's Activities
Date: Tue, 29 Apr 2003 08:57:18 -0400

CRN's Director of Research, Chris Phoenix, isn't on this list, but he
wrote a reply to James Swayze, which I am forwarding for him...

Mike Treder


James Swayze <> wrote:
>[Subject: "Chicken Little/Narcissus chimera"]

At several points you have been uncivil.  If you want to have a
discussion, please improve that.

>With all due respect I think your little group is a
>little full of themselves. See a chance to hobnob with the likes of Drexler 

This is what I mean about lack of civility.

For the record, I have been "hobnobbing with Drexler" for the past
decade.  And I don't expect that CRN will make me more popular with the
nanotech crowd.  Many of them will probably react like you.

>To whit, I did not
>say we should not recognize _true_ dangers but I strongly feel since you 
>all are not
>experts you are thus making mountains out of molehills.

I have been studying nanotechnology for over a decade, am published in
the field (a book chapter, co-author on a long, technical, peer-reviewed
paper, etc), and have an MS in computer science from Stanford.

I completely agree that it would be quite bad to talk about impossible
dangers.  There'll be enough hysteria out there anyway.  But...

>The worst is any mention at all of gray goo. It won't happen! First of all 
>we already have the ancient danger of green goo and it has never happened. 
>I heard it said once that
>microbials could bury the Earth a mile high in microbial soup if left to 
>their own devices.

Lots of things eat bacteria.  Nothing eats diamond.

>Why hasn't it happened? Not enough energy! Secondly it is likely we will 
>never have _truely_ and _completely_ self replicating nanobots. In my 
>opinion it is simply too
>difficult to get _all_ the necessary computing power onto a single bot.

In my opinion it is quite easy.  All you have to do is generate a
deterministic instruction stream.  Probably doesn't even require a
general-purpose computer.  The main question in my mind is how far you
can compress the design, and how compact you can make the storage.  That
affects replication time but *not* feasibility.

>If this is so then they will have to be controlled by an overseer AI or 
>simply a really strong supercomputer.

I think this logic must be wrong.  They might have to be *designed* by
supercomputer, but once designed, the control of the mechanochemistry is
completely straightforward.  What do you think of Merkle's design in
"Casing an Assembler"?
This simply uses a sequence of pulses to control a double tripod that
does the mechanochemistry.  It's the same sequence every time.

>We don't even need them to self replicate either.

I agree we don't need self replication.  The question is whether, if MNT
is developed, some hacker or script kiddie is going to develop self
replication for fun.  Once we have a general mechanochemistry mechanism
capable of building a duplicate, and a few rod-logic designs, it
wouldn't be at all hard to integrate them into a self-contained
replicator.  The main unknown is feedstock chemistry: how to generate
acetone (or whatever) from cellulose (or whatever) in a cubic micron of
diamondoid equipment.

>By talking gray goo you only inflame the likes of Michael Chrichton and his 
>fans and the Bill Joys of this world. They  are reasonably educated and 
>look how wrong
>they are. Now think of what your "the sky is falling" efforts do to people 
>that will never bother to learn the truth but get their knowledge from 
>sound bites and hype?!

A lot of people, including you, say that gray goo is impossible.
Others, including Crichton and Joy, say it could happen by accident and
destroy the biosphere and wipe us all out.  We believe the truth is
somewhere in the middle.  Gray goo won't happen by accident.  It
probably won't destroy the biosphere.  But it could happen by design,
and the people most likely to design and release it are the same crowd
who think it's fun to launch DDoS attacks on Amazon and Ebay.

>>I have great faith in science and scientists as well, to perform good
>>science and make good decisions so far as their expertise enables
>>them. But most scientists will tell you that they are not necessarily 
>>qualified to make policy recommendations
>I don't buy it. They are just as much the voters, consumers of and 
>recipients of good or bad from nanotech as any of the rest of us are with 
>the exception of knowing very
>accurately, as the common person cannot, what really is or is not
>dangerous. Only they are qualified to make policy.

Scientists are generally pretty busy doing research, in an area that's
usually pretty small.  And note that scientists frequently don't agree
with each other.  They can't know "what really is or is not dangerous"
because a lot of the danger depends on how it's used.

We are not by any means suggesting that scientists be shut out of the
decision process!  But scientists alone can't know enough of the
politics and economics that also must go into making the decisions.

For example, what would the average computer scientist, chemist, or
mechanical engineer know about the likelihood of a new manufacturing
technology leading to an unstable arms race?  They have no special
qualification to talk about arms races.  But this is a possible
consequence of the technology (and one that worries me more than gray

>Speaking of societal disruption, oh it will happen but trying to force the 
>old system to remain, as in economics, is flatly ludicrous and short 
>sighted. You say nano anarchy is
>what we don't want. I say it is exactly what we need.

There are middle grounds.  An extreme nano anarchy would certainly
destroy society as we know it.  What else would it destroy?  Obviously,
stagnation is also quite bad.  We think there's enough room for lots of
innovation--all the human race can produce--without needing to leave the
most dangerous capabilities accessible.

>By trying to micro manage every step
>you will lock up technologies from creative individuals that would likely 
>produce the odd
>genius improvement or find the fluke that was missed by the so called 
>experts and especially your quagmire of committees. We need open source. 
>Only open source and myriad creative minds working in every corner will be 
>able to respond quickly
>enough and braodly enough to whatever dangers might arise.

We're not trying to micro manage every step.  We want lots of creative
minds working in *almost* every corner.  Can we discuss degree of
control, instead of black-and-white all-or-nothing positions?

>Regarding the economy, on your website you said something truly 
> >unbelievably myopic. You said that if a designer of a new gadget to be 
>manufactured by MNT cannot get paid why would he create in the first place?

I think I said that financial incentive can be an important stimulus for
design work.  That's not the same as saying there's no other reason to
create.  Of course there are other reasons!

But different incentives create different kinds of output.  Linux is not
as easy to use as Windows, but much more secure.  This is predictable:
the programmers are working for very different audiences.

>The old economy is going to go away and good damn riddance! Wealth building 
>worked for the old capitalist economy. I am a capitalist. But I see the 
>writing on the wall.

How do you propose to allocate limited resources in a post-capitalist
economy?  Limited resources include land, energy (think heat pollution),
and possibly even carbon (though use of silica or alumina could help
with that).

You summarized a story in which everyone on earth chooses to be
posthuman.  I find this implausible.  There are lots of change-phobes.
(The story has some technical difficulties too.)

>>>best efforts would be to instead get involved behind the scenes where 
>>>dangers are dealt with _quietly_ before they get a chance to upset the 
>>>ignorant unwashed masses. I for one am damn well tired of those ignorant 
>>>imbecile inadequately educated about science unwashed masses coercing 
>>>their representatives into outlawing the very things I and so many 
>>>others, the entire human race, need for future and current survival.

For some risks, including (ironically) gray goo, you are quite likely
right: they are best dealt with quietly by the appropriate
professionals.  But for others, including arms race and economic
oppression, the public needs to get involved.  We could not honestly say
that we don't see gray goo as a threat.  There are too many script
kiddies out there.  And we can't very well avoid mentioning it at all.

Don't blame the masses for everything.  They are not the ones who chose
the current FDA drug approval policies, for example.

>>After doing a close examination of potential benefits and risks
>>of molecular nanotechnology (MNT), we are convinced that the dangers >>are 
>>great. We also believe that good solutions may be found,
>Only if nanotech is open source and not quagmired in endless debate.

Much MNT development will benefit from open source.  But you've said you
want a nano-anarchy.  This is not a good solution--it gives individuals
too much power.

>This is the silliest and most alarming of all your group's >suggestions. 
>The very last thing we need is to set up more and still more burgeoning 
>bureaucracies to fuddle the works. By
>doing this the one thing you can be sure of is that the dangerous stuff
>will go underground and out of sight.

If anyone actually takes our advice, they'll make very sure to
streamline the administrative processes, precisely to avoid driving
useful stuff underground.  We've even discussed ways to keep dangerous
stuff aboveground: approve it but monitor it.

>Maybe eventually getting a huge helping of tax dollars
>is the true aim of CRN?

Mike has already stated our motive.  So you're calling us liars, as well
as thieves.  I'm sorry you're quadriplegic and your medical needs are
more urgent than most people's.  But that does not give you any right to
be abusive.  Chronic pain can make someone snappish, but email gives you
a chance to re-read it and remove those parts before you send it.

If we don't answer your next letter, it's probably because you did not
edit out the rude, uncivil, and offensive parts.

>I just can't believe one of our ilk is in favor of more
>regulation and tax devouring bureaucracy!

What do you think about police?  Could society exist without them?  Even
libertarians sometimes admit that government is necessary to protect
people from force and fraud.

In a nano-anarchy, people would be able to scatter webcams throughout
your house.  Even to kill or torture you, or modify your brain, for fun
or any other reason, remotely and undetectably.  Development and
deployment of nanotech shields would lag the development and use of
malware.  (And that's just one class of problems.)  I'm in favor of
regulation and rules for MNT the same way I'm in favor of police.  It'd
be nice if we didn't need them, but we do.  The question is how to
improve the system, not whether to have it at all.

Chris Phoenix - 
Center for Responsible Nanotechnology - www.CRNano.org
Chris's home page - http://xenophilia.org

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