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Radical Abundance: Will Liberty Survive the Atomically-Precise Manufacturing Revolution?

A few weeks ago I attended a science lecture in an old downtown church. The audience was riveted, despite the hard wooden pews and odd sounds coming from the plumbing and heating in the place, as the 'founding father of nanotechnology', K. Eric Drexler, described the coming revolution which will fundamentally transform our world in staggering fashion, similar to the Agricultural, Industrial and Information Revolutions that have preceded it.

Despite the term 'nanotechnology' losing its focus and clarity of meaning in the last couple decades, with it being broadened to include things like material science for various political reasons, the original thrust of the idea (as presented in Drexlers's 1986 book, 'Engines of Creation') was Atomically-Precise Manufacturing, or APM.

As Drexler explains further in his latest book, Radical Abundance, APM will allow us to:

- take inexpensive, common, abundant raw materials

- put them into a factory in a box (scaled to the size of the product you want to make)

- have the box assemble the product with digital, atomic precision

- output the product in extremely short order, given the advantages of molecular machines being able to complete their motions more rapidly, due to mechanical scaling laws

- do this with no waste or pollution and at reduced energy costs

With this capability, we will be able to end the current global supply chains needed for manufacturing that were set up during the Industrial Revolution, decentralizing manufacturing to these local 'factories in a box'.

We will no longer need scarce materials like copper, lead, tin, iron as we can produce lighter, stronger, more conductive, etc. materials as needed from carbon, silicon, etc. which are readily available.

It doesn't take much imagination to realize the tremendous implications this technology will have for bringing abundance of material goods and production efficiencies to the entire world, bringing down barriers to cheap and frequent spaceflight, ending use of fossil fuels through extremely efficient solar cells, improving health and extending life with it's medical applications, allowing the reversal of environmental degradation, increasing computing power a billion-fold, etc.

Consider this from Drexler: "The potential material standard of living enabled by APM-level technologies is perhaps best left to imagination for now. The base level stands somewhere above a world-wide abundant supply of the best of every kind of product manufactured today." (emphasis mine)

With these rewards will also come increased capabilities for authoritarians to operate a surveillance state, project lethal or non-lethal coercive force. There will also be a debate about what products should be allowed to be made with this technology, and who will control that and how.

My thoughts/questions:

- with this revolution (which may be coming more quickly than you realize), will Liberty stand a chance of surviving?

- there will be a clamor for a new centralized, globally coordinated effort to manage this technology, in order to 'keep us safe' from the potential downsides while reaping the blessings

- is this going to be the vehicle for global governance to more fully emerge?

- how do the AnCaps among us propose to manage the deployment of this technology? Does there need to be any regulation, policy-making of any sort? How should it be implemented?

- will the elite allow us peasants to actually experience the blessings of this technology? Or will they hoard it for themselves, jettison the masses of laborers they no longer need -- cull the diseased, impoverished herd so they can go to the stars without us?

- do we have any voices in the Liberty movement who are beginning to discuss how we can adapt to this revolution?

It will be interesting to see how history unfolds, as this double-edged sword begins to be used for good and for ill.

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ChristianAnarchist's picture

Will mankind survive

Will mankind survive "technology"? As we learn how to manipulate our universe will we be able to survive the re-engineering of our DNA, our brain power interface with "the grid" or our desire to use these same technologies to simply "disappear" those people we don't like? The biggest problem we face is ourselves...

Beware the cult of "government"...

Sonmi 541: "Truth is singular. Its "versions" are mistruths."

Maybe "basic income" is part of the answer.

Thank you for the post. I get mocked here when raising the issue of technology rendering so many jobs obsolete. But it's going to happen sooner or later, as increasing numbers of people can't find jobs to provide their families with food, clothing, and shelter. We can deal with it when some tipping point is reached and things turn violent. Or the issue can be planned for in advance - the need for a paradigm shift in thinking about work, wages, property, and the role of government.

Here's one idea that seems to have supporters among both socialists and libertarians: Basic Income. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income#Advocacy_by_Libert...

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
~ John Muir


I wonder, though, if this basic income idea could instead be implemented privately by charities and churches and the like without government involvement. The emerging AnCap in me hopes so. :)

Would we need government to regulate APM and what kinds of products are made with it? Could this be safely deployed without that? (The minarchist side of me speaking up. :) )

TwelveOhOne's picture

Who gets to decide (or choose)?

The most efficient configuration of the solar system is as a Matrioshka Brain. This will preserve all the sun's output and use it to think.

Who gets to decide whether you or I get to be taken apart so that our matter can be made into a part of this great contraption?

Me, I want to wrap all the stars in Matrioshka Brains, and then figure out how to turn them off and ration the energy, to help the universe live longer.

But in doing so we may be taking apart other life forms. Why should my vision of extending the end of the universe trump their right to survive?

I agree, Liberty may not survive the "with great power", as not all of us have great responsibility.

I read Engines of Creation in the early 90s, and Nano (by Ed Regis) in the mid 90s. Nano is still an excellent book, a great story and informative. The reviews say Drexler's new book is more whiny and just a rehash -- I haven't read it, but reading the reviews at Amazon made me think perhaps I won't.

To follow developments in nanotechnology, The Foresight Institute has a newsletter. (Edit: it's .org, not .com!)

I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.
http://fija.org - Fully Informed Jury Association
http://jsjinc.net - Jin Shin Jyutsu (energy healing)

Yeah, I can see...

...why some would describe Radical Abundance as a whiny rehash, but I saw it more as an effort to strip away layers of misconceptions and politically-induced murkiness which have plagued the ideas and progress within 'nanotechnology' as a field of engineering vs science. It also makes it clear that the remaining stepping stones between us and APM are less a technical challenge than a problem of applying a concerted, focused systems engineering approach. Once this occurs, the progress towards advanced APM may come quite rapidly and may catch many off-guard, who assume that APM is just some fizzled-out, over-hyped concept.

Sounds like the Matrioshka Brain idea would be a definite violation of Liberty (Natural Law), unless everyone voluntarily chose to pursue it. APM, on the other hand, I believe can be compatible with and perhaps advantageous to Liberty -- but only if we get involved in the discussion early-on as to how it should be steered (or not steered) and harnessed. I have this sinking feeling that the authoritarian elite are miles ahead in planning how they will implement this and use it to bring yet more global controls.

TwelveOhOne's picture

APM is a necessary (but not sufficient) step,

towards creating a Matrioshka Brain.

So, is developing APM a threat to Liberty? (I don't quite know, and am really asking; many things that it enables can be seen as threats.)

I've long entertained the idea that we're living in a simulation. Consider that we are, and we're running on some grad student's professor's computer, taking only a few percent of the resources. Currently we resolve whole objects, like "table", "chair", "dog", etc.

Once we develop nanotechnology, we will be resolving every atom. This might take most of the resources of the professor's computer, who will then say "ok, shut this down, I'm trying to get some work done."

Thus, developing nanotechnology will, instead of being our savior, be our downfall.

Yeah, I'm just writing screenplays in my head but it's still fun to share. :)

I agree that the so-called "elite" (how can one be top of class when one wants to kill the class? Or, I suppose I just answered the question, if they destroy all the other buildings then theirs is the tallest) might be ahead of the game. But they need to convince us deep thinkers to play the statist game -- my thoughts are, they get some deeper-than-shallow thinkers, but they won't get those who can see through the Federal Reserve scam, and they need those in order to produce and further the Tesla technologies.

And I also will state, here for all time, that if not everyone here agrees, I'll leave this solar system to itself, and wrap all the others with Matrioshka Brains. (Which doesn't mean someone else won't try to do it to this sol; and also doesn't mean that my efforts won't end up causing some galactic tidal forces out here at the unfashionable end of this spiral arm.) And will try my utmost to find life, before taking any other solar system apart and reconfiguring it.

I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.
http://fija.org - Fully Informed Jury Association
http://jsjinc.net - Jin Shin Jyutsu (energy healing)


Life is fragile is my answer.
Organic vs the inorganic..
We (life) are a single grain of sand
surrounded by a beach of the inorganic.
We are fragile and we are so VERY precious and very RARE.
Almost unfathomable if the metric in considered on the molecular level.
We (and the organic) are to be VALUED over EVERYTHING else.
Thanks for the post and thanks for your comment twelve.
Good stuff!