Re: poly: The singleton hypothesis

From: Peter C. McCluskey <>
Date: Wed Jun 03 1998 - 08:41:32 PDT ("Nick Bostrom") writes:
>Peter C. McCluskey wrote:
>> Those who are trying to develop them for military purposes would be
>> motivated to keep it secret, but those who are developing them for
>> other purposes might well want to adopt a policy of complete openness
>> as a means of convincing others that they weren't working on weapons
>> (possibly the only way to convince governments not to try outlawing
>> the research). Open research would probably proceed faster than secret
>> military research, because of things like more peer review.
>Since the open research is open, the military research could hardly
>fall behind -- they too can read all the papers that the open
>community publishes.

 If they had identical needs, this would make some sense, although
even then there is often some delay between when the research results
start circulating among the community of open researchers and the time
when it gets published for the rest of the world to see. For example,
I recently heard of an experimental result about building things with
dna which might have some important implications for building an assembler.
I'm not supposed to describe that publicly until Nature has a chance to
publish a paper on it.
 It is also not trivial to instantly replicate most lab research; most
research reports omit some details which seem trivial but which take
some trial and error to figure out.
 When the military has some needs that are different from those of
the open researchers, it may also have the problem that the best researchers
may prefer working in open, peace-oriented labs. And it will almost
certainly be slowed down some by its lesser ability to have many researchers
check the research for errors.

> The question is whether, when the breakthrough
>is approaching, the military labs can push a head a little bit, at
>least regarding the military applications. This seems quite likely.
>(1) The civilians might not have much interest in the military
>applications; (2) They might even be banned from doing research on

 I agree that military labs will have technological edges in some
specialized areas. I don't see these specialized improvements giving
decisive advantage over what competing military organizations will
be able to create by copying and enhancing upon the open research.

>these aspects; (3) An organization like the US military could muster
>enormous finansial resources if it thought US security critically
>depended on coming first to nanotech; it could buy up most
>researchers doing open research.

 One military trying to acquire a monopoly on the basic research
could easily create a less stable situation. This might be a serious
problem if done by a government as reckless as the nazis, but a
normal military wouldn't be quick to use the results.
 To return to your claim that the first military to create an important
breakthrough would use it immediately to conquer the world, it assumes
that no preparation is needed after the research lab makes the breakthrough.
This is inconsistent with all historical examples I can think of.
For instance, the design breakthrough that lead to the atom bomb
didn't include ways to instantly produce them fast enough to guarantee
that they would be decisive; the were still bottlenecks such as refining
the uranium. Carl's example of mass-produced missiles requires some
time to install and target them (the targetting would probably require
somewhat different strategies than are in use for scarcer missiles),
plus separate work on missile defense.

Peter McCluskey          | Critmail ( | Accept nothing less to archive your mailing list
Received on Wed Jun 3 15:44:47 1998

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