poly: RE: the economics of transition to nanotech

From: Ramez Naam <ramezn@Exchange.Microsoft.com>
Date: Fri Jan 07 2000 - 17:41:36 PST

I see little reason to believe that MNT would lead immediately to an
elimination of capitalism or a more even distribution of wealth in society.

I have three primary objections to the arguments put forth in THE SPIKE

1) As Robert Bradbury points out in another post, a major limitation of
nanotech is the complexity of design. I liken this to the software market
that exists today. It takes the investment of millions of man hours to
produce many of the software packages used today. That translates into tens
or hundreds of millions of dollars. That level of investment will only
occur in an environment where a similar pay-off can occur. That means that
there will effectively be intellectual property protection for nanotech

It's true that there are large and growing shareware, freeware, and
open-source software options. Nevertheless, the majority of software used
in developed nations today is bought and paid for. Indeed, even in the
linux market, there is money changing hands to vendors such as Red Hat who
provide support, documentation, their own extensions of the system, etc..
So long as there is intellectual work to be done to make nanotech useful,
there is likely to be compensation for that work.

2) THE SPIKE points out an interesting rule of safe nanotech development:
Never create a nanite that can duplicate itself outside of controlled
conditions. Furthermore, the model of MNT you present has many construction
components outside the nanites: A vat in which the construction takes
place, the pumps that bring in streams of raw material, the macro-assemblers
that put together finished pieces, etc.. All of this suggests to me that
with MNT we will still have /factories/ of one form or another. Simply
having a universal assembler and a design for the product I want will not be
a sufficient condition to build the product I want. I will need a
specialized facility to safely use that assembler in.

3) Incentive. Consider this a concern with the open source model overall:
In a world where all of ones needs can be met with no effort on one's part,
where is the incentive to work? Certainly there are some people who have
that incentive, out of curiosity, pride, a desire for fame or glory, etc..
But there may be a larger number of people who are equally happy spending
all their time in leisure activities that do not directly contribute to the
welfare of humanity at large. One of the two fundamental brilliances of
capitalism is that it channels selfishness into behavior that benefits
others. Essential human self-interest (and tribe-interest), in the absence
of any structure that directs it, is the ultimate problem in any utopia.

(BTW, all this aside, I enjoyed THE SPIKE and look forward to the US


> From: Damien Broderick [mailto:d.broderick@english.unimelb.edu.au]
> Sorry to keep banging on about this, but I'm deep into
> revisions, updates
> and expansions of my book THE SPIKE, for publication in the
> USA later this
> year. I'm try to address some of the critical objections to v. 1.0,
> especially certain complaints that the economics (implicit
> and explicit)
> were handwaving and/or naive. I'm happy to stick by some of
> what I wrote
> (eg, that we might end up with a gift economy if assemblers
> prove cheap and
> tractable), but the vexing issue is the realistic pathway there.
> Brutally: who pays, and why?
Received on Fri Jan 7 18:08:07 2000

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