The Proceedings of the 1989 NanoCon Northwest regional
nanotechnology conference, with K. Eric Drexler as Guest of Honor.
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NANOCON PROCEEDINGS page 9
V. SOCIAL ISSUES PANEL (continued)
AUDIENCE: In the last episode of the series "Connections", James
Burke talks about four possibilities of dealing with frightening technologies:
you can either
With nanotechnology we are not going to go back. Whoever goes back is lost.
We are probably not going to proceed at the same rate because the benefits
are too great. Probably the best course to proceed ahead with caution.
- go backwards and destroy the technology;
- proceed at the same rate with no future additions, but do not go back;
- push on full ahead; or
- push on with caution.
I see three frightening possibilities of nanotechnology. Disassemblers
are one. Because the immune system is so complex, it is far easier to create
a means of attacking the system, than to analyze it and find a means of
defense. I think this will be the case with nanotechnology. As Eric points
out in his book, developing an "immune system" against attacking
disassemblers is going to be extremely complex. What are my options? Become
a pacifist and rely on individual integrity, which I don't think I want
to do, or do I become extremely paranoid as I try to think of ways to defend
against such things, or do I rely on some ultra-intelligent AI or some sort
of government structure to protect me?
D. GAGLIANO: Two issues come to mind immediately about how our society is
going to have a great many problems dealing with the transition to being
able to use this technology. Two things that brings us home to be able to
deal with the impact of these technologies today.
The principal point that I want to make is that future developments have
an impact on decisions made today.
- One was an incident a couple of months ago in which a programmer exploited
a fault in a system for a half million dollars and has not been caught.
People obviously exploit holes and weaknesses in advanced technologies.
- The second issue, is that the decisions we make today are really impacted
by nanotechnology. A life insurance salesman was trying to tell me a couple
of nights ago how whole life insurance is one of the stablest investments
an individual can make. I told him that I was disturbed that I was making
a bet that I would get a payoff if I or my spouse were to die. However,
the way the policies are currently worded, if you live to 95, you get the
payoff automatically. This will be a tremendous problem in the next 30 to
40 years when everybody is going to live to be 95 and longer and one of
our most stable investments crumbles around us.
J. CRAMER: As a matter of fact you can buy an annuity which is basically
a bet by the life insurance company that you are going to die rather promptly
and they will agree to pay you a fixed sum of money every month until you
do. So, if you live forever, they will support you forever.
Obviously, what is going to happen in those situations is that those companies
are going to go bankrupt. If life extension happens rapidly, that sort of
thing can't adjust. The reason for that is that they are basing their predictions
on actuarial tables which are unrealistic. If you go to Los Vegas and bet
using unrealistic expectations, the probability is that you will go broke.
The same for the life insurance policies. So, the policies you buy may not
be very valuable.
G. BEAR: Doug, what is the phrase for assumed, unexpressed conditions in
D. BATEY: It is probably an implicit condition of the contract and one could
conjecture or try to conjecture the results of lawsuits between insurance
companies and annuitants, where the annuitant has reached the ripe old age
of 150 and the insurance company would argue that this individual has received
some unusual kind of medical treatment which was not contemplated or even
possible when the contract was signed. One could try to figure out how the
judge would resolve that type of dispute. That kind of conjecture leaves
one to ponder the kinds of dispute resolution mechanisms that we have. We
have our judicial system, which is more oriented towards resolving individual
disputes, on a one-by-one basis. We have our legislatures which can try
to pass laws to resolve disputes nation-wide. We could conjecture a legislature
passing a law with some sort of adjustment provision in it designed as a
compromise to allow the insurance companies to at least avoid going bankrupt,
but still allow annuitants to get the benefit of the bargain, perhaps even
more than the amount when they signed up for the annuity.
G. BEAR: Think of government changes in military benefits, which are guaranteed
upon signing up. You sign up for term and you get free health care for life.
Savings and loans are perhaps another example. My point is that the law
is not fixed; no contract is truly permanent.
AUDIENCE: I think you are underestimating the insurance companies. What
they do now with AIDS patients is declare a new policy pool in addition
to the policy pool these people come out of. They get all the healthy people
to go into the new pool and they keep raising the rates on the old pool
until it is economically impossible to pay for the insurance to take care
E. DREXLER: I would like to make a small observation. I think that we are
perhaps having a rather narrow perspective. In looking at the consequences
of nanotechnology, one of the things to watch out for is to say, "Well,
here is one effect." and then imagine that one affect turned loose
in a world otherwise exactly as it is today. Here is one thought
experiment for the resolution of the problem of annuities and so forth:
what does it mean to be paying somebody x-dollars per time unit? What is
a dollar? Let us say that we pay the person in kind. If we paid the person
so many dollars way back when, it would have guaranteed the person a lovely
car, a house, food, transportation and so on. Well, we'll provide all that
and we will throw in cheap spaceflight and medical care that keeps the person
in permanent good health. We have now done more than pay off in kind what
the annuity would have originally given and it has cost us, on a marginal
basis, close to nothing. One doesn't go bankrupt doing that.
G. BEAR: That is why Eric doesn't write fiction. There are no conflicts
in his scenarios.
E. DREXLER: But watch out for the military dimension.
AUDIENCE: You talk about life extension, yet you may be forgetting one thing
in your discussion. If people don't die, people can't be born. By and large
if people are not dying, you are not leaving room for people to be born.
G. BENFORD: There will still be accidents and there will still be people
who do not want to be frozen.
G. BEAR: If you apply for immortality, you also apply for a ticket off the
E. ELLIOTT: Regarding the portion of the continent where one keeps suburbia
that Eric was discussing, I would
suggest that plurality works better in space. First, the impact of nanotechnology
is possible with the nice pleasant suburbias who don't want a piece of the
action are already in space. Second, when you talk about the "holistic"
approach-- and I hate to use the term because it has been so misused by
the New Age movement -- to the effects of longevity, longevity will change
people. The notion that we will not be altered is reactionary. Of course
we are going to be altered by it. People who go through the sorts of changes
necessitated by nanotechnology to achieve the benefits offered by longevity
are themselves going to be changed by the entire process. You are not necessarily
going to have 500 year old physicists who cannot think of a new idea. The
hormonal balance, the chemical decay, and everything that causes rigidity
in thinking I believe will change. If rigidity of thinking is not "aging"
as such, but dying, then I think the problem will be avoided.
G. BEAR: What if rigidity of thinking is caused by a natural process in
a healthy brain? A natural by-product of directing towards successful results?
E. ELLIOT: We haven't seen healthy brains in this society. I'm serious.
From the moment we are born, we "die." That sets up a certain
dynamic inside our brain. I am saying that nanotechnology is going to change
that. Eventually it will change the very nature of our minds themselves.
We're not thinking far enough, we're not thinking large enough, and probably
in the case of nanotechnology, we are not thinking soon enough.
AUDIENCE: Nano-machines are very tiny, very complex, with a large surface
area to volume ratio. If they are made out of carbon, this might be equivalent
to making very finely divided kindling. How long is a nano-machine going
to last? It would seem that a nano-machine would wear out and fall apart.
E. DREXLER: Let me respond to the technical question. At high temperatures
things fall apart very fast. And in fact, finely divided carbonaceous stuff
like this, if mixed with air, would burn marvelously. On the other hand,
at lower temperatures the probability of an energy fluctuation of thermal
noise at a particular amplitude is an inverse exponential function of that
amplitude. If you make a nano-machine where all the bonds are relatively
strong covalent bonds, it turns out that things fall apart faster because
of background radiation damage than because of random thermal noise breakage.
Radiation damage is such that a 100 nanometer on-a-side CPU has a half life
of about 300 years (earth ambient radiation). A large system would be taking
hits at a fair rate and for large systems to be reliable you have to have
redundancy. It is a concern but a manageable one.
AUDIENCE: What happens when you have a nano-machine that has been hit? The
redundancy factor appears to be very important.
E. DREXLER: I should point out that when most machines break, they fail
-- you just have some dead stuff sitting there.
G. BEAR: But when human beings "break" they don't necessarily
fail, and we are talking about systems as complex as human beings.
E. DREXLER: There is a paper I have done entitled "Biological and Nanomechanical
Systems: Contrasts in Evolutionary Capacity", which argues that the
kinds of systems I have discussed should be thought of much more as mechanical
than biological systems, despite their scale, their molecular nature, and
the density of complexity within them.
[Editor's note: Drexler, K.E. (1989). Biological and Nanomechanical
Systems: Contrasts in Evolutionary Capacity. Artificial Life.
Reading Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.]
G. BEAR: I will have to read that paper, because I am not sure that I believe
AUDIENCE: I am a blue-collar worker and as I tried with Objectivism in the
middle-60's until several years back, I have been trying to explain for
the last three years to normal, middle class people, something about nanotechnology.
I don't believe we are going to have a real problem with "crowding"
and fossilized brains for two reasons. One, is that we are going to have
lots more room -- people will be going into space. But the main reason we
are not going to have a problem is that quite simply there is going to be
a catastrophic, almost Darwinian selection process, if you will. Those physicists
with fossilized brains are going to die anyway. Robert Heinlein had all
the necessary views of the future, but did he get into cryonics? No. The
point is that we are going to see quite probably a tremendous population
collapse, because people who are getting the longevity will say: "I
don't need children for my social security." With that kind of thinking
the reproduction rate will probably go down. While those who haven't got
the mindset to take the longevity, will be dying off at a very rapid rate.
They will try to reproduce, as will many of their own children. . .
G. BEAR: It's already too late for the next 400 years.
G. BEAR: Well, if you talk about nanotechnology hitting the entire world
all at once in the next 20 years, maybe you will have an equalizing, a leveling
off of population. It is going to take the next 30 or 40 years, even with
nanotechnology, for the world to achieve a middle class status of having
two kids. If they have two kids and even half of them live forever, you
will have population growth. This means for the foreseeable future there
will be population growth. What about those nations that do not accept this
and insist that their people keep having, say, five kids because of cultural
conservatism? If they don't have nanotechnology, can't compete, are starving
to death, wars and terrorism result. While in the long run what you say
may be true, I think a far more complex scenario is likely.
AUDIENCE: What I am talking about is a natural selection for those people
who have the ability to adapt mentally.
G. BEAR: Also, who have the money. That is not natural selection.
E. ELLIOTT: This is what Eric talked about in his book. You get into the
notion of fear memes dominating when people don't understand everything
that is inherent in nanotechnology. It's not just worries about longevity
causing overpopulation on the planet because you have spaceflight; you have
natural resources that we never had before; the result is a world of abundance.
I am just borrowing from your words, Eric -- you know exactly what I am
G. BEAR: In a world in which everyone is rational and cooperative. That
is quite an assumption.
E. ELLIOTT: I am assuming it is going to be possible for some people. I
also think that you are going to have the opportunity to pick and choose,
unless the future is gray goo. We are going to have the opportunity from
a positive point of view, especially those of us who have the knowledge
before hand to get out of areas where it is going to be dangerous.
E. DREXLER: For the record I think I should mention that we can have utter
disaster. I also think we can have a future that is diverse and pretty decent
and in doing so we are going to have to deal with a lot of conflicts.
G. BEAR: Exactly. I think that is a realistic scenario, but how oppressive
those conflicts are is something else again.
G. BENFORD: Let me make a curmudgeonly comment. I did a calculation recently
that if you took the accident rate in the Unite States, at present, and
asked yourself how long would people live if there were no other causes
of death than an accident. The answer is 1600 years. An interesting number,
but frankly folks, I don't think we ought to be worrying about this. I think
it is great chat, but you are talking about problems over a time scale of
which you have so little knowledge, problems like is the population going
to go up or down, and what happens on the scale of a century when you industrialize
and democratize the planet, that I think it is so hard to say anything concrete
about this possibilities that I wouldn't worry about them. I think you have
enough problems to deal with in the next 20 to 30 years.
E. DREXLER: In the next 20 to 30 years, I promise you, no one is going to
J. CRAMER: It seems to me that the way of looking at this is not to identify
individual problems and decide if they are going to go away or not, but
examine what the regulatory mechanisms are. In other words, our society
is built upon a lot of feedback loops, many of which we do not even understand
very well. These feedback loops keep things in balance, so if one thing
moves in one direction, something else moves in another direction to compensate
for it. What will happen is that many of those feedback loops are not going
to work and we are going to need new ones. First, it is very important to
understand how things work now, which we don't very well. Second, to understand
how they might work in a situation where the rules change.
AUDIENCE: I was thinking about the problem of terrorism and nationalism.
It seems to me that with nanotechnology you can build almost any kind of
device you want to build and prevent people from coming into your country.
You could, for example, tag all the citizens with an antibody-like device,
and release nano-machines that destroy other, non-authorized people. You
could have programmable visas that you would carry with you when you enter
the country. With that sort of technology, you could envision how a country
could become isolationist. Presumably one could build any defense system
wanted, and peacefully develop your own society.
AUDIENCE: But it is easier to make an attack system than it is to make a
J. CRAMER: It would be relatively easy to build a virus that would attack
only people who are members of one particular group or another.
AUDIENCE: I would like to think a little about the backlash effect. If we
are here to promulgate nanotechnology, then we are also going to reach the
people who are going to be against nanotechnology. You may find that the
backlash is building stronger and faster than the proponents. How would
you deal with this?
[Editor's Note: Since none of the panelists addressed this very apt
question, I would like to reply in their stead. I believe promulgating nanotechnology
to established politicized groups with well-known axes to grind could be
a disastrous error . The Biblical warning against pouring new wine (ideas)
into old wine skins (politics) needs to be pondered. There is every reason
to believe that a program of public education, which specifically bypasses
the politicized groups, will be, while slow to build and difficult to maintain,
far more productive and beneficial to the constructive development of nanotechnology
-- in the long run. The "easy" alternative is that the professional
joiners, the cause-of-the-month types will be given all the ammunition they
need to run off with their empty-headed nonsense to an irresponsible media.
The result will be that by the time when the issues are ready for open public
debate, the intellectual atmosphere will be so emotionally laden, so polluted
with "gray goo"-type scenarios as to render intelligent discourse
impossible. -- John Quel. 4/89]
M. THOMAS: Back to these defense systems and the gray goo. Eric, in your
book you talk about active shields, defense and counter-measures.What is
your current feel for these kinds of things? Is regulation going to be enough
to control what's going to happen in the experimentation, or will more have
to be done?
E. DREXLER: I do not have a whole lot to add to what I said in that section
of Creation. I continue to think that it is possible to have
a defensively stable situation. I agree that it is easier to build offensive
systems than defense systems and that means one is in for a really hairy
time unless one is in good control of the use of the technology. I also
continue to think that we are going to make a lot more progress on thinking
about these complex things when we have a good medium for representing complex,
interlinked alternatives and debating and criticizing them -- which is to
say, a hypertext publishing medium.
AUDIENCE: To change the subject a little bit, I want to discuss another
social problem, a little further down the line. Given what you have said
about nano-hyper computers and their computational capabilities, it should
be possible to build the nano-equivalent of a human being, who stands perhaps
three cell diameters high. Given a population of these entities within whatever
medium is appropriate, whether a human body or an asteroid, what is going
to be society's attitudes towards these beings?
G. BENFORD: They may end up having the same size and social status as cockroaches.
What are you going to do with them? They're entities you can talk to only
over a strange kind of telephone.
AUDIENCE: Presumably they will be faster, both in body and mind, and thus
able to call the shots. We would be like a big wilderness for them to explore.
G. BENFORD: I am going to say that I am not going to be worrying about this
problem, but it is an interesting one. There is a nice story in this.
AUDIENCE: As long as their social structure isn't a democracy, we should
E. ELLIOTT: It has been pointed out that our bodies operate in a cooperative,
hierarchical, communistic, or fascist type of system. I don't know if it
were a pure democracy that you would end up with Blood Music.
G. BEAR: Blood Music had it both ways. The social structure of the
nano-beings was an absolute tyranny, yet so benevolent and so rich that
everyone could have whatever they wanted.
AUDIENCE: One possibility I have not heard mentioned is the use of nanotechnology
for birth control. One of the interesting implications for countries who
are not in on the "game" is that some nations, fearing the increasing
population of their neighbors, might resort to nano-devices to bring an
abrupt end to that population increase. That is also something a radical
group could do. There might then be retaliation.
G. BENFORD: Let me remark that one thing you should be a little careful
about is not making up too many of these scenarios. I prefer the old days
when ugliness was nature's contraceptive. Many people still will. Don't
scare them too much.
E. DREXLER: I think what this discussion highlights, an action and likely
reaction, is that those kinds of things can only happen in a world that
is not defensively stable. If groups or nations can do these kinds of things,
you do not have a defensively stable world.
AUDIENCE: I have a question about implications for copyrights on artificially
developed material, such as is likely to be created by super-computers and
true AI. Does the inventor of the particular AI get the copyright, or is
it in the public domain?
D. BATEY: That is a very interesting question. To date, the legal system
has pretty much taken the approach that if one has a tool, and one uses
that tool to invent or develop or write something, or to do anything creative
such as a musical composition, notwithstanding that I created the artifact
with the tool, the fact that I did it means that I own the results.
Now that approach may fray a little bit around the edges when, for example,
I write a computer program and I compile it using a compiler that loads
copyrighted library subroutines during the running. There are licensing
issues concerning the rights of the programmer and I think the legal system
has resolved them in a reasonable way.
But what you are postulating is an instance where the tool itself has such
a high level of creativity to it, orders of magnitude higher than the kinds
of tools we have now, then does the person who may have done nothing more
than issue a few commands to the tool, or selected a few parameters, still
own the proprietary rights to what was created? I think the answer is likely
to be that unless the person who sold him the tool reserves the rights to
those kinds of creations, then the person who initiated the activity probably
will be able to claim ownership rights. Time will tell.
AUDIENCE: Something that I think in the long range is an interesting problem
is that suppose that after nanotechnology gets rolling for a while and is
producing a lot of abundance that is filtering down to people who are not
all that involved. We might have a situation where a lot of people discover
that the traditional virtue of working for a living is no longer applicable.
There will still be those of us who find it interesting and exciting to
go exploring, but there are a lot of people to whom having a roof over their
head is all there is to life. That could be a problem.
G. BEAR: I think there will be people out there who will be paid to consume.
AUDIENCE: I think all the physical and social things we are talking about
are relevant over the next 20 or 30 years, but I think they will be extremely
temporary, and I think what this person said was glossed over a lot more
than it should have been. I think that is an obvious evolutionary step and
I think what we are talking about creating is an equivalent to DNA. DNA
is a nanomachine and is something capable of the same capacity as our minds
or much greater without the physical (body) limitations. That is an obvious
advantage. I think it is something that definitely should be looked at.
G. BEAR: I am glad you brought this up because I have been keeping myself
in check here. The metaphysical issue is an important one. Shall I do this
to you, Eric? I asked Eric earlier to let us in more on his metaphysical
thoughts -- the long-term implications -- but I think Eric has a particular
role to play here and if he is reluctant to sound like a goggle-eyed science
fiction writer, that is fine. Do you want to talk about the universe and
everything; where are we heading a thousand years down the line?
E. DREXLER: A thousand years down the line I expect we will have a sphere
of influence in the galaxy with a radius of at least 900 light years. What
we will be doing within that sphere, however, is extremely hard to figure
out, because by then we will have intelligent systems that can think a million
times faster than we can and will be doing that for some period probably
in excess of 900 years, and you can get a lot of thinking done with a large
population with 900 million subjective years.
G. BENFORD: What is your resolution, then, of the Fermi Paradox?
E. DREXLER: The Fermi Paradox is: "Where is everybody?" with respect
to intelligent life. I find that is usually a three hour conversation. There
are a number of possibilities. The one that I think is most likely, though
not by any means the only one that I think is consistent with the facts,
is that, yes, there are not a lot of star-faring civilizations out there,
and therefore they haven't come here. If that is the case, then where along
the path from dust and gas and stars in interstellar space, to an expanding
technological civilization, the sort we seem to be in the middle of, is
the chain of advance most likely to break?
The most plausible place to do that, I think, is in the genes. If you look
at our genetic system and the evolution of life on earth, life spanned in
excess of a billion years at the level of bacteria and blue-green algae.
One can imagine alternative genetic systems, such as DNA with three base
pairs, but with the codons overlapping. It is plausible that some alternative
genetic system is both 1030 times more likely -- it is easy to
come up with ratios like that when dealing with combinatorial ratios that
one would expect in the emergence of life -- such as the example of the
three base pairs/codon but overlapping, that is not as good a system for
evolution. That would mean evolution would take twice as long, and thus
you would not get intelligent life on planets that last as long as planets
do. We might find the only life in the universe is blue-green algae.
G. BEAR: Another solution, which I put in the very last sentence of the
short story version of Blood Music, is that a nanotechnological or
similar civilization goes through an "involution." Thus they do
not need to travel beyond the solar system to get all the resources they
need for nearly infinite growth. They control the star.
E. DREXLER: It's discussing things like that that takes the next three hours.
J. CRAMER: The question is whether the break in the chain occurs in our
past or in our future.
AUDIENCE: I have no problem with the notion that a thousand years from now
we will have a great sphere of influence, but I am wondering if nanomachines
are going to be our "children." A self-replicating machine on
the molecular level seems to be a new form of life. Is it the next step
in evolution? A thousand years from now life will probably look very different
from what it is now.
G. BEAR: A hundred years from now. How many of you believe human beings
will be in the same shape (form) they are now in 50 years? Or, rephrasing
the question, have no choice but to be in the same shape? In a hundred years?
In the indefinite future? The firm belief of audiences that I have talked
to, including 95% of science fiction readers, is that 50 years down the
line you won't have much choice about the shape (form) you are in. We have
a lot of explaining to do. I really wish we had scheduled a panel on the
affect of technology on evolution. I do not believe that biological evolution
is an option any more -- the option doesn't exist. We are now in the information
theory kind of evolution. That is going to almost certainly affect us in
the next 50 years.
E. ELLIOTT: How about the "metaphysical" Fermi Paradox? In America
we have a very high percentage of the populace that either goes to church
or believes in God. The paradox is, then: where is God? My answer in the
case of nanotechnology is that we'll find out, because if there is one,
he will have to interact with us and soon or the game is up. In a thousand
years, anything He can do in Genesis, we should be able to do.
E. DREXLER: This brings up a question I would like to comment briefly on:
Will nanotechnology give us God-like powers? My answer is that it will not
give us the ability to create a universe or to change natural law.
E. ELLIOTT: I know you made some comments in your book about faster than
light travel, but now there is an article in Physics Review Letters
("Wormholes, Time Machines, and the Weak Energy Condition", Micheal
S. Morris, Kip S. Thorne, and Ulvi Yurtsever, September 26, 1988), maybe
only theoretical, but something that you discussed as a limit, is now being
debated in the straight scientific community. How can we know what the limits
E. DREXLER: What I said was that we are subject to the limits, whatever
they are, and then I tried to give my best picture of what we could do within
them. Whether I am wrong about those limits has nothing to do with nanotechnology.
Whatever the physical laws are, by definition, we are subject to them forever.
We can be confused about them for a thousand years and then find out something
different, but that doesn't change the fact that we are subject to them.
G. BEAR: In case you haven't heard, people, unless quantum gravity comes
along and saves our ass, time travel and faster than light travel are virtually
mandatory in our universe. That opens a whole can of "wormholes."
I would like to end this on a hugely metaphysical note, by future bumper
Would anyone else on the panel like to make concluding remarks.
- "I to the third" or "I-cubed" which means "Freeze
me when I die."
- Those opposed would have bumper stickers that say "Meltdown."
- Those philosophically opposed will be the "Anti-Freeze"
G. BENFORD: Once again I would like to say that talking about these issues
is a lot of fun, but it is also an extremely good way to scare a large number
of people. I think that, frankly, you have got to be careful about
scaring people. This is a "Stephen King" nation, not
a "Robert Heinlein" nation. Robert Heinlein did not believe in
being frozen, though there are some interesting emotional complications
about his beliefs; neither, in the same month, did Clifford Simak. It
is always far easier to scare people than it is to persuade them.
Be careful -- the life you save may be your own.
AUDIENCE: On the issue of explaining this to people, I suspect that 95%
of the general population will not believe this, for the same reason that
old physicists cannot pick up on new theories. And the few that can, many
of them have already started to plan their lives accordingly. I believed
many of these possibilities long before I read Eric's book. It focused the
thoughts, but it was something I already agreed with, and I found myself
saying "Of course, of course, this is true", as I was reading
the book. I suspect that is true of a lot of us here.
G. BEAR: The group here might be called the "movers and shakers",
not the "lumpen-proletariat."
AUDIENCE: Anyway, I see a few people joining the movement and a lot of people
thinking it's crazy. There will certainly be that division for at least
the next 15 to 20 years.
AUDIENCE: With respect to evolution, there have been discussions along the
lines of "are computers or robots going to replace us?" Because
technology is first and foremost an idea before it is hardware, I came to
the conclusion that what is going to occur is a symbiosis. That idea has
been reinforced by nanotechnology. It's not going to be us versus the robots,
of whatever size, but what comes in the future is going to be a symbiotic
combination of our DNA/biological heritage fused with the technology that
is evolving now. I don't foresee a human/robot conflict.
G. BEAR: At least for the short term, but I suspect the more inefficient
partners of the partnership will be eliminated across the next 1000 years.
I don't know which side that will be, but I have my suspicions.
AUDIENCE: In discussing the next thousand years or so of human evolution,
it seems a good idea to point out that we are a fairly homogeneous group.
Who was invited into this conversation to help us decide where we are going?
It might be a good idea to include a greater mixture of people in these
E. DREXLER: Who showed an interest in coming when an invitation was posted?
G. BEAR: I would second the concern -- for later Nanocons. If you really
want to get serious about this, you should invite politicians and industrial
leaders, maybe real estate people, people from the Asian community, because
they will probably be the ones moving and shaking this.
G. BENFORD: Actually, I think we have been remarkably diverse. We invited
a lawyer. Just a caveat. Maybe instead of being the "movers and shakers",
you people are actually the "schemers and dreamers." The "movers
and shakers" are also diverse sorts. I will remind you again
that some of the "movers and shakers" in this society are the
fundamentalists. Beware of them; they are growing.
E. ELLIOTT: That is my point. Those who tend to be technologically oriented,
by and large, do not tend to be religious. They frequently discount the
notion that being religious, or believing in a higher power, has survival
value. Yet, many people have it. My suspicions are that this is where the
great storm is going to hit. I don't know how it's going to hit, but I am
going to write about it.
G. BEAR: You should know about the problems of being a science fiction writer
in this day and age. About six years ago ideas started popping up which
lead to scenarios so enormously alien and complex that literally could not
be written down in the English language. Fortran didn't work either. That
left a lot of us (SF writers) saying that we have to talk down to get stories.
We have either conflicts that we can not at this point understand, or no
conflicts, which leads to very dull stories, or just philosophical treatises
with words that no one knows what they mean yet.
E. ELLIOTT: Its the editors as well as the readers. You use a simple work
like "multisys", related to "unisys" the way that Asimov
used multivac related to univac, and it leaves them blank
G. BEAR: All we're saying people is 'have a little pity on us, please!'
We're supposed to be outlining some of the future. Don't get ahead of us
J. CRAMER: Not only are the effects on existing religious groups interesting
to consider, but also the ones that grow up on the basis of various things
having to do with nanotechnology. For example, cryonics could very well
be the basis of a religion.
D. GAGLIANO: I think we all have to take on the responsibility to help educate
other people and to prevent the spread of bad ideas.
G. BEAR: We print up pamphlets; we go door-to-door, one older, more experienced
AUDIENCE: What did you mean about religion and cryonics?
G. BENFORD: I think that the theological issues in cryonics are severe.
I talked to a number of ministers. One Episcopal minister said that he was
of the opinion that if God had something in mind with a finite human life
span, you shouldn't interrupt it. If they feel this way, what's Jerry Falwell
going to think! Thus cryonics might need to take on a religious protective
coloration in order to avoid exacerbating the conflict with religion.
E. DREXLER: I'd like to make a couple of comments
on the strategy of ideas here. Ideas about technology are going
to be accepted in our society according to whether they are accepted by
the influential people in the scientific and technical community.
Such people have a strong allergy to things that smack of religion and cults.
If something comes along wrapped in a lot of emotion and excitement about
the future, most such things, statistically, are bullshit. A lot of people
fall into an intellectual trap. If there are a set of technical ideas, that
have a set of technical consequences, and a set of human consequences that
turn out to excite people because they have very broad implications, the
intellectually rational thing to do is to say that one must judge the technical
ideas on their own merits. One can't judge technical ideas on the basis
of how they make primates feel. Nevertheless, in the real world that is
largely how things are evaluated.
It is very important for our survival, and for the survival of our civilization
that these ideas be taken seriously. That means seriously by the technical
community first, and that people think through the consequences but that
they not be scared into taking actions which will be counter-productive.
There are very strong reasons for believing that an "Oh, No.
This must be stopped!" reaction is one of the most dangerous things
that one could do.
When you speak to someone, first focus on the technical community, and then
point out that the basic operations that we are talking about are much like
those that are familiar in chemistry and biology. We can make small machines.
We can make things like mechanical nanocomputers, etc. This seems to have
In a couple of years, we will have a broad enough consensus in the technical
community that then the relatively wild-sounding things will have less of
a down side. It will still be important to focus on problems like
the transition to a defensively stable world, rather than focusing
on things that generate more heat than light, like long term consequences
and transformation of human beings. We should focus public attention on
things where public attention would be most valuable.
G. BEAR: In your case that is a perfect scenario. I admire your restraint.
However, I feel that I should not be constrained. I feel that a certain
humbling truth should be made apparent to us here - that we can not completely
control the human cultural reaction to this situation. There is a organic,
cultural way of reacting to new ideas, and that has survival value, and
it includes the whole irritating spectrum of Luddite-ism, of delay, frustration,
of faltering, of trying out things in unexpected ways. We simply cannot
control something this massive with our puny intellects.
Let us take as a bad example, the Atomic Energy Commission of the 1950's.
Let us learn from that that an intellectual or financial cabal put in top-secret
control of some process is the worst way possible to exploit that process.
E. ELLIOTT: I find it ironic that we're talking about religion and social
implications when 10 yards away there is a church service in the rooms where
we met yesterday. I find interesting what Eric just mentioned about talking
to certain groups and not mentioning certain things. The emotional feed-back
is very similar to what I used to get hearing strategies for converting
people (I come from a very religious background). This is essentially a
G. BEAR: Exactly! Eric just told us "Don't be a witless witness."
E. ELLIOTT: Absolutely! This is not meant to be offensive. This is why [Engines
of Creation] has had the power that it's had; it does change
people. I think that if you can get people to read your book, no matter
how against the notion of nanotechnology that they may seem to be I haven't
known a single person to read your book and say "No, this couldn't
be done." We're talking blue collar and high school basketball coaches.
M. HOLT: When you talk about religion, you assume that people are going
to reject it. How about if it becomes the next word of god? What if some
religious group decides that nanotechnology, and life extension, and "corpsicles"
is the way to go?
G. BEAR: Notice that this is almost the last zit in this conference to be
squeezed. What we're doing here is some technological drum-beating so that
we can go forth and spread the word. That's almost guaranteed to happen
because you have a number of science fiction writers in this room. I think
we should consider this seriously, as I know Eric has.
AUDIENCE: We have to get nanotechnology off the ground rather than just
waiting for breakthroughs to occur. A Manhattan project to get nanotechnology
for the US seems unlikely. It seems unlikely that corporations will put
the R&D money into a technology that will allow the creation of products
out of dirt and destroy the economic structure that they are based on, unless
they have proprietary control of it, in which case it wouldn't be disseminated.
Being evangelical about it isn't going to make it happen.
G. BEAR: I think that we should conclude with a statement from Eric here.
E. DREXLER: I've been accused of trying to stop nanotechnology. I've been
accused of being a blind advocate of it. I conclude that I must have a fairly
balanced position, but a communication problem. In talking to people, if
you don't want them to be scared, you shouldn't come across as being blindly
in favor of something that is so obviously dangerous. I highly recommend
discussing the dangers but emphasizing that those dangers can't be avoided
by suppressing the development here. Thus the thing to do is to attempt
to guide the technology and to anticipate and understand it.
I don't know what to put on a bumper sticker to be effective, but I do have
a paragraph that I wrote for an article entitled "Nanotechnology"
that I wrote for an upcoming feature in the Encyclopedia Britannica:
"Nanotechnology will let us control the structure of matter,
but who will control nanotechnology? The chief danger isn't a great accident,
but a great abuse of power. In a competitive world, nanotechnology will
surely be developed. If democratic institutions are to guide its use, it
must be developed by groups within their political reach. To keep it from
being developed in military secrecy, it seems wise to emphasize its value
in medicine, in the economy, and in restoring the environment. Nanotechnology
must be developed openly to serve the general welfare. We will have years
to shape policies for its beneficial use, but it isn't too soon to begin
G. BEAR: I've got the bumper sticker: "THINK SMALL."
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