From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed Jun 19 2002 - 03:56:59 MDT
Robert Bradbury requested that I forward this to SL4:
attached mail follows:
Mitch Howe recently contributed a long exploration of the various ways
nanospawn could be used to create a plague to wipe out humanity as
an argument for promoting a safe singularity soon.
I don't buy his argument and I encourage others not to do so. Here is
how I look at it -- any "group" with "magic" technologies can wipe out
any "group" lacking "magic" technologies. We have existed in that
state for the last several million years and exist in that state today.
Historically, nature (in the form of viruses and bacteria) had the
"magic" technologies and were fought to rough balance by our immune
systems. Then humans came along and developed everything from gunpowder
to mustard gas to atomic weapons, any of which could have wiped out
significant fractions of humanity but we managed to develop the means
to defend ourselves against these various technologies allowing most
of us to avoid a premature death.
The same will be true for nanotech. If one allows a group hell bent
on eliminating you to gain significantly superior technological
capabilities then all bets are off. If one balances any advances
in potential offensive capabilities with equivalent defensive
capabilities then the worry level should be no higher than it is
today. There is a fundamental flaw in people arguing the risks
of a nanotechnology enabled group against the current state of
the world (non-nanotech enabled). There seems to be an implicit
assumption that one (evil) group should be able to take a dominant
lead in the development of plague-spreading nanotech and everyone
who might become victims of such a situation are simply sitting
around sucking on their thumbs.
The bottom line is this -- it doesn't matter *what* the technology
is -- if "they" can hurl more matter or energy at you than you have
the ability to defend yourself against you are toast. If you have
the ability to defend against such attacks then you aren't.
All of the toxins/spore spreading scenarios are easily dealt with
by having immune systems designed to recognize and eliminate such
materials. This isn't that much different from how it has been over
the millions of years of evolution that have gotten us to this point.
If you really want to be safe, you live in a deep underground bunker
where all incoming materials are irradiated with high levels of
radiation (to corrupt any nanobot programs), then run through
a plasma torch to disassemble any nanobots, then sorted by mass
to remove radioactive isotopes, leaving one to be fed with a
completely certified as safe stream of elements. Using this
approach you would be *much* safer than you are today wandering
around in a world where everything from drunk drivers to flesh
eating Streptococci can kill you.
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