Re: Anti-singularity spam.

From: Charles D Hixson (
Date: Mon May 01 2006 - 14:01:30 MDT

Bob Seidensticker wrote:
> Michael: it sounds like you think technologies like nanotech and AGI are not
> only inevitable but close. Why do you say that, given the poor record of
> the futurist community in predicting the future? You know the long list of
> failed predictions as well as I do -- moon bases, videophones, and so on.
> Perhaps you don't look to the futurist community but are making these
> predictions yourself, but still the difficulty of seeing the future
> correctly must apply -- no?
> IMO, most predictions are wrong (the bolder, the wronger!). And any
> entrepreneur will tell you that it's a brutal road from invention to
> product, with most new products failing somewhere along the way. Why are
> you certain that these will succeed?
> Bob
> -----Original Message-----
> From: [] On Behalf Of M T
> --- Bob Seidensticker <> wrote:
>> Thomas: you talk about the folly (or excessive
>> expense) of moon bases, 3D
>> TV, flying cars, and so on. I agree. And maybe you're able to see
>> through the hype of whatever today's equivalent is (I dunno
>> -- manned mission to
>> Mars? hydrogen cars?).
>> What concerns me is the majority of the population that greets these
>> new predictions with, "Wow -- that *does* sound pretty cool. What an
>> amazing time we live in!" Their mental bin labeled "Today's
>> Technology" contains the PC, GPS, and Internet as well as
>> nanotechnology, biotech, and most of our energy coming from renewable
>> sources since the press talks about all of these. As a result, they
>> see the progress today as being much greater than that in the past --
>> but only because "Today's Technology" has an unfair advantage.
>> Bob
> Bob,
> The majority of the population sees nanotechnology, renewable energy, AGI
> even AI and biotech as sci-fi.
> If only the general populace understood how close we were and the potential
> of these technologies. If only Bob. And you can define "close" as anything
> you like.
> Even a couple of centuries is close, though I see it as a couple of decades
> until the full bloom of the aforementioned technologies. My point is that if
> "the majority of the population" understood, they would make it a top
> priority and strive to make these technologies bloom as fast as possible.
> PC, internet, cellular phones. That's about it for the average Joe.
> The "things to come" haven't had an impact on every day life yet and so are
> in the realm of fantasy (like the PC, internet and cellular phones, when
> they were in their first stages of development).
> Michael
You are confusing generalities with particulars. Any prediction about
the specifics of how the future will develop justly deserves to have
scorn heaped upon it. A prediction of the generality: "A new
technology will come along and sweep up unsuspecting into a future
that's different from what we have imagined." is a cinch. The problems
lie at the interstices.

That any specific prediction that you make will be wrong doesn't mean
that you shouldn't make predictions, it means you can't depend on the
details, and even then you must expect to be surprised. When people
mention nanotech they are picking out a "most likely winner". It's not
inevitable, but we've got existence proofs all around us AND we've been
making rapid progress in that direction. Even if we never actually get
to the "diamond age", we'll get to something with some parts of it.
(Personally I don't see any reason to doubt that we'll have
nanotechnology within 5 years...for a reasonable definition of
nanotech. You could even argue that it's available now in a limited
form, and just too expensive, for now, to bother with.) As to whether
assemblers will ever be built...who knows? There are good reasons to
avoid them, but if they don't appear, something similar will. Something
which hasn't yet been predicted, or at least hasn't yet caught the
imagination. Factories in a box, perhaps. You could do that with
millimeter scale robots operated as telefactors by a specialized
computer that plugs into the side of the box. This provides increased
security and less need to operate at the nanometer scale. (Think of the
cornucopia boxes in Singularity Sky, and double or triple each linear
dimension.) You pour stuff in the top and it produces the articles you
request. How well would it work? The current 3-D printers only produce
plastic...though I understand that now they can lay down traces of
electrically conductive plastic for electric circuits. And they're
still hideously expensive, though the prices have come down and the
quality has gone up over the last decade.

3D printers exist today, and they are already in commercial use for
special circumstances. Because of this the conservative forecast will
have them developed along the lines of faster, cheaper, better quality,
more complete until they become more widely useful, at which time the
rate of development will speed up. My personal expectation is that
their rate of development is sufficiently slow that something else will
overtake them. It's likely, however, to be like daisy-wheel printers
giving was to lasers and ink-jets. The end uses will see it as a
continuation of the same device, but under the hood it's something
totally different.

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