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Economic Analysis of the Nanotech Future

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the nanoo-nanoo dept.

The Almighty Buck 188

nweaver writes "Economic Historian and Berkeley Professor Brad DeLong has created an analysis on his Web Log on the economic implications of Nanotechnology. His observations are based on what previously happened with the Industrial Revolution (and other economic shifts in general) and using this to speculate what Nanotech will do to the economy: who wins (technical/knowledge workers), who loses (manufacturing), and what changes (costs of products)."

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Slashdot:Bastion of Leftism (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628645)

one more example of this.

when did slashdot change from tech site into a leftist ranting Bush-hating site?

So, so sad.

Re:Slashdot:Bastion of Leftism (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628661)

It's not hating if it's true.

Don't blame Slashdot because you voted for a moron.

Re:Slashdot:Bastion of Leftism (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628746)

No, the hatred is based on being sore losers. Resorting to terms like 'moron' (not grounded in fact, look up the definition) and other ad hominem attacks just shows you for what you are; a hate and angst filled liberal who is upset because what you believe is not what most of America thinks.

Re:Slashdot:Bastion of Leftism (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628787)

Bush supporters consider him a moron, too.

Get the fuck out of this country loser.

sigh (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628648)

who wins, who loses, and what changes.

isn't it obvious? Losers are customers, winners are big kick@$$ companies, and nothing will really change.

Raises interesting questions (2, Interesting)

Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628654)

If, in the future, copying physical objects is nearly as easy as copying information on a computer, will corporations lobby to pass laws that make it illegal to do so? In other words, will I be arrested one day for making a copy of my friend's Ferrari?

Re:Raises interesting questions (3, Insightful)

Popadopolis (724438) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628665)

My assumption is that there would be built-in safegaurds to prevent that, at first atleast. Also, it seems that in the beginning, the technology would be quite limited in and of itself.

Re:Raises interesting questions (4, Funny)

Lilkeeney (131454) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628690)

Well you can always just copy your friends money and then just go buy your own. But I guess they might make that illegal too.

Re:Raises interesting questions (3, Insightful)

Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628749)

Yes, but in such a world would we really have a need for money anymore?

Re:Raises interesting questions (5, Insightful)

meta-monkey (321000) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628845)

Well, that would be a big problem. I always wonder, in Star Trek, where there's no need for money because everybody has a replicator, who cleans the toilets in public restrooms? There are some really, really, dirty disgusting nasty jobs out there, that nobody would do, if it weren't for the fact that they were willing to do it for money. If, in the future, you can make anything you want for what is essentially "free" (I know it still costs energy and the initial matter, but I'm assuming those costs are trivial) then how are these really, really undesirible, but necessary, roles in society going to be filled?

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

Lilkeeney (131454) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628861)

Well if you need to to to the bathroom and the toilet is dirty. Just transport the dirty toilet to /dev/null and replicate a clean one.

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

meta-monkey (321000) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628971)

You're missing the forest for the trees. I gave an example, and sure, maybe there's a way around that, but the general question still stands. There ARE really shitty jobs out there, that a dangerous, thankless, dirty, and grueling, but people do them because they want to make a living. What happens when people don't need to work to make a living anymore? Would anybody still do those jobs?

Re:Raises interesting questions (2, Funny)

Zoshnell (573838) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629093)

Thats what droids are for.

"I, Captain Kirk, have finished my mighty domintation of the toilet! Toilet cleaner droid, take care in there, I had mexican replicator food!"

Re:Raises interesting questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7629174)

Maybe no one will do those shitty jobs and if you want anything done, you'll have to do it yourself, or for the good of society. Or hope like hell AI is invented by then so we can make robot helpers.

Re:Raises interesting questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7629205)

Sure they would! Or an alternative solution would be found.
Thinking in present day terms doesn't cut it. If society were to change so considerably, so would it's people. You should try to consider these issues within the mindframe of people growing up in that society, not of people who've grown up here. This won't be an issue.

There are no shitty jobs, since there are no jobs. You don't like something, you do it yourself, because there's no one you can force or bribe to do it for you. You don't like doing it, you don't do it. If no one does it, then obviously, it can't be an issue.

Anyway, as I said before, present day terms don't work.


Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

spacecowboy420 (450426) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629580)

In the future, currency will be in the form of sexual favors :-) Think about it. If you want your wife to do something, you can't bribe her - she has all of your money. So you exchange back massages or her favorite sexual activity, or another human only activity. Of course, when there are realistic sexbots, that won't work either.
If all needs are met for survival, sexbots are available (so will likely cleanerbots), then all that is left is ego. You will work for the prestige of working.

Re:Raises interesting questions (0)

Charles_Anus (729584) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628939)

in Star Trek, where there's no need for money because everybody has a replicator, who cleans the toilets in public restrooms?
The transporters have biofilters which can remove harmful germs & viruses from beaming aboard. Surely there could be a method like this to clean the toilets without a crew member having to do it. (granted, it's all sci fi anyhow :))

Re:Raises interesting questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7629044)

The transporters have biofilters which can remove harmful germs & viruses from beaming aboard.

Now if only they could beam the shit out of my ass..

Re:Raises interesting questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628969)

The robotic toilet cleaning overlords?


Re:Raises interesting questions (3, Informative)

ahem (174666) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629272)

Cory Doctorow takes an interesting look at this question in "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom". He posits a post-death, post-scarcity society and solves the problem of who does the dirty work via the mechanism of 'whuffie'. He explains it better thru the novel than I could ever summarize. It's also available for free at http://www.craphound.com/down/

Silly Monkey (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629356)

They didn't have toilets in Star Trek. Think I'm wrong? Cite one episode where you saw one. Obviously by that time, humanity has progressed beyond the need to take a dump.

If you can assemble matter from stuff, you can also disassemble it, so keeping things clean and free of dangerous bacteria should be pretty straight forward. Then when we invade some alien planet because of their Weapons of Mass Destruction, their germs will make shaving cream shoot out from our eye sockets, because our immune systems no longer know how to deal with germs.

That still leaves a few godforsaken rules though, like school teachers. I'm led to believe that some people actually enjoy doing that, and those people haven't been incarcerated for their own safety for some reason, so maybe it'll be OK.

Re:Silly Monkey (1)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629564)

Restrooms are on the deckplans in Mr. Scott's guide to the Enterprise, and the tech manual for the Enterprise-D. Though the plumbing is a little sketchy.

Re:Raises interesting questions (2, Insightful)

f97tosc (578893) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629004)

Yes, but in such a world would we really have a need for money anymore?

Yes. Currently, only about a small portion (I think less than 20%) of the economy is manufacturing. Even if we no longer need to use money on that 20%, we still need it for food, services, energy, real estate...

But I think people will be willing to pay for designs, just like people pay for the design and service of software (the "production" is costless). Of course, for many common products there may be open source alternatives...


Re:Raises interesting questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7629387)

1) One of my pet dreams is the ability to design and make "smart" solar panel units that what reproduce and cover damn well whatever land area you told it to. After a bit of initial work, energy would be as free as we get it from the sun.

2) So what then? Cover deserts and rooftops around the globe with some sort of gridified solar panel and power station architecture.

3) Profit! Actually no, but after the initial investment, Free(TM) energy!

Re:Raises interesting questions (0, Offtopic)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628694)

Dude, just because it's an article on the same subject doesn't mean you have to repost your comment from the last article, word for word.

http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=87908& threshold=1&commentsort=0&tid=126&mode=thread&cid= 7618053 [slashdot.org]

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

the web (696015) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628738)

...will corporations lobby to pass laws that make it illegal to do so?

Hmm...or will it be included in a copyrights act of sorts. If simple replication in involved then there has to be a group somewhere that thinks they're getting the shaft and thus deserve compensation.

All those buggy whip makers will be out of jobs!


Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628755)

"Steve" posted this same comment yesterday http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=87908& cid=7618053

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

tekiegreg (674773) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628774)

This does bring an interesting point, I guess money will be irrelevant granted I can make perfect copies of all the money I want. Oh wait we'll be tracking the money electronically you say? Eeeeh I'll replicate a computer that favors my own bank account, sneak up to the building teleport one computer out, the other one in....throw everything in chaos, kinda scary when you think about it....

Well with money irrelevant, communism here we come...

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

homer_ca (144738) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629132)

No, not communism. It's not so much that money is irrelevant. It's that scarcity of labor and material goods is irrelevant. In the game Alpha Centauri this society was called Eudaemonia. In that utopian world, humans would use their newfound free time to pursue artistic and intellectual endeavors and develop themselves to the best of their ability. In the dystopian version, humans would descend into sloth and decadence, nothing more than couch potatoes to be served by our new robotic overlords.

Re:Raises interesting questions (2, Funny)

tibike77 (611880) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628788)

Imagine a holo 3D banner-ad like the following: Wellcome to http://nano.box.sk, the one and only site on the WorldNet to bring you crackz and hackz for the latest nanoware... LMAO Could be...

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

mrtroy (640746) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628822)

Unless nanotechnology will allow for the reproduction of oil, which would be a bad idea, you may want to copy your friend's renewable energy sourced car :)

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

f97tosc (578893) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628951)

If, in the future, copying physical objects is nearly as easy as copying information on a computer, will corporations lobby to pass laws that make it illegal to do so? In other words, will I be arrested one day for making a copy of my friend's

I don't see what new laws need to be passed. It IS illegal to build a perfect copy of a Ferrari.

Remember that the products still have to be designed. We could perhaps expect a development like in software, where companies sell the right to copy the latest model with all the features (~MS Office). On the other hand, there may also be free alternatives of high quality (~StarOffice).


Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

Zoshnell (573838) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629129)

So then the Open Source equivalent would be the Starari? Silly name, but I'd buy that for a dollar!

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

falzer (224563) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629091)

Perhaps nanotech will one day allow us to make copies of our Slashdot posts!

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

ISayWeOnlyToBePolite (721679) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629591)

How will that problem arise with nanotech, specifically. Here's a challenge that ought to be several orders of magnitude easier to solve; Given the confinement of, let's say a milk carton (hardly nanotech needed to fit into that) make me a machine that with bricks, mortar and stone builds a scale replica of Versailles, it doesn't have to be exact on the microscopic level, eye view only. Seems kinda far off into the future doesn't it.

-Don't trust smart paint!

nanotech has a big future.... (5, Interesting)

dummkopf (538393) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628705)

i have worked a bit in the field of nano-decorated surfaces. it is impressive that one can make little nano-sizes arrays of magnetic dots on some substrate . this as so small, that one can view them as single particles which switch homogenously. hence you can study the interactions of little magnetic particles in arrays and do experiments which are very close to theoretical models, such as the Ising model. why should you care? because this nano-patterns seem to be interesting for exchange biased systems. and these seem to be interesting for the recording media industry. but why should you care... this is too geeky anyways. this guy (AKA Prof. Kai Liu) [ucdavis.edu] at UC Davis does some interesting research with nanostructures... cool pics and some explanations...

MOD PARENT DOWN: "anti-slash" Troll (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628808)

This post is actually an anti-slash.org [anti-slash.org] TROLL. See for yourself. MOD DOWN.

Re:MOD PARENT DOWN: "anti-slash" Troll (3, Insightful)

dummkopf (538393) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629233)


to all editors: feel free to label this response as troll. i just get annoyed by posts which

a) have absolutely no content and are completely unfunded and

b) morons who do not know jack shit about someting.

finally, i would have expected more cojones than an anonymous post. slashdot: do us all a favor and delete comments from the anti-slashdot morons. freedom of speech? where? in the internet? ha!

Hmmm... (3, Insightful)

Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628724)

Could we be on the road to a post-scarcity society in the future where nobody is without the basic human necessities and most work is done for recreation or hobby purposes only? Could be, yet for some reason I think our nation's current Corporatocracy wouldn't look kindly on such blatant "communism."

Re:Hmmm... (0, Troll)

simcop2387 (703011) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628795)

i dont know if the corporations began charging money for the communism they might not be too opposed to it, they are after a valueless object anyway (money)

Re:Hmmm... (1)

b-baggins (610215) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628906)

Money is hardly valueless. It is the method whereby we quantize human wants. Check out an ebay auction some time to see the principle at work.

Sheesh. Even Marx, with his screwed up ideas, understood economics better than some of the posters on this site.

Re:Hmmm... (0, Troll)

simcop2387 (703011) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628979)

what i meant that the us dollar is virtually meaningless, there is nothing backing it physically. i'm sorry if it came across otherwise.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

HMA2000 (728266) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629075)

Just because there is no physical backing for the dollar (like gold) doesn't mean it is meaningless.

Ultimately the dollar is backed by the full faith and credit of the US government. Which derives its "faith and credit" from the ability to tax its citizens.

In other words, the dollar is backed by the brain power of the US citizens, their hardwork and their military.

This isn't the 19th century and the idea that money must be backed with a physical asset is a bit antiquated.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

simcop2387 (703011) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629121)

well the problem i've got with there not being something immediately tangible is that i've seen the US government screw things up so bad lately, then again they recovered from previous mistakes "fairly decently" YOMD

Re:Hmmm... (1)

B'Trey (111263) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628982)

Money has no intrinsic value. It's value is solely what we project it to be - it has the value of the faith we put in it and nothing more. When people lose faith in money (or the instituion backing the money), it quickly loses that value due to run-away inflation. See Germany following the end of the Second World War.

Re:Hmmm... (2, Insightful)

LeoDV (653216) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628948)

As long as humans are humans there will always be a top and a bottom, exploiters and exploitees. All human societies are pyramid-shaped, and all efforts to change that end up killing millions.

All that one can hope for is that some day the said exploitees won't be starving to death as we speak, but somehow I don't think even that is likely.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

Galvatron (115029) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629414)

Actually, I believe that the Western industrialized nations are diamond shaped. Not many at the top, not many at the bottom, most in the aptly named middle class.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

gnalle (125916) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629537)

The steepness of this pyramid is a matter of choice. In many northern Europe we have a high tax rate ( pay around 45%). On the other hand any unemployed person can get get 300$-500$ a month from the state. We did not kill millions to attain this :)

Re:Hmmm... (0, Flamebait)

HMA2000 (728266) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628949)

In this world you describe what would be the incentive to own stocks?

Stocks provide access to capital for corporations. Without access to equity capital they would only have debt avenues left. But then again, what incentive would the banks have to loan money? Profit?

I don't think nanotech is going to be the panacea some people would hope but if it eliminates scarcity then this "corporatocracy" you speak of would have no access to capital and would waste away.

Nope (2, Insightful)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629143)

We'll just have to find artificial means of preserving scarcity. To see this in action now, take a look at how the RIAA and MPAA keep their pricess artifically inflated despite the fact that making a copy is essentially free (At the volumes they use, pressing a single CD or DVD is almost free, too. In the future, that top-of the line computer you want will be so tightly wrapped in IP law that it'll cost more than it would today even though they just have to run an assembler program to assemble it out of grey goo. Welcome to the future.

God I'm cynical...

Sorry, we discussed most of this yesterday (3, Insightful)

ericspinder (146776) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628729)

It was a decent article, but if it was included in discussion from yesterday I wouldn't mod it past a +4 Insightful (but someone would), it kinda feels like a long somewhat rambling slashdot post. His conclusion (almost out of the middle of nowhere) was that we need to "improve" education in this country, but no details on what needs to be done. Thrown in is this comment (which would surely get a reply on SlashPolitics): "America is, after all, the only society that does not define its citizens substantially in ethnic terms.". Yea, I wave my flag around a little too much for some, but even I know that is certainly not true, and maybe even a little bit of flame bait (kinda like this comment).

Re:Sorry, we discussed most of this yesterday (1)

websensei (84861) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628930)

["America is, after all, the only society that does not define its citizens substantially in ethnic terms.".]

Yea, I wave my flag around a little too much for some, but even I know that is certainly not true..

I disagree. His comment doesn't imply that there is not racism, but rather more specifically that in the US, ethnicity is not tightly coupled with nationality.

German-Americans, Scots-Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc. are all equally American. (These groups and others are not always treated the same socially, but the idea that, say, Americans of Irish descent are more or less "American" than those of Italian descent is simply not tenable.)

It's true that newer ethnic arrivals to this country (e.g. Russians, Vietnamese, etc) as well as historically oppressed groups (African-Americans, Latinos, etc) face discrimination. But -- unlike in virtually every other country in the world -- defining the ethnic characteristics of an "American" is impossible.
Even if you picture a WASPish blond/blue Euro-American (which represents 50% of the country, and less than 25% in urban areas) you still can't tie this archtype to a particular ethnicity, with any sort of consistency or validity. (Compare this to, say, Germany, or Japan, or Norway, or Italy, or Nigeria... you get my point.)

bTW, I do agree with your complaint wrt "education is the answer" -- some of the commentary following his article (in the same pg) addresses this quite well, too.

My point... (1)

ericspinder (146776) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629302)

My feeling is that there are other countries where, "ethnicity is not tightly coupled with nationality" not that it isn't so in this country (America). America might be the best example or the first, but even that statement is so debatable I wouldn't even defend it.

I think that Slashdot should have a +1 Politics, and a -1 Flame-politics moderation choices. That way those that are truely interested in political discussions of every technological idea can moderate them as such, and those that don't can set their preferences accordingly. It might be interesting to see really where the "group think" really is, at least for those interested in politics. As far as just keeping politics off of Slashdot, you whould have an easier time getting rid of the Trolls.

Re:Sorry, we discussed most of this yesterday (0, Flamebait)

rebeka thomas (673264) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629107)

We discussed it yesterday about a fellow named "Smaller"

Now today there's another article by Mr DeLong

the long and the short of it, indeed.

The future implications of nanotech... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628747)

...are very very tiny.

Re:The future implications of nanotech... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7629358)

I agree! Seriously, we can turn Mercury into Gold simply by knocking out a proton!!!! That's the same crap this fella is preaching about nanotech. I'm with the pyramid guy: we have a pretty darn advanced society today where one guy in America has more money that 150 million others all combined and we still have people dieing of starvation! The economist seems to think people somehow prefer 60 hour work worrks plus 10 hour commutes to hunting and fishing for a few hours. Even the great apes only spend 20% of their time searching for food! His assertion that economic changes have brought about a better life is certainly true for the wealthy but certainly as untrue for those upon which the pyramid is built. Clearly this fella is not well-traveled (or maybe he only stayed in the nice hotels and never actually saw how the real people live).
So, if we take a more realistic viewpoint I think the insight that more litigation will prevent production of goods is the best one. Just as the county Nazis in modern cities use zoning to control whether a fence or a driveway may be put on one's land, the future will be constant monitoring of what an individual tries to do. Hell, first law will probably be that solid-modeling machines must start to report to the gestapo what is being made, how else can we be sure someone is not creating a plastic gun?

Licencing (3, Insightful)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628754)

will have to become far more important if people are to hold onto any profit margin, surely. If I can "read out" the program to create "the crown jewels", or download it from the net, and replicate it down to the atomic level - what's the difference...

I guess the only fundamental problem is: what manufacturer of nano-bots is ever going to let the bots re-create themselves ? If they do, they'll spread like wildfire, and all manufacturing everywhere will become more like programming...


Re:Licencing (-1)

tibike77 (611880) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628828)

Nanotech 101 + Economics 101

1. Make self-replicating nanobots that can do various other tasks
2. ???
3. PROFIT!!!

Now seriously, step "2" would be something like "now these nanobots should build NON-replicating nanobots that can perform various tasks".
Obvious, isn't it?

Re:Licencing (1)

Mysticalfruit (533341) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629289)

Read "The Diamond Age", Neal Stephenson addresses lots of these issues.

Personally, I think the government would step in and use imminate domain and just take over any company that would create a nano assembler.

Just for the sake that this technology would, if allowed to spread uncontrolled would deconstruct everything.

Also, think of the military implications of this technology.

You'd be able to design and churn out materials that you could only dream of. So you want a tank that's got carbon nanotube diamond honeycomb impregnated armor? No problem, whip the baby up in cad and presto.

So you want that army of droids... no problem.

What if you've now got a replicator in your house? Unless the government is going to tax you on the raw materials that you use to create stuff, how are they going to collect any income tax?

There's pretty much no need for malls at this point. What can you not create in a matter compiler?

What if you want a car. If you've got the money to pay for the raw materials, you'd just go down to the post office and use their really large matter compiler, pay the money for the raw materials (or bring your own), put in the plans for your car and presto out it comes.

Mail is another good example of a technology that would be eliminated by a matter compiler.

This is the wave of the future (2, Interesting)

BadCable (721457) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628757)

I think that the idea of artificially enhancing ourselves with technology is the right approach, but the BORG technique of implanting high-tech computerized devices seems the wrong approach. Basically, this would open up our very bodies to hackers. By now we should all be aware how very difficult a problem computer security is. Personally I feel that computers and networks can never be made secure, and thus we should stop trying. Just imagine the inevitable result when some black-hat cracker breaks through the encryption protecting your enhanced liver, and proceeds to turn it into 'reverse', whereby it spews toxins into your bloodstream? Compound this with the fact that probably our bodies will be running Microsoft operating systems, and you see why this is the wrong approach.

The correct way to enhance ourselves is the technique outlined by Science Fiction Author Larry Niven. In variou Niven novels and short stories, the characters can live for hundreds of years by means of organ banks. If you lose an arm, use nanotechnology to put on a new arm. Of course, this will require two developments: improved nanotechnology, and the development of organ banks for all body parts. Probably this will lead to the death penalty becoming the standard punishmnent for every minor crime, so as to keep the organ banks full of fresh organs, allowing rich people to live forever at the expense of everybody else.

I hope this happens within my lifetime, as it is a Utopian scenario indeed.

Re:This is the wave of the future (1)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629011)

Probably this will lead to the death penalty becoming the standard punishmnent for every minor crime, so as to keep the organ banks full of fresh organs, allowing rich people to live forever at the expense of everybody else.

At that point, it would probably become cheaper and more practical to simply clone the organs that are needed. Preferably from the DNA of the person who needs the organ, so to reduce the chances of rejection.

Re:This is the wave of the future (1)

rokzy (687636) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629219)

why do you stupidly assume having technology that helps our bodies == being able to get hacked?

why would an artificial liver support a "reverse mode"? why would it even accept outside instructions in the first place?

are you scared that when you can access the internet from an in-car computer, this will automatically allow some hacker to access your car from the internet? Contrary to the many "In Soviet Russia..." jokes, influences often only happen one-way.

Re:This is the wave of the future (1)

timjdot (638909) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629456)

Organisms are programmed with DNA or RNA. Their operation may be greatly affected with chemicals. Computers are programmed with magnetic bits and their operations are controlled with electromagnitic signals.

Only if nano-tech bridges these two could one reverse a liver. So, what if someone hacks the liver storage facility and inserts a virus (DNA). So, the complexities grow exponentially.

Maybe this is a Newton's Second Law of innovation: "For every innovation, their is an opposing but equal risk."

Re:This is the wave of the future (1)

rokzy (687636) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629579)

I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a reply to my post or the original, but...

"So, what if someone hacks the liver storage facility and inserts a virus" ... what the f*** has this got to do with nanotechnology? it's just complete fantasy garbage. what if somebody hacks the car manufacturer so that those big mechanical arms kill all the workers and start making robot tanks that go off on a murderous rampage?!?!?!?

sure new technology often creates risks or problems, but these ridiculous "what if" situations are meaningless.

Interesting . . . (2, Interesting)

shystershep (643874) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628778)

He provides an interesting framework for analyzing the issue, but I don't know that I agree with his conclusions that nanotech will increase the demand for highly-educated labor, thereby increasing income inequality. I think any shifts in income equality will come from a straight loss of manufacturing jobs rather than an increase in the need for educated workers. If nanotechnology is to be economically feasible, it will have to rely on automation to the same or a higher degree than current manufacturing techniques. Other than R&D, there won't be any need for more education, because extra schooling is probably more of a liability than an asset when it comes to running a machine on an assembly line.

This is also analogous to the technological revolution, because a much higher number of workers were left unemployed by the increase in productivity than moved to the cities and became factory workers -- witness the enormous social turmoil at the turn of the century. The relatively higher American education levels probably had a much greater impact in the service sector than manufacturing 50-100 years ago. Although level of education has picked up somewhat in the last decade or so (concurrent with America's resurgent dominance in non-military technology), compared to other industrialized countries American education below the college level simply sucks.

Education Straw man (2, Insightful)

memmel2 (660484) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628784)

Since education solves so many problem's concentration on education is not a good argument. Next since he mentions specialized skills there is also a huge retraining problem even for "educated" workers as the technology shifts. Finally I think most people looking at nano-tech miss the most important factor. With it "intelligent" computers are possible. The impact of intelligent machines must be included in any analysis and probably represent and even bigger "shift" than nanotech itself. On that note there is no reason for the training of the human brain to remain stuck in methods developed thousands of years ago. Agian with nanotech and smart computers there is no reason we could not "upload" new skills as needed. Forget about nanotech think about the impact smart machines and programmable humans. Nanotech is just enabling technology.

Very, very interesting. (1)

websensei (84861) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628810)

I found the commentary following Delong's essay to be as worthwhile as the original text. Stephenson's The Diamond Age plays out some of these ideas in more detail, for those interested in possible ramifications of nanotech.
That fraction of the /. readership who haven't already may enjoy that as well. (I did.)

Nanotech is XXIst century AI (4, Insightful)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628816)

Just think about this for a second: Alan Turing created his famous test in... what? The 1930s? The 1950s? How many computers have you seen that could pass the test? Simple answer: none.

How many computers have you seen that actually could perform what HAL performed in "2001: A Space Odyssey"? Simple answer: none.

Scientists have been talking about NanoTech for what? Twenty+ years [about.com]? Have you already seen an application of NanoTech in real life? Where are the real-life NanoTech billionaires? Where is the Bill Gates of nanotech?

I believe that nanotech, just like AI and superconductivity, is a pipe dream. This is simply because solving the technical/scientific problems are simply too large for our current technology.

Don't misunderstand me: nanotech can be useful. Dumb computers are useful right now. Things like micro-mechanical machines may be useful. Limited, one-task-only, expert system can be useful. But real intelligence? Real nanotech? I don't think so.

Flame Away (2, Insightful)

MyHair (589485) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628903)

I for one welcome our new nanobot overlords!

This reminds me of _Dilbert Future_ where, among other points, Adams says that those Star Trek skin healing devices will never exist because we'd all be sealing each others anuses as practical jokes. Another point he makes: would you trust your coworkers to operate the transporter controls?

Why Yes, Yes I Have (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629263)

You've seen those pants that liquids just roll right off, right? Nanofibres make that possible. So we're not making assemblers yet, but we're already finding commercial uses for really small things. And since there are commercial applications driving it, we're going to get better at making really small things much more quickly than if it were stuffy government research somewhere.

I woudln't expect to see assemblers within my lifetime, but if you'd asked me 15 years if I expected to see a computer that could fit completely in my lap with a gigabyte of RAM within my lifetime I'd have laughed at you.

Re:Why Yes, Yes I Have (2, Insightful)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629535)

You've seen those pants that liquids just roll right off, right? Nanofibres make that possible. So we're not making assemblers yet, but we're already finding commercial uses for really small things.

That's exactly my point: you are comparing apples and oranges here. Nanofibres are not Nano-Assemblers.

I have said, in my previous message, that there may be applications for some parts or nanotech... Just like there are applications, right now, for limited AI and limited supraconductivity.

But I think that Nanotechnology, and especially the kind of applications that are pushed forward -- such as machines that will cure you of cancer or create a new car each morning out of thin air -- are a pure fantasy.

IMHO, they will not exist for the next hundred years.

if you'd asked me 15 years if I expected to see a computer that could fit completely in my lap with a gigabyte of RAM within my lifetime I'd have laughed at you.

Bingo! You are simply proving my point: this is the difference between Moore's Law and vaporware.

Let us say computers were invented in the 1950s (I know, I know, this is open to debate). When the first models came out, the CEO of IBM at the time famously said that the potential market for computers was "a dozen machines" worldwide.

Twenty years later -- the 1970s: the mini-computer came out and everyone agreed that computers were a good thing . The potential market for computers was in the millions of units.

Twenty years later -- the 1990s: the micro-computer has come of age and there are dozens and dozens of millions of computers worldwide. Almost a computer on every desk in major countries.

Moore's Law is now firmly entrenched in our consciousness, and computers have created unprecedented wealth and opportunities all over the world. Add the Internet to this mix, and you have a very potent technology, indeed.

If Nano-Technology (or AI, or supraconductivity, or cold fusion, or ...) had followed the same path/growth, we should now see the very first large-scale applications of Nanotech. Where are these applications? Nowehere to be seen.

Don't misunderstand me: Nanotech may be a true force in the future. But I think it will be like electricity, which took close to an entire century to take off. Volta [italian-american.com], after all, invented the battery in the 1800s... By this type of time-line, we may see the first interesting applications of Nanotech around... Well... 2080.

Re:Nanotech is XXIst century AI (1)

rokzy (687636) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629335)

I did a little report on nanotechnology for uni. one application I can remember is using carbon nanotubes as probes for scanning tunneling microscopes instead of conventional tungsten tips - greatly increases resolution.

just because YOU don't know about or understand it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I expect you won't consider this "real" nanotech for some contrived reason; "real life" == "your life" ?

don't attack things just because you're ignorant of them.

Re:Nanotech is XXIst century AI (1)

loadquo (659316) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629583)

Nanotech has about two (or more) different meanings. 1) Tiny assemblies of atoms that perform a function 2) Tiny mechanical assemblies with motors, power supplies etc Possibly self replicating. My guess is that the root of the thread is talking about the second type of Nanotech.

Re:Nanotech is XXIst century AI (1)

Councilor Hart (673770) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629376)

I believe that nanotech, just like AI and superconductivity, is a pipe dream.

Superconductivity will be used in ITER [iter.org]. The next big thing for plasma physics.

Re:Nanotech is XXIst century AI (2, Insightful)

Jerf (17166) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629503)

I believe that nanotech, just like AI and superconductivity, is a pipe dream.

Superconductivity is a pipe dream?!? Have you been living under a rock for 92 years [uh.edu]? It was accomplished in 1911 for Pete's sake!

(Yes, I'm sure you're referring to the way it isn't in "common usage", but the reasons for that are largely economic, not technological. The benefits of superconductivity simply aren't large enough to matter. It's certainly possible, though!)

Have you already seen an application of NanoTech in real life?

Yes. Your ignorance of them does not negate them.

We're only at the beginning of the flood here. You're the guy in August 1981 [ic.ac.uk] declaring that desktop PCs are impossible because who has ever seen a useful desktop PC? You're not exhibiting special insight, you're ignoring what's going on right now, right in front of you, at the infant stage.

Full-scale Drexler assemblers may or may not happen (though IMHO the real question is "how large will they be?", not "are they even theoretically possible?"), but nanotechnology marches onward, even though it can't jump to the ultimate conclusion of the technology instantaneously.

Most interesting comment from the article. (4, Insightful)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628883)

Hey, its from the article so its ontopic!

" One of the chief things that has made America great, after all, is that we are the only country in which enthnicity is not closely linked to nationhood. "

Only? What about Canada? What about Brazil? And I'm sure that others can provide better counter-examples.

666 The Mark of The Beast Coming Soon (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7628910)

Before me flames the pentagram- behind me shines the six-rayed star!

Nano-insight (4, Insightful)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 10 years ago | (#7628954)

Once you read the article, you see there's surprisingly little insight at all, really. The only conjecture on the nanotechnology-driven economy is that there will likely be a scarcity of workers with the necessary skillset, enabling them to earn major $$$ unless the pool of talent increases through either domestic or international education and training.

I would also argue that much of his point regarding the displacement of current workers is well underway. Miniature, communicative sensors already enable industrial equipment to constantly optimize its own performance [alfalaval.com], reducing the need for manual maintenance and repair work. Warehouse technology is already available to minimize the number of workers needed to move product, especially with the coming of RFID.

In short, I think the more interesting area for discussion lies in which types of products are likely to be displaced by oncoming nanotech, and which are likely to become more in demand (such as the rise in the price of titanium, driven by a wave of Tiger Woods-inspired golf newbies). Hopefully we'll see some followup on those points...

Re:Disparity in workers income (1)

takochan (470955) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629557)

..addressed in the article:
20th century, gaps shrank, then widened again in 21st..

That is simply because of globalization, not nanotech or other things. We have now integrated first world economies with third world ones, so the result, is an economy somewhere in the middle.
Skilled people get paid (comparatively) far more than those without skills, so we get something between the US of the 1960s and the China of today, disparity wise, which is what has happened now.

Eventually (probably after we are all retired), when the 3rd world catches up with the first world, low level laborers wages will then push up, bands will narrow just as they did in the 20th century in the USA before the US economy got integrated with everything else like it has the last few years.

Then the problem will go away. But then that will be in 50..75 years, so for this generation, whether we are factory workers or IT programmers, yes we are fS&cked. Our grandchildren though, should be OK..

Economic forecasts (1)

rm007 (616365) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629214)

The fact that America, like every other developed economy, is going to have to rely more and more on a highly educated workforce is not a particularly novel forecast, but is a good topic for hand wringing. On the other hand, the implications of better and cheaper materials for manufacturing might produce a more optimistic view as it rolls through the manufacuting sector, lowering costs, creating jobs etc. Indeed, to the extent that manufacturing using these materials requires skills beyond those found in the third world, it might lead to new manufacturing jobs (or, of course, it might not, this is all complete speculation after all)

Oh, and on that note I'm surprised that no one has yet commented on the boldness of this economic forecast going as far out as this when the record of economists getting it right one or two quarters down the road is mixed (for example the IT recovery that has been a rolling two quarters away since 2000).

IT industry != nanotech industry (1, Insightful)

gnalle (125916) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629230)

From article:

If information technology caused a sharp upward leap in the skill- and education requirements of the labor force that has caused a large chunk of our upward leap in income inequality, is not nanotechnology likely to do the same? And is not the pace of economic growth--the spread and use of nanotechnology-generated materials--likely to be constrained by a shortage of the highly educated and skilled materials technicians and programmers that we will need?

I believe that the answer is no

Most people in the IT industry have the job of creating custom solutions for specific customers. The tasks range from the very difficult to the very simple, and therefore the IT industry can employ a work force with a very diverse skill level.

In this respect the so called nano tech industry is very different. The development of a high tech product is very expensive, snd therefore each company has to focus on a small set of products. On the other hand they can sell each product to a wide range of customers. This calls for a small but specialized work force.In conclusion nano tech will not employ the same number of workers with lesser skill.

Fundamental issues why nanotech won't work. (3, Insightful)

ISayWeOnlyToBePolite (721679) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629326)

I previously asked this question (as anonymus coward); How are you supposed to power these things? And got some very good answers. You can't have them lugging around with batteries (they wouldn't be very nano, wouldn't last long and you'll just have to pray that they can find their way back to the loading station to recharge successfully). Submerging them in fuel already has it's own term, "grey goo", at that scale imperfectons will cause "mutations" that just might go amok; How would you monitor that? Nanotech only seem to be usable when either connected to a larger machine and thus not really nanotech only machinery with some very small pieces, or small scale controled, one off experiments not industrialised mass production.
(You'll just have to search for the original thread by yourself, great karma whoring op, and yeah, big thanks to all those who provided great answers, i really wondered about that one)

-Don't trust smart paint!

What about Canada? (0, Offtopic)

xutopia (469129) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629344)

"America is, after all, the only society that does not define its citizens substantially in ethnic terms."

Frontiers and Nanotech (2, Interesting)

randall_burns (108052) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629352)

I would suggest the conditions in Britain were largely due to the closing of the American frontier in the mid 1800's. Until that point, there was a floor under wages(i.e. British industrialists couldn't pay their workers so little they didn't bolt and risk death and disease on the frontier). The point here is that the order in which advancements move towards nanotechnology are quite important.

I would also suggest folks look at the Nanotechnology timeline [slashdot.org] Sean Morgan did. Best estimates are this will unfold the next 20 years or so. The nice thing about Morgan's work is that he talks about some of the incremental advancements between now and then.

in societies w/o scarcity, better ideas can't win (1)

xlurker (253257) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629389)

in a society without scarcity the better idea newer wins.
you can apply this to probably any venue of life.

you can apply this to a lot a managers now. many managers are only good at one thing: the corporate power circus.
they don't need to be the best when it comes to manufacturing, since we today already have enough resources to permit waste. they're good at elbowing. why isn't this behavoir even worse? because results ultimately still count. and results depend on scarce resources and their efficient allocation.

as soon as this changes the economy is going to start filling up with nutcases and crackpots claiming to be as good at whatever as the serious people.

you can apply this concept to any field where results aren't quite measurable and resources aren't scarce.
example: religion, cults and esoterics.

too religious/spritual?
2nd example: how about the qualitity of programming in closed source projects, eh?

Re:in societies w/o scarcity, better ideas can't w (1)

Jerf (17166) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629598)

they don't need to be the best when it comes to manufacturing, since we today already have enough resources to permit waste.

You obviously don't work in manufacturing. Waste is relative. You may theoretically be able to 'waste' 20% of something (number for the sake of argument), but if your competition is only wasting 5%, he's going to drive you out of business. Now you don't have the opportunity to waste.

(Capitalism promotes unheard of levels of efficiency. The Native Americans, frequently cited for using "the whole buffalo" vs. the wastage of the settlers, have nothing on modern capitalist societies. But this is a sidenote.)

As for the rest of your post, it's nearly incoherent. "Quality of programming" does more to disprove your point; in commercial programming where ideas are scarce, ideas aren't evaluated at all. In Open Source where the ideas are abundent, the better idea eventually wins. Only in the society without scarcity does the better idea ewer[sic] win.

MMAA (4, Funny)

Gadzinka (256729) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629415)

As always with new technology threatening old business models expect the formation of Macroscale Manufacturers Association of America. They will furiously fight against communist nanotechnology allowing people to make unauthorised devices etc.


Wow, how profound (not) (2, Insightful)

Ars-Fartsica (166957) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629443)

Rush right over and learn about automation reducing costs and demand for labor. What insights! As for nanotechnology, DeLong seems to offer nothing more useful than a shrug.

What about looking to "cyberspace"? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7629523)

If we want to foresee what might happen when the effortless duplication of matter becomes ubiquitous, why not look at a similar situation right now? With computers we can infinitely, and at pretty much no cost, reproduce "things", perhaps in a similar manner to what we might be able to do with real things in a few decades. I imagine we might have much the same problems once we are able to duplicate matter as effortlessly as we copy a file: the vast majority wanting the freedom to copy what they want, and the rich minority fighting to hold on to the power they have.

Freudian Slips While Reading (2, Interesting)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 10 years ago | (#7629538)

The filters between my eyes and brain might be trying to tell me something.

At first glance I read "Economic Analysis of the Nanotech Failure". I'm not sure if it was trying to say Nanotech is going nowhere, or that the grey goop effect will make pollution look like a spot on one's trousers by comparison.

For my part, I'm not really thrilled by Nanotechnology. It's like being thrilled by quantumn mechanics. Sure it's neat, but unless you are a researcher it's not going to be used in anything you buy, build, or are likely to use. Oooo, it will make already small computer chips smaller. Whoopie. The size of a computing device is currently limited by the size of the battery, power supply, or human interface device.

As far as medical uses, the nanotechnology itself is useless without some way of coordinating the activity of millions of simple robots. That technology isn't nanotechnology. I call the ability to harness millions of independent units "Taonology", and it's first application will be social engineering.

(Checking time-traveler's guide to 2003 to make sure it's been invented.) Scratch that. But when it happens, act surprised.

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