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M. Andrew Sprong

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Nanotechnology and the Zero Point
By M. Andrew Sprong
Last edited: Saturday, January 17, 2009
Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

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Are we prepared for the changes coming in the future, and will we retain our humanity?

The Chimera of Humanity

As technology advances at breakneck speed and we mere mortals become encased in more and more technology, there will be a point in which it goes beneath the skin.  Scientists and doctors are already experimenting with ways to blur the boundary between man and machine by creating prosthesis and medical intervention technology, which will assist or enhance a user’s performance.  Recently the Olympics prevented a paraplegic from competing due to the advantage he would have with his running blades.  A quadriplegic has been fitted with a device, which allows him direct control of a computer, and commercial gadgets are now becoming available to do the same thing.  A Japanese scientist has found a way to image our dreams and expose our very thoughts and intentions.

Machine intervention is nothing new.  Kidney dialysis has been around for a while, and the heart-lung machine has saved countless lives.  It is the promise of nanotechnology as well as new theories of quantum physics, which will push us past the point which extropians call the zero point.  To explain the concept of the zero point one merely has to examine the trend implied by the technological and economic principle called Moore’s Law.  While Moore’s Law is not a law at all but rather fancy bits of self-fulfilled prophesy, it is a description of how things get small and less expensive over time due to feedback and mutual dependency.  If you trace the long-term trends in every technological industry, the lines eventually cross.  This crossing is the zero point, a place where automated manufacturing, research and development, prototyping, scale reduction, resource utilization, and storage capacity all begin to interact by themselves and leave the ability of humans to supervise, control, or even understand.  There is a bee in the bonnet though – it turns out a second trend, conveniently called the Second Moore’s Law, prevents the symbiotic lines from ever actually touching.  The second law states that as the cost for a single piece of technology goes down and the capacity goes up, the cost of a factory to manufacture any quantity goes up in the same exponential fashion.  Oh well!  No zero point folks – move along.

Not so fast.  It is nanotechnology, which would change the second law irrevocably, and anything that improves the cost of building a technology manufacturing facility, helps bring about convergence.  It’s about the robots.  Industrial robots aren’t pretty. They are large, expensive, and not shrinking.  If they did shrink at the same rate as the devices the built then the cost of manufacturing them would shrink as well.  As it stands, technological scientists have to make do with using the robots and their human handlers as efficiently as possible to keep the variable costs down.  If the robot were say fifty microns in size to manufacture circuits and devices at fifty nanometers, the entire factory would fit in a Petri dish.  This begs the point, how do you build a robot, which will obey commands and manufacture devices at nanometer scales with precision and accuracy?  Biology is the simplest answer.  The nuclei of our cells has been manufacturing proteins and copies for quite some time and have been rather successful.  That microscopic factory has been running unattended without turning our planet into grey goo, which is the theoretical demise of our world should nanotech run amuck.

There is one huge problem with manufacturing biologically derived robots to manufacture inorganic devices – escape!  Unlike inorganic devices that require external power sources to function, biologically derived robots would be, by necessity, able to derive their own energy from natural sources.  If you let one out into the wild, which extracts gold from raw ore, there might be a gold boom until people start noticing their jewelry has started to grow mold.

The point I am trying to make, in my long-winded fashion, is there will be a point where nanotechnology takes over and the world as we know it will begin changing so rapidly we won’t be able to keep track of it.  When this happens, when the machines on our toast, are more advanced than those in our cell phones or computers, we may very well lose a grasp on our own humanity.  Will we have safeguards in place to prevent the complete runaway of technology?  Better put, can we even imagine those safeguards?  Someday, an organically derived machine will prevent heart disease by scrubbing our arteries, fix aneurisms by cauterizing defects, restore blood chemistry by converting excess glucose, and come at the all-new price of $1.95 at a store near you.  At the same time, a terrorist organization may engineer a similar machine which does the opposite, killing millions in a single night.

In my book, “Haley Cork and the Blue Door” (ISBN: 144047513X on, I address one of these points.  Haley’s ancestor, Alexandra Veselago develops a nanotech machine, which allows her to escape a world controlled by machine-induced despotism.  Haley, in fact, caries inside her the lineage of not just the Veselago’s but the Blue Door as well.  When the two are reunited will poor little Haley be able to retain her own humanity?  Will she be able to resist the temptation to alter irrevocably her world to conform to her own ideal?  Will she remain a little girl despite the immensely powerful weapon at her disposal?

That’s the rub; every piece of technology meant to help humanity can be transformed into a weapon.  Haley Cork and her Blue Door are weapons aimed at a ruthless and immortal enemy.  Today, cell phones and automotive computers are used in ingenious ways to detonate roadside bombs, and when the fight goes nanotech, it will become even more violent and invisible.

Are we prepared?
Will we be prepared?
Can we be prepared?

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