Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors



Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


android tablet pc

Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Natasha Vita-More > Nanofactory or AGI — Which technology could cure humanity's many problems?

Natasha Vita-More
MSc, MPhil, PhD Researcher, University of Plymouth
Transhumanism

Abstract:
There are a number of supposed shifts on the horizon. The most publicly talked about shift is the impending Singularity when greater-than-human-intelligence will come to pass. However, in the nanotechnology communities are other ramblings singularities, such as when the personal, desktop nanofactory are will come about. In fact, some transhumanists are arguing not just about which will come first—molecular manufacturing or artificial general intelligence—but about which technology will ultimately prove to be the cure for human suffering worldwide.

January 24th, 2008

Nanofactory or AGI — Which technology could cure humanity's many problems?

"It is necessary to keep one's compass in one's eyes and not in the hand, for the hands execute, but the eye judges." Michelangelo Buonarroti


There are a number of supposed shifts on the horizon. The most publicly talked about shift is the impending Singularity when greater-than-human-intelligence will come to pass. However, in the nanotechnology communities are other ramblings singularities, such as when the personal, desktop nanofactory are will come about. In fact, some transhumanists are arguing not just about which will come first—molecular manufacturing or artificial general intelligence—but about which technology will ultimately prove to be the cure for human suffering worldwide.

In order to discern the arrival of one ahead of the other, or the proposed curative strength of one over the other, we would have to select a few ills, which spread across continents: poor sanitation, starvation, disease, pollution, poverty, insufficient medicine and healthcare, human rights issues, and corrupt governments and war. How could either or both molecular manufacturing or artificial general intelligence begin to address these long-outstanding worldwide problems of immense proportion?

The nanofactory is a conceptual desktop molecular manufacturing system. Its proposed job would be to build a variety of large diamonoid products. According to Robert Freitas, the nanofactury would employ a "controlled molecular assembly that will make possible the creation of fundamentally novel products having the intricate complexity currently found only in biological systems, but operating with grater speed, power, reliability, and, most importantly, entirely under human control" while spitting out a precise assembly of products atom-by-atom. While this sentence could compete with Buckminster Fuller's lengthy language, its meaning is clear: the nanofactory could change the way people look at materiality.

Materiality would no longer be a measure of status quo because everyone everywhere would be able to build products from their desktop nanofactory. To put it simply, by delivering materials, such as carbon, into the nanofactory, the nanofactory would then take the carbons and rearranged them, atom by atom, and turn them into tangible products. For example, a person could download a furniture diagram from the Internet and assign the plan to the nanofactury to produce a product, such as a designer chair. The nanofactory would then infuse with carbon, turn the carbon around and output something like a Wassily chair (Marcel Breuer 1925). With a little more seriousness and b it less Bauhaus, the nanofactory could significantly address poverty, for example, by producing essential products that people need to build better sanitation in their habitats, provide housing, medical equipment, and so forth.

At the SC07 International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis conference, Professor Neil Gershenfeld's keynote "Programming Bits and Atoms", Gershenfeld described a worldwide paradigm shift of a proportion equal to the Singularity. Gershenfeld, Director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, foresees the desktop computer moving over to allow space for the desktop nanofactury. According to Gershenfeld, people will actually be able to print 3-D objects as efficiently and amply as computers today print out glossy color images. In his book FAB he and his colleagues describe how their global "fab labs" could provide problem-solving alternatives to, for example, peoples in small villages in India wherein "their lab [could] develop devices for monitoring food safety and agricultural engine efficiency."

The timeframe for nanofacturing could be anywhere from 20 years to 100 years, depending on who is forecasting. Surely, there will be substantial concerns about potential dangers and hazards of such anyone, anywhere producing objects that could be to the detriment of society. That is not the topic of this short article. I am looking speculatively at AGI and/or nanofacturing and their potential to help alleviate some of the world's many immediate and wearisome problems that are hurting people and taking human lives by the thousands on a daily basis.

A vastly different technological concept to molecular manufactoring, is AGI which when built will obtain the ability to solve numerous complex problems in a variety of complex environments. According to the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, "[w]e expect the ethical and significant enhancement of cognition will help solve contemporary challenges - disease and illness, poverty and hunger - more readily than other charitable pursuits."

I remember having a conversation with AGI specialist Peter Voss, entrepreneur and founder of Adaptive A.I. Inc., who states that his company's AGI "is based on a specific theoretical model of high-level intelligence developed over the past decade." Voss told me that if it were between nanotechnology and AGI, that AGI offered a better solution for addressing and resolving worldwide problems because of the very fact that AGI would provide far better and more efficient, capable intelligence with enormous reserves of knowledge—vastly more than any human mind or groups of brilliant minds could muster. For example, an AGI could contemplate and problem-solve such issues as poor sanitation, starvation, disease, pollution, poverty, insufficient medicine and healthcare, and human rights issues, and corrupt governments and war.

What does this mean for transhumanists? In large part, it means that we have to accept the fact that we are not so intelligent and need the help of greater-than-human-intelligence. It also means that we have to start planning now for a watershed of doomsayers who will claim that the marvels of molecular manufacturing's nanofacturies and AGI's supper intelligences will open a very large can of worms. We must arm ourselves with two treaties: first, the ability to admit that we do not know what in fact will happen in the future; and second, the ability to be courageously proactive in addressing the risks of these two pending technologies.

Al Gore has made the phrase "existential risk" a red carpet, Oscar-moment of prestige. Benny Peiser, social anthropologist, has taken the phrase and added paradox to it by noting that "proliferation of democratic liberalism and free market economies around the world has dramatically curtailed the death toll associated with natural disasters and diseases. … Yet the very same technologies that re serving us to analyze, predict and prevent potential disasters have reached such a level of sophistication and potency that their misuse can transform vital survival tools into destructive forces, thus becoming existential risks in their own right."

This is a big dilemma. We must work diligently to address risk, and a number of organizations and philosophers and theoreticians are doing just that. If we apply the "Minipawf Principle" (minimize the probability of awful outcomes), but no matter how carefully constructed the strategy or collection of scenarios, even if there is spectrum of differing estimates on how much we can minimize risks, there must be a potentially great achievement. The technologies must offer great achievement or not. If the achievement is not forecast to be truly great, then the probability for risk is not worth the effort.

Further, I'm not entirely sure they are addressing probable risks when considering the issue of which comes first—AGI or the desktop nanofactory. This in and of itself could offer a new set of scenarios and deliberation for transhumanists. In addition, while there are two suggested paradigm shifts on the horizon—super intelligence brining about a Singularity and/or nanofacturing bringing about worldwide abundance—transhumanists may not be so concerned with which one comes first. Of greater consequence is which one could potentially be more crucial, especially in the development and ethical pursuit of the other and prove to be a viable cure for poor sanitation, starvation, disease, pollution, and poverty.

"Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk."- Dali Lama


Notes:

Freitas, R. "What is a Nanofactory?" http://www.molecularassembler.com/Nanofactory/
SC07 program http://sc07.supercomp.org/?pg=keynote.html
Gershenfeld, N. (2005) FAB, New York: Basic Books.
Id. http://books.google.com/books?id=hd-B3-pC4UgC&printsec=frontcover&vq=%22fab%22+gershenfeld#PPA12,M1
http://www.agiri.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=88&mode=threaded
http://adaptiveai.com
Peiser, B. (2007) "Existential risk and democratic peace", BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7081804.stm

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More














ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project







© Copyright 1999-2014 7th Wave, Inc. All Rights Reserved PRIVACY POLICY :: CONTACT US :: STATS :: SITE MAP :: ADVERTISE