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The Almighty Buck Technology

Economic Analysis of the Nanotech Future 188

Posted by michael
from the nanoo-nanoo dept.
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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Economic Analysis of the Nanotech Future

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  • 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?
    • 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.
    • by Lilkeeney (131454) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:25AM (#7628690) Homepage
      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.
      • by Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:31AM (#7628749) Journal
        Yes, but in such a world would we really have a need for money anymore?
        • by meta-monkey (321000) * on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:40AM (#7628845) Journal
          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?
          • Sure. We give the ACLU the finger and put prisoners to work.
          • by ahem (174666) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:21PM (#7629272) Homepage Journal
            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
            • Moderators, mod this guy up IMMEDIATELY. Thanks for pointing this out to me, ahem. I read the first two chapters, and all I can think is "holy crap, this is the best sci-fi writing I've ever seen." And I've read a lot of sci-fi. I cannot wait to read the rest of it. I simply love the way he mixes in truly appropriate future diction, at a level that requires modern-day intelligence and insight to comprehend. I like the characters, too.

              Again, thanks for pointing this out to me, and maybe it'll answer t
          • 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

          • Answer #1:
            There will *always* be stuff which is scarce. Maybe it will be real estate. Maybe we will continue to impose artificial scarcity (i.e. intellectual property) on certain things. Maybe there will be some completely arbitrary measure of "status" that people value.

            Read science fiction stories for examples of what will be scarce. (The "status" thing really was in a rather crummy science fiction story I read once.)

            Whatever it is, scarce goods will have value, and some economy based around that val
          • Well, in the Star Trek universe there are also the matter transporters, so any waste could be dematerialised a put elsewhere. Of course, you could just use your phaser (set to kill, I suppose) to disperse the atoms comprising the waste.

            But to take your point to heart, the jobs or roles available by society do change with the times, mainly due to technological advancement, but there are indeed the jobs americans in particular would rather not do (haul trash, eg.). That's one of the reasons why illegal ali
          • Lets grant the "star trek universe" enough of a widespread understanding that we can call it a thought experiment. It is one on many levels, but just look from the scarcity point of view. Your first point is wrong - there is a need for money. Currency, barter and other types of exchange are more and more important as you travel further and further out into the Harry Mud edges of the frontier. Granted, they don't seem terribly important on Earth and more highly developed planets. This would also be true
        • 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...
        • Unfortunately, yes. There are a few sectors of the economy that cannot be eliminated by getting rid of the need for specialized manufacturing plants:

          1) Energy and raw materials production
          2) Services, Including:
          a) Legal
          b) Education
          c) Sanitation
          d) Entertainment & Comfort
          e) Real Estate & Property
          3) Intellectual property-driven businesses

          This is not an all-inclusive list. Manufacturing and (theoretically) agriculture could be gotten rid of, but in both cases the curr
        • and it's causing problems. Digital technology has created the first economy ever where scarcity is irrelevant. Information can be copied limitlessly with a cost that approaches zero.

          How do you reconcile this with the rest of the scarcity-based economy? When the producers of replicable content still need limited resources, problems emerge and the only solution is inelegant legislation that is ultimately unenforceable.

          I think we can just now see the end of profit on the horizon. It will probably not arr

        • Are you talking about money as a medium for exchanging value, or the physical specie that represents it? I think we're always going to need a medium for exchange and storage of value... as for the physical aspect, check out Tangible Nanomoney [] for an insightful look at the problems of cash in a nanotech world.
    • ...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!
    • 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...
      • 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.
    • Imagine a holo 3D banner-ad like the following: Wellcome to, the one and only site on the WorldNet to bring you crackz and hackz for the latest nanoware... LMAO Could be...
    • 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 :)
      • Or, you can use thermal depolymerization as written up in the May 2003 Discover magazine article on the process being tested by "Changing World Technologies", CEO Brian Appel. They have a proof-of-concept plant running in Missouri and the city of Pittsburgh is in talks about setting up a plant to handle this.

        The process and plant can convert virtually any type of waste into relatively benign fuel oil, and more. From the article: "The process is designed to
        handle almost any waste product imaginable, incl

    • 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
    • Years ago I read a sci-fi short story something like this. Aliens wanted to destroy Earth's economcy so they gave us (just left them out in public somewhere) a pair of devices that could copy anything. Of course, it wasn't too long before someone thought to copy one with the other and then before you know it everyone is getting them. The hero of the story was the manager of a large dept. store (like Macy's). In the morning when he goes to work it is a normal day and they are in business selling mass pro

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

      Good question.

      Copyright law, patent law and some legislation like the DMCA already place limits on how information can be copied, or how physical objects can be copied.

      IMHO, the really interesting area will be information encoded chemically, as in DNA.

      There are already cases where farmers have been sued for illegally re-using seed from artifically-created genetically modified plants.

      WIth the possibility of deliberately creating human-

  • by dummkopf (538393) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:26AM (#7628705) Homepage
    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) [] at UC Davis does some interesting research with nanostructures... cool pics and some explanations...
  • by the_mighty_$ (726261) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:27AM (#7628713)
    If you want to know more 'bout this nanotechnology that everyone's talking about: Institute of Nanotechnology [] and National Nanotechnology Initiative []
  • Hmmm... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:28AM (#7628724) Journal
    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."
    • I swear, Adam Smith should be required reading before posting on anything economic.

      "Today's wants are tomorrow's needs."

      Memorize it.
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LeoDV (653216)
      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.
      • 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.
        • Most of us Americans are pear-shaped I think...

          Seriously though, I think that any modern society with a large middle class will have fewer starving, simply because there is so much crap that the middle class casts of that is still quite useable.

          If the standard of living of the middle class goes up far enough, the very bottom class could end up living almost as well as what the middle class used to. Presuming of course a society like we have today, that always wants new stuff. If our technology starts pr
      • All human societies are pyramid-shaped, and all efforts to change that end up killing millions.

        Actually, modern western society has been relatively diamond-shaped for that past century or so. The majority of people in the US fall into the middle class instead of the lower class, and the truly impoverished are very rare. This is in sharp contrast to modern third-world nations and our own pre-20th century history, where the vast majority were equally on the bottom of a pyramid of wealth.

        All that one can
    • Nope (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Greyfox (87712)
      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 gre
    • Post-scarcity (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hamsterboy (218246)
      There will always be scarcity. Ultimately, the amount of energy in the universe is limited, so if all else fails, it could be used for currency.

      When you go to the Gap and buy a sweater, what are you paying for?

      1. Raw materials. Cotton, lycra, wool. These have to be harvested/mined/synthesized.
      2. Manufacturing. Conversion of raw materials into a finished product.
      3. Infrastructure. Transportation, retail outlets, corporate administration.
      4. Design. Somebody has to have an idea, and sketch out a way of producing a
  • by ericspinder (146776) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:29AM (#7628729) Journal
    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).
    • ["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 gr

      • 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 se

        • (1) sure, agreed

          (2) interesting idea. however, "politics" is hard to differentiate from "philosophy" or "worldview" which is intrinsic to nearly every /. discussion. also, a new category for "politics" would imply a level of specificity that would logically lead to many other such categories as well.... interesting anyway.

          also note, technology embodies politics. e.g. nuclear power will *always* lead to centralized authority, whereas solar power is by its nature decentralized. there are myriad similar exam
        • Britain - A nation where a small, but vocal and politicized percentage thinks the British are English, while the rest are well aware of their manifold roots, from the ancient Celtic cultures to modern Pakistanis.

          Western Europe - A nation where the majority of people still think of themselves primarily as members of one of its components, but the minority that don't is growing rapidly.

          Earth - As a whole, a people that are only about 50 to 100 years behind the above sections in getting the wake up call. Som
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:30AM (#7628747)
    ...are very very tiny.
  • Licencing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Space cowboy (13680) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:31AM (#7628754) Journal
    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...

    • 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 diam
    • 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...

      That's the whole problem. Just like when the Lord/Surf system became irrelavent during the industrial revolution - instead of giving it up, people tried to force it. It was a major force behind the civil war in the US and two world wars.

      In the US on

  • by BadCable (721457) <> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:31AM (#7628757) Journal
    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.
    • 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.
  • Interesting . . . (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shystershep (643874) * <[bdshepherd] [at] []> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:33AM (#7628778) Homepage Journal
    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.

  • by memmel2 (660484)
    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 the
  • 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.)
  • by Noryungi (70322) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:38AM (#7628816) Homepage Journal
    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 []? 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 (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MyHair (589485)
      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?
    • 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 coul

      • by Noryungi (70322)
        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 N
        • Well, a large number of very intelligent scientists with doctorates in chmeistry, physics, and so on are saying that such things *may* be possible at some point ealier than the 100 years you are predicting. So, my question to you is: why should I believe you over them? Can you please give your qualifications for making pronouncements like "pure fantasy"?

          Sorry, but I give more weight to the opinions of Real Scientists over random Slashdot readers any day (unless the two happen to be the same). It's certa
        • Nanofibers in fabric IS nanotech. Drawing a distinction between assemblers and small fibers which were designed with knowledge of how materials interact on the nano level and then manufactured and integrated into a material is hair spliting. Who cares how the atoms get into their final position? It's quite likely that a truly general, practical assembler is impossible. At best, we'll have many different assemblers custom tailored to specific applications - basically like ribosomes but for different ty
    • 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.
      • one application I can remember is using carbon nanotubes as probes for scanning tunneling microscopes instead of conventional tungsten tips - greatly increases resolution.

        OK. But this is not "Nanotech" as it is presented in the article (meaning: nano-factories churning out useful products and transforming the world). This is a very limited application of nanotech.

        Read the other response I have posted in this thread, please, it goes deeper into my main question.

        just because YOU don't know about or under
        • when I said you didn't understand nanotechnology, I didn't mean "you haven't read a BBC article about it", I meant you don't UNDERSTAND nanotechnology.

          >This is a very limited application of nanotech.

          yeah, cos it's just one example, one example will always be "limited". however the potential applications of carbon nanotubes, and other nanotechnology, ARE significant. there's plenty of hype and BS from "commentators", but theres also a lot of good science behind it. (HINT: if you really want to know abou
    • 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 []? 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 l
      • 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.

        Thank you, this was exactly the point I am trying to make: people are talking about nanotech as though it's going to happen tomorrow and change the world. My point is: it's not going to happen any time soon.

        People who are yakkin
        • I'm going to say what everyone else has been too nice to say. I'm going to get modded into smoking oblivion for it but I don't care.

          You're a git.

          Let me move on from that.

          Nanotechnology is patently not limited to full scale Drexler assemblers capable of sophisticated assembly in short periods of time.

          To assume this would be analogous to telling Robert Oppenheimer that he wasn't doing any work with nuclear energy in 1944 because he hadn't yet managed to create a 150% efficient cold fusion power plant tha
      • by Artifakt (700173) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @02:17PM (#7630613)
        The potential benefits of superconductivity are very large. Take New York city, for example. Some months half the electricity they buy is used pushing the other half across hundreds or even thousands of miles of high-tension lines. What would be the financial benefit of saving 50% on your electric bill for the entire city of New York?
        Superconductivity is a pipe dream, in that even that absolutely enormous potential savings, multiplied by all the similar situations elsewhere in the world, isn't motivating anyone to build a working superconducting transmission system and save that enormous amount of wasted power. If it's feasable, why hasn't a demand that large produced a result? The theoretical benefits of superconductivity certainly ARE large enough to matter - ergo, the limitation must be practice, not theory.
        As a lesser example, Superconducting Magnetic Levitation was supposed to enable a generation of high speed trains that could compete with the aircraft industry. The Japanese just set a train speed record of 585 Km/h. They did it with a non-supercoducting system. Why did they do it the "hard way", if superconducting technology is more than a laboratory curiosity?
    • You know those stain resistant pants they are always advertising on TV? That is a nanotechnology material. No, they don't self assemble, they don't really do anything but repel liquids really, really well. But it wasn't possible without nanotechology and its on the market now. And more stuff will be appearing all the time.
  • by GoofyBoy (44399) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:45AM (#7628883) Journal
    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.
  • Nano-insight (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TopShelf (92521) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @11:51AM (#7628954) Homepage Journal
    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 [], 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...
    • ..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 ret
    • In the future, you will receive a monthly check from the garbage company. Instead of separating the recyclables they will go into the same bin as the other garbage. If you can't use something, and can't sell it, the value of the raw materials can be recovered easily, based on weight. Garbage companies will buy everyone's garbage, use nanotech to separate out each element, and sell the raw materials to the highest bidder.
  • by ISayWeOnlyToBePolite (721679) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:26PM (#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!
    • Whoever moderated this up to "Insightful" doesn't know what they are talking about.

      Nanomachinery certainly could be powered by batteries as the energy storage capacity of batteries will be greater using nanotechnology. However, chemical energy storage may be denser still. For example in Nanomedicine Volume I (its online) has nanorobots being powered by glucose (just as the nanomachinery in cells now is). Alternatively one could have nanoscale fuel cells being powered by methanol, ethanol, methane, etc.
  • by randall_burns (108052) <randall_burns AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:28PM (#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 [] 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.

  • MMAA (Score:5, Funny)

    by Gadzinka (256729) <> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:33PM (#7629415) Journal
    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.

    • And MMAA will say over and over again that there is a desperate shortage of nanotechnology engineers and scientists, and that the only solution is a massive raise in the H1B quota.
  • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:36PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    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
  • by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda@e t o y o c .com> on Thursday December 04, 2003 @12:45PM (#7629538) Homepage Journal
    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.

    • If you consume any sort of organic material, you are already utilizing the fruits (no pun intended) of organic nanotechnology. There are some pants that are "marketed" as using nanotechnology. The carbon tubules that repel water...etc. However, the pants aren't directly created by a nanomachine. Still, it is a step in the direction.

      • Heck, if you use a cast iron skillet you are employing carbon buckyballs. (The soot you allow to remain on the surface creates a non-stick surface completely unlike teflon.) If that's using "nanotechnology" then farmers have been practicing chemistry for thousands of years through the production of straw.
    • 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.

      So this means you don't use CD's or DVD's?
      (think lay-ser)

      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.

      Smaller chips=shorter paths=higher MHz possibilities. Why do you think they keep shrinking

  • Nanotech utopia? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by painandgreed (692585)
    Money will not disappear. Assuming that we could build anything, there are still things that keep everything from becoming free. First, all these items probably will be generated from a design that will have to engineered. The new model cars or game consoles will have to be designed and engineered. The pattern fed into a computer and then created. Such pattens will be copyrighted and trademarked. No doubt, there will be similar IP issues as there are today with downloading and conterfiters. Even if items
  • Wow. This guy's blog was the first mentioned in a Wallstreet Journal article today. This blog and several others were mentioned.

    My comment is...

    How is analysing nanotechnology's economic consequences any different than what miniaturization has done over the past 30 years.

    The really funny thing to me is that these economists seem to think there is a problem to be solved. It's as if they believe their job is to solve the problem: "How do we assure equality with all the changes going on"?

    Really man
  • by CommieLib (468883) on Thursday December 04, 2003 @01:40PM (#7630162) Homepage
    Economists tend to overlook the wealth value of technology because it is extremely difficult to quantify. Let's say, for example, that the distribution of wealth now compared to 100 years ago has seen a drastic increase in the concentration of wealth, i.e., fewer people hold greater percentages of the wealth. I don't know if this is true or not, but let's assume it.

    A hundred years ago, if you were poor (on average), you were hungry, had no indoor plumbing (never mind electricity), and maybe owned a horse. Today, if you are poor (on average), you have a car, air conditioning, electricity, indoor plumbing, television, and you are overweight. I'm not trying to insult anyone, but that's the health statistic.

    My insight about the economics of nanotechnology is that it could create an incredible concentration of wealth, while at the same time defining poor so stratospherically high (owning only two Ferraris rather than twenty because you have no place to put them) that it becomes irrelevant.

    Other important points: (note, value != price)

    • The value of personal services will be unaffected by nanotechnology
    • The value of real estate will not be affected.
    • As Arthur C. Clarke pointed out, the unit of currency would become the kilowatt-hour.
    • Early on, this could make food more precious than diamond (the molecular structure of a chicken breast is vastly more complex and difficult to create than a simple carbon lattice)
    • I was going to post a similar article, but I'll add to the above instead.

      A hundred years ago: poor, average, house the size of one room today, living on a farm/ranch/rural, outdoor toilet (flies, smell, cold in winter, breezy ) limited toilet paper (Sears catalog if your lucky), sooty and smelly candles and kerosene lamps for light, spend significant time collecting, canning, storing food to make it through the next winter, a horse (but it was more likely a work horse than a riding horse-think Belgian or C
  • "on the economic implications of Nanotechnology.'

    Did anybody else read that as

    "on the erotic implications of Nanotechnology"

    Maybe this is a sign I need to stop looking to technology to satisfy my sexual needs.

  • This is in regards to nanotechnology, and to a certain extent, artificial intelligence.

    We humans, for some strange reason, seem to think that if it is complex, then it must come from complex processes. Nanotechnology is no exception.

    We seem to think that in order to make a nanoassembler, it must be some complex assemblage akin to an atomic level robot with AI intelligence or something (at the very least, a rod processing computer), when so much staring at us in the face tells us that such things simply aren

  • The 19th century expansion of the British Empire's industrial capacity required the forcible opening of Asian and South American markets through military means. Within a couple of generations, Britain had acquired an Empire and was using social engineering, famines, and mass-scaled drug addicted coercion to "rationalize" foreign markets - some into producers, others consumers, others excluded through tariffs and unequal bilateral treaties.

    This was the essence of "free trade" - new markets had to be seize

  • There is lots of talk on the Street about nanotechnology, but are there any legitimate, publicly traded companies working on nanotechnology?

    I know of not one good one. Some throw out the word, but only to pad their press releases.


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