Is nanotechnology (such as APM) important for EAs' to work on?

post by pixel_brownie_software · 2020-03-12T15:36:13.504Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW · 2 comments

This is a question post.

Contents

  Answers
    11 Sanjay
    8 Aaron Gertler
    2 MichaelA
None
2 comments

Hello there!

I ask this question because I'm considering writing a post about nanotechnology (like atomically precise manufacturing) and it's possible importance (similar to how I wrote about china, cryptocurrency).

I first came across this term through one or two of 80,000 hour's podcasts.

I'm trying to figure out how and why it is important, as I don't know much about the area and I would like to learn more about it. If anyone with at least some expertise in the area could inform/help me, that would be great.

Please do link pages or studies.

That's all from me!

Answers

answer by Sanjay · 2020-03-12T21:39:40.408Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I asked a related question on the EA facebook page a few months back. Here's the question I asked: https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/2592010687521939/

I copy below the question I asked, and the response which I thought was most useful. (I've tried to include the image, but if it didn't work, click through to the fb page)

MY QUESTION

The 80,000 hours article on extinction risk includes a table from an FHI survey in 2008 (scroll down for source) (edited to clarify not necessarily current views of 80k)
As molecular nanotech weapons top the list, this makes me wonder what is being done about this?
The only organisation that I'm aware of in this space is the Foresight Institute (https://foresight.org/) featuring Eric Drexler. I also found the Center for Responsible Nanotech http://www.crnano.org, but I couldn't tell if the website was out of date.
I'm interested in discussion along the lines of:
![]( https://i.imgur.com/swpETg7.jpg )

Notes:Here's the 80k article: https://80000hours.org/articles/extinction-risk/The ultimate source of the table is this survey: https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/reports/2008-1.pdfFurther reading:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecular_nanotechnology#Riskshttp://www.crnano.org/dangers.htmhttps://www.realclearscience.com/lists/top_methods_human_extinction/molecular_nanotech_weapons.htmlhttps://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/17/mini-nukes-and-inspect-bot-weapons-being-primed-for-future-warfare.html

A PARTICULARLY USEFUL ANSWER (from Howie Lempel):

[Disclaimer: I was working on GCRs at Open Phil when the below page was written but I did not write it and don't have any interesting inside information on Open Phil's views on the topic. The views below are my own only.]

Open Phil put out a (very) shallow investigation of risks from atomically precise manufacturing (i.e. nanotech) back in 2015. One thing they found is:

"Unless APM is developed in a secret “Manhattan Project”—and there is disagreement about how plausible that is —the people we spoke with believe it would be extremely unlikely for an observer closely watching the field to be surprised by a sudden increase in potentially dangerous APM capabilities."
https://www.openphilanthropy.org/.../atomically-precise...

This suggests we might expect risk reduction work to naturally ramp up if/when the tech starts developing and that it may be more efficient for risk reduction work to be done once the field makes some progress.

More on this:
“People who are watching the field and know what to look for would be unlikely to be caught off guard even by rapid developments in atomically precise manufacturing. While development could be surprisingly fast, it would be possible to observe the substantial advances in various capabilities of nanosystems (e.g., mechanical stiffness of various types of nanostructures, number of moving parts of mechanical systems, and lattice sizes of materials used to build intricate systems) that would come before the technology reaches its mature form. Hypothetically, surprise could come if there were a secret project aimed at developing the technology, but that would be implausible in the present climate.”
GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Eric Drexler, October 8, 2014.
https://files.givewell.org/.../Eric%20Drexler%2010-08-14...

See also:
https://files.givewell.org/.../Adam%20Marblestone%208-27...

[Note - I haven't thought about the issue recently enough or deeply enough to have my own view on how valuable work on APM risk might be today.]

answer by Aaron Gertler · 2020-03-13T10:42:49.914Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would guess that writing this post would take a lot of time, considering your relative lack of background, and I'm not sure the post would have much impact given the relative obscurity of the topic.

If you plan to research the topic anyway and want to publish research notes, that seems reasonable, but I'd be wary of spending a lot of time to format your notes for other readers, unless you can present a clear value/action proposition to draw them in. (Even if you conclude that nanotech is important, there's a separate question of what a reader is actually supposed to do about that.)

comment by pixel_brownie_software · 2020-03-13T15:18:58.403Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

thanks for your response,

i'm not planning on necessarily writing a research paper or anything that is directly stating an answer - i would more of write something that encourages discussion.

i try to look for topics that are obscure and doesn't really get too much coverage (and maybe pressing as well) - perhaps an example that fits into this category is an "wild animal welfare" where we don't exactly know the impacts but could be something people consider and look into.

that being said, if it isn't necessarily going to go anywhere, i should probably detain the idea until this gets maybe more coverage or is more pressing then i may write a post on it (conveying opinions on it).

answer by MichaelA · 2020-08-25T10:01:30.977Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

In case this is still relevant/useful to you, just thought I'd mention that I've now made a tag for posts about Atomically Precise Manufacturing [? · GW], as well as a link post (with commentary) [EA · GW] for the Open Phil report Howie Lempel is quoted as mentioning in Sanjay's answer. 

One relevant post I've given this tag to that wasn't already mentioned by commenters here is this 80,000 Hours post [EA · GW].

comment by JP Addison (jpaddison) · 2020-08-25T10:21:36.295Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Turns out if you include a link where the "url" of the link is just an english sentence it makes the site behave weirdly. 

comment by MichaelA · 2020-08-25T10:24:53.116Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Oh, whoops! Fixed. Hope it just made that "link" behave weirdly, not the rest of the site?

comment by JP Addison (jpaddison) · 2020-08-25T11:18:55.473Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ah yeah, just the link

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comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2020-03-12T17:56:40.091Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There are at least two things that go by the term "nanotechnology" but are really different things: atomically precise manufacturing (e.g. Drexler, grey goo, and other stuff that is what originally went by the term "nanotech") and nanoscale materials science (e.g. advanced modern materials science that uses various techniques, but not APM, to create materials with properties based on controlling nanoscale features of the material). Which did you have in mind? I think that will affect the kinds of answers people will give.

comment by pixel_brownie_software · 2020-03-12T18:29:11.869Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

i just heard the term as a buzzword -

in terms of what i had in mind, i wasn't too sure on the specifics - since i don't know much about the field

judging by your answer i was probably thinking along the lines of APM (since this seems like an idea that could make objects more efficient if applied correctly such as solar panels).

i'll update my question to narrow things down

thanks for your answer