What will people do when the work ethic becomes meaningless? A whole generation will be rendered bored and redundant, with all the social and psychological problems that will entail.
Or will they? Mark Avrum Gubrud, of the Center for Superconductivity Research, University of Maryland, observes that
"Capitalist industry has urbanized populations, concentrated land ownership, and generated enormous inequalities in wealth and power. The nanotechnic revolution would seem likely to freeze these conditions in place, leaving the urban populations stranded, without work and without a dynamic economy offering hope of upward mobility."
And that will just be the beginning.....
"Nanotechnology will let us control the structure of matter, but who will control nanotechnology? The chief danger isn't a great accident, but a great abuse of power. In a competitive world, nanotechnology will surely be developedů.(It) must be developed openly to serve the general welfare. We will have years to shape policies for its beneficial use, but it isn't too soon to begin the effort."K.Eric Drexler
This will be the most chaotic, exhilarating, innovative, and probably also the most dangerous period in the history of the human race. Everything will be different. And I mean everything.
Fashion, culture, body-image, space exploration, new worlds and visions we can barely imagine. But let's look at something that can be easily imagined. The collapse of our entire civilised socio-economic system. What will happen when factories are rendered obsolete, workers no longer have jobs to go to, money becomes meaningless. Why buy a car when you can grow one from a freely available seed you plant in your backyard? What will happen to the Rupert Murdochs of the world, the Bill Gateses, the Donald Trumps, or the CEOs of Mitsibishi and General Motors, when every citizen on Earth has access to the same limitless resources of production?
It would be incredibly naive to expect that the wealthy would just stand by and see their elite position in society crumble along with the rest of capitalism. Most likely the companies producing nano-machines will take measures to prevent widespread "freeware". For example nano-assemblers can easily be designed with built-in cripple mechanism that stop them making more than one copy of whatever product they are supposed to make. Yet just as sure as hackers today relish the challange of cracking password protection on software packages and uploading the resulting free "warez" onto the Net, so we can say it will be a safe bet that nano hackers will do the same. The stopper will be off the bottle, and there will be no way of getting the genie back in.
"Somewhere in the back of my mind I still have this picture of five smart guys from Somalia or some other nondeveloped nation who see the opportunity to change the world. To turn the world upside down. Military applications of molecular manufacturing have even greater potential than nuclear weapons to radically change the balance of power."Admiral David E. Jeremiah USN (retired),
Consider the impact on society of "teen gangs with nano-factured guns and endless supplies of ammunition and deranging intoxicants" as Damien Broderick envisages in his book The Spike? Or Aum Shinryko clones cooking up sarin cannisters in their suburban kitchens? Or terrorists with their hands on the ultimate doomsday weapon, a special type of assembler that does not stop until it has reduced the entire planet to zillions of copies of itself, a vast seething mass of "grey goo"?
And here is something else to think about - the Singularity - an unavoidable result of nanotechnology?
Just for fun, (and perhaps also despairing at a lack of imagination in much of mainstream science fiction) I have been involved in an imaginative worldbuilding project featuring nanotech, post-singularity artificial intelligences, biotech, and space exploration and colonisation, called "Orion's Arm" (after the local arm of our spiral galaxy)
One thing is not the doubt - nanotech will change the world in ways we cannot even imagine. And in ways we can....just.
oh...and don't forget to upgrade your bio-ram ;-)
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