[extropy-chat] China with unrivaled nanotech superiority?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Mon Mar 20 08:24:28 UTC 2006

John writes

> In the excellent book, "Nanofuture," by J. Storrs Hall, 
> the author describes a possible future scenario where the 
> United States and the West fall seriously behind China in 
> nanotech development.  
> ...
> I find this a very terrifying scenario, especially because
> of China's past track record and probable intentions for the
> future.  Does the U.S. have a very good chance of falling
> behind technologically as shown in the scenario? 

The U.S. probably *does* have a big chance of eventually falling
behind, but as much as I respect J. Storrs Hall, a few of his
particulars seem questionable here.

>  "It's 2015.  In the United States, business as usual has 
> been allowed to prevail.  Interest in science has continued 
> to decline.  Virtually all the scientists and engineers our 
> universities produce come from, and most return to, other 
> countries.

This is indeed very troubling. In "The World Is Flat" Thomas
Friedman reports that India and China and other countries with
high potential have now developed very luring environments that
are attracting their own scientists and engineers, to the point
that fewer are remaining in the U.S. after schooling.

As for "interest in science" being the reason for lack of native
development, I think not. The sad fact is that the ethnic groups
coming from the U.S. are not so well-endowed with the required
intelligence and talent (by and large, at least in sufficient
numbers). Silicon Valley, for example, is totally dependent upon
Indian and Chinese computer scientists and engineers. Even twenty
years ago, they made up about a fifth of the high tech workforce
here. No telling what it is now; but if more cannot be recruited
from India and east Asia, the U.S. technological effort is doomed
to decline: demographically, Asians will continue to make up only
a very small part of North America.

> Funding for research is mostly for medical applications, and
> that is mired in political debates over stem cells and choked
> with red tape attempting to make it totally safe.

That's completely true, now as well as in Hall's scenario.

> Meanwhile, China has pushed ahead on a broad range of fronts 
> and has produced Stage III replicators.  Products begin to 
> appear from China that cannot be made economically anywhere 
> else.  No official notice is taken in the United States 
> because our labs can still produce better stuff in expensive, 
> one-off, form.  The Chinese are accused of "dumping" and some 
> nanotech products are banned.

This is where he seems to go off the rails a little. So far, 
protectionist movements in the U.S. have not come even close
to keeping out foreign products. The consumer is king, and 
I think that this trend will (providentially) continue, 
anger and resentment at Wal-Mart notwithstanding.

> China proceeds to stage IV and Western Technology begins 
> to look distinctly second-rate. They are rumored to have
> engineering design supercomputers.  The latest generation
> of Chinese jets and spacecraft have significantly better
> capabilities than ours and was designed and produced in
> half the time.  The US military sounds an alarm.

Actually, I would think it more likely that the U.S. will
simply buy Chinese arms. But the hard part here is divining
what Chinese nationalist and global political attitudes will
be. (See below)

> And how do you think the Chinese government would use such
> technological/military superiority if they had it?

Most people in the west customarily view the world in terms of
moral equivalence. For example, throughout the cold war, the
Soviet Union had a big following in the west, and right up to
its end, a great many people felt that "we have to become more
like them, and they have to become more like us".  We see
similar claims today regarding the wickedness of the west.
In short, the West has too little self-confidence, especially
in terms of its political openness and capacity for moral and
ethical behavior.

Therefore, on the one hand, we seem in the West to have a powerful
tendency to minimize the dangers of foreign ideologies, religions,
and Machiavellian temperaments (acknowledging only those evils in
our own governments, as in e.g., the new movie).

Yet the commercialism and sheer profit-making will probably over
time hold China more and more in check. I think it likely that they
will, despite the best efforts of their politicians, develop a more
representative government, respectful of property and liberties.
The very same peacefulness that has descended over Europe, whose
nations were at each others throats for centuries, will probably
descend over the whole world.

(out of order)
> The administration undertakes a crash program to demonize nanotech 
> as "weapons of mass destruction" and get a UN resolution prohibiting 
> it anywhere in the world.

:-)  Yes, I'm sure that China would be severely shaken by a U.N.
Resolution, just as Iraq was. What's to "demonize" about such weapons,
anyway? They really are an annoyance and a danger (e.g. Iran's recent
strivings). But the bottom line is, "What are you going to do about it?".
And I doubt any American government would be so unrealistic to think
that anything whatsoever could be done about China's development of 


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