Foresight Nanotech Institute Logo
Image of nano

nano-productivity

There’s an amusing cartoon at XKCD:

xkcd: Abstraction

… which underlines yet again how amazing the technology is beneath the abilities we take for granted everyday (and put to very ordinary uses).

Back in this post: The heavily-loaded takeoff I pointed out that that was likely to be the fate of most of the to-us astounding capabilities of nanotech:

The machine I’m writing this essay on could do the pure bit-flipping work of a million of those micros (e.g. in doing a quantum mechanics simulation of a molecule or a fluid flow simulation of a wind tunnel). It does not, unfortunately, let me be a million times as productive.

…There’s a phenomenon that is implicit in almost every economic analysis: the law of diminishing returns. It says, simply, that each dollar you spend is going to get you something worth less than what you got from earlier dollars. It’s simple because all it says is that if there were something more valuable to get, you would have gotten it first, and put off the less valuable thing.
The same thing is true of computing cycles. The text editor I used on 1980’s micro gave me a significant fraction of the value of the one I’m using now — say, at least 10 percent — for probably one hundred thousandth of the cost in instructions. The first instructions in the editing program allow you to type text onto the screen. The billionth ones animate specular highlights on the simulated button-press as you select between nearly identical typefaces.
The parallel, I hope, is clear. As AI and nanotech pervade the economy through the middle of the century, each additional unit of productive work will be put to a less valuable use, since we’re already doing the most valuable uses with the effort and resources we can presently bring to bear.

The capabilities of nanotech are almost unimaginable in current terms. The capabilities of copyable, self-improving AI are similarly staggering. The term “weakly godlike” is sometimes thrown about as an indication of the kind of capabilities we might expect.  But consider: suppose I gave you a tool that would let you examine an enzyme or structural protein in a cell.  And fix it if something were wrong with it. Now how long would it take you to check the proteins in all the trillions of cells in your body?  You need the equivalent of more AI than the intelligence of the world’s population today, just to make cell repair machines work.  But instead of screen-savers, they’ll be gene-savers.

Leave a Reply