For Comparison:  Drexler and Nanotechnology

I often flatter myself by comparing these pages and my other writings with those of Erik Drexler, author of "Engines of Creation".

Drexler has done an excellent job of weaving technological fantasy, going carefully over the hard points and answering all the objections, but the book itself contains no real analysis of the literature, to say nothing of empirical research. Yet he succeeded in saying enough about this fantasy of his to justify a lot of subsequent research.

But there is something else about Drexler's book that turned my heart the moment I saw it. This is what I said about it at the time:

On a cold wet Saturday in January I sit and read about amazing technological ideas that could transform the world: genetic engineering, molecular assemblers and replicators, hypertext networks. My head spinning from all these exciting new concepts, I leave my quiet apartment and wander out to the corner store to pick up milk and a newspaper. The weather is not at all pleasant, and as I pass the inevitable hooker on the streetcorner I notice her sad expression as she shivers with cold in her inadequate clothing.

Returning home I pause to leaf through the paper before getting back to my afternoon's reading: "Engines of Creation", by K. Eric Drexler. I don't read much of the paper these days, its too depressing: terrorists kill innocent people with a bomb, a mother murders her young child and hides his body, nuclear waste leaks into the water table, a politician is arrested for influence peddling, a schoolteacher for molesting children.

I put down the paper in disgust and pick up the book I was reading, but I feel a pang of conscience. It's fine to read about the technological marvels of the future, but it doesn't help to solve the social problems of today. Even Drexler, optimistic about everything else, is worried about the social problems that may accompany the new technology. He talks of elaborate methods for ensuring that nanotechnology does not turn into another arms race, and to keep it out of the hands of terrorists. He takes for granted that we will still have social unrest, terrorism, and international conflict in the future.

That's where my pang of conscience comes from: I see a way out of this mess, a way of fixing what is wrong with society, so we won't have all these depressing troubles. And that's the last sentence 90% of you will read. As soon as anyone talks about having a solution to social problems, everyone tunes out. Back to their television set or dimestore novel. Me too, frankly. I usually force myself to glance at the next page or so, to see if just by some remote chance there's a new idea involved, but really, almost anything that offers global solutions to social problems is too nutty, too unreadable, too dogmatic.


Drexler's first paragraph gives me a clue. He talks about coal and diamonds, dirt and strawberries, pointing out that it's all a matter of how the atoms are arranged. This is true: arrangement, organization, structure, that's what is important. We can all see that. My point about the social network is similar: it is the arrangement of human beings that matters, that's what distinguishes the great places and periods of history, from the squalid and miserable.

I like Drexler's notion of assembling atoms one at a time in a very purposeful way to build something that could never have existed in nature. For me the parallel idea is about creating social structure, a person at a time.

Marx said something I can't quite remember about the purpose of studying society was not knowledge but change - to change it.

Marx had a point, but he's not quite right, it's a bit too arrogant, suggesting he knew what the changes should be, which he certainly thought he did.

I don't know what the changes in society should be any more than Drexler knew the right way to assemble the atoms in any of the products he imagines, but the general idea of assembling social-atoms to form some great structure is a very big idea, an enormous idea.

I'd refine it one more step by adding that it is entirely up to the social-atoms to choose the details of whatever they are to become, but the basic idea of assembling people, step by step, one person at a time with the strong bonds that are possible between very compatible people is a very big idea. Call it what you want, and even criticize, say it is wrong, if you must, but surely you can recognize that it is a very BIG idea.

Copyright © 1998 Douglas P. Wilson    

Copyright © 2009   Douglas Pardoe Wilson

Other relevant content:

New: Social Technology through Diagrams

New: Social Techs novel online

New: Social Technology Blog

New: Social Technology Wiki

Please see these web pages:

The main Social Technology page.

Find Compatibles , the key page, with the real solution to all other problems explained

Technological Fantasies , a page about future technology

Social Tech a page about Social Technology, technology for social purposes.  I think I was the first person to use this phrase on the Internet, quite a long time ago.

Roughly corresponding to these web pages are the following blogs :

Social Technology the main blog, hosted on this site, with posts imported from the following blogs, which still exist and are useable.

Find Compatibles devoted to matching people with friends, lovers, jobs, places to live and so on, but doing so in ways that will actually work, using good math, good algorithms, good analysis.

Technological Fantasies devoted to future stuff, new ideas, things that might be invented or might happen, such as what is listed above and below.

Sex-Politics-Religion is a blog about these important topics, which I have been told should never be mentioned in polite conversation.  Alright that advice does seem a bit dated, but many people are still told not to bring up these subjects around the dinner table.

I believe I was the first person on the Internet to use the phrase Social Technology -- years before the Web existed.

Those were the good old days, when the number of people using the net exceeed the amount of content on it, so that it was easy to start a discussion about such an upopular topic.  Now things are different.  There are so many web pages that the chances of anyone finding this page are low, even with good search engines like Google.   Oh, well.

By Social Technology I mean the technology for organizing and maintaining human society.  The example I had most firmly in mind is the subject of  Find Compatibles , what I consider to be the key page, the one with the real solution to all other problems explained.

As I explained on my early mailing lists and later webpages, I find that social technology has hardly improved at all over the years.   We still use representative democracy, exactly the same as it was used in the 18th century.  By contrast, horse and buggy transporation has been replaced by automobiles and airplanes, enormous changes.

In the picture below you will see some 18th century technology, such as the ox-plow in the middle of the picture.  How things have changed since then in agricultural technology.  But we still use chance encounters, engagements and marriages to organize our home life and the raising of children.  

I claim that great advances in social technology are not only possible but inevitable.  I have written three novels about this, one preposterously long, 5000 pages, another merely very very long, 1500 pages.  The third is short enough at 340 pages to be published some day.  Maybe.  The topic is still not interesting to most people.   I will excerpt small parts of these novels on the web sometime, maybe even post the raw text for the larger two.

This site includes many pages dating from 1997 to 2008 which are quite out of date.  They are included here partly to show the development of these ideas and partly to cover things the newer pages do not.  There will be broken links where these pages referenced external sites.  I've tried to fix up or maiintain all internal links, but some will probably have been missed.   One may wish to look at an earlier version of this page , rather longer, and at an overview of most parts of what can be called a bigger project.

Type in this address to e-mail me.  The image is interesting.  See Status of Social Technology

Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009, Douglas Pardoe Wilson

I have used a series of e-mail address over the years, each of which eventually became out of date because of a change of Internet services or became almost useless because of spam.  Eventually I stuck with a Yahoo address, but my inbox still fills up with spam and their spam filter still removes messages I wanted to see.  So I have switched to a new e-mail service.  Web spiders should not be able to find it, since it is hidden in a jpeg picture.   I have also made it difficult to reach me.  The picture is not a clickable link.  To send me e-mail you must want to do so badly enough to type this address in.  That is a nuisance, for which I do apologize, but I just don't want a lot of mail from people who do not care about what I have to say.



Copyright © 2009   Douglas Pardoe Wilson