On Edge.org, 160 brilliant scientists and thinkers were asked, “what are you optimistic about?” Gregory Cochran, a professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, chose to speak about self-replicating manufacturing:
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”—it has always been that way.
Most men have been slaves of necessity, while the few who were not lived by exploiting others who were. Although mechanization has eased that burden in the advanced countries, it is still the case for the majority of the human race. Limited resources (mainly fossil fuels), as well as negative consequences of industrialization such as global warming, have made some people question whether American living standards can ever be extended to most of the human race. They’re pessimists, and they’re wrong.
Hardly anyone seems to realize it, but we’re on the threshold of an era of unbelievable abundance. Within a generation—sooner if we want it enough—we will be able to make a self-replicating machine, first seriously suggested by John von Neumann.
Read the rest here. What Cochran slightly misses is that making unlimited weapons is just as easy as making unlimited products using exponential manufacturing. Read my essay on first-stage nanoproducts and nanoweaponry, the type we’d start to see in less than a year if von Neumann’s machines started working.