Today's post, Whither Manufacturing? was originally published on December 2, 2008. A summary:


There's no general reason to suppose that nanotechnology will enable a boom in local production. The location of production is a trade off between economies and dis-economies of scale.

Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

This post is part of the Rerunning the Sequences series, where we'll be going through Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts in order so that people who are interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was Recursive Self-Improvement, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it here, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, or summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki. Go here for more details, or to have meta discussions about the Rerunning the Sequences series.

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A post by Robin Hanson is part of Yudkowsky's sequences now?

In discussions about a month or so ago, people expressed interest in running posts by Hanson, as well as a few others (Carl Shulman and James Miller), as part of the AI FOOM Debate. This is the 12th post in that debate by someone other than Yudkowsky. There are, after today, 18 more posts in the debate left, of which 9 are by Hanson. After that, we will return to the usual practice of just rerunning Yudkowsky's sequences.

OK, I figured it was something like that. Thanks.

There are advantages to local production. Every time a customer orders something (whether it be an individual or a company consuming resources), if instead of huge single purpose factories located at a few places in the world, you have general purpose fabrication plants located nearby, it greatly reduces the time lag between an order being placed and a product received.

No need to warehouse final products - you might produce "general purpose" subunits and stockpile those, and every time someone places an order, you assemble the desired final product and send a robotic delivery vehicle out to deliver it.

The advantage of local production is reduced time lag. It might be a matter of hours between someone placing an order and the freshly manufactured product arriving. Moreover, since "nanofabs" can produce a huge range of possibilities, someone could post a refined design for a product, presumably pass some kind of safety inspection, and the moment the product is approved for sale, it could be available everywhere, worldwide, that is near a nanofabrication plant.

Due to these pressures, one can imagine the tradeoffs working out to where maybe every small city has a nanofabrication plant or two, but people don't have them in their garages or basements because of the licensing fees and regulations.

There's another huge advantage here that is much more interesting. The whole concept of a mini-van sized machine that can produce almost anything, including parts to assemble a copy of itself, does a lot more than refine supply chains. You could start the process of converting the entire moon into useful products merely by launching a couple of Apollo sized landers loaded with the seed machinery. On a longer scale, it would make interstellar colonization practical. (since a starship merely needs to transport a minimum set of nanomachinery production equipment to get started, and a big enough library of things to be made)

And, you could escape an apocalypse by building a truly self-contained bunker, buried deep underground with a nano-machinery plant to produce everything you need.