Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Thursday, February 23, 2006
Stand Well Back. Here is the email from JEM that I promised. I've added titles to each of the two sections for ease of reading. He is referring to this post.

The Auschwitz complex: a holocaust denier takes one part for the whole.

JEM writes:

"Before I move on to nanotechnology, I fear I cannot just "ignore the author's more outre political opinions" as you put it.

"He is almost but not quite denying the Holocaust. That cannot go unremarked, especially as his central piece of 'evidence' seems to be that there was no gas chamber at Auschwitz. It is clear that by 'Auschwitz' here he means Auschwitz-I, the main camp, where no Jews were kept prisoner and no mass exterminations took place. Prisoners there were mostly Poles and Russians, and it was a work camp. Many died--between 50,000 and 100,000, it is reckoned, but of starvation or illness or overwork rather than gassing.

"He concedes the possibility of gas chambers (as I understand his ramblings) at Birkenau, as if it was another camp far away and unconnected to Auschwitz. In fact, the full name of that camp was Auschwitz-Birkenau, and it was built specifically to be the extermination "department" within the whole Auschwitz complex. Four gas chamber and crematorium units were part of the design of this camp from day one (the engineering drawings and equipment procurement orders and construction contract paperwork is all preserved: these people were bureaucratic Germans, after all) and these facilities went into "business" as soon as the camp opened its doors in the spring of 1942. Exact numbers are not known, but it's now reckoned between 1 and 1.5 million Jews died in these "non-existent" gas chambers of Auschwitz.

"There was also an Auschwitz-III to provide slave labour for an IG Farben factory in the complex, but that was not an extermination camp either.

"I do agree that jailing holocaust deniers is counter-productive now. Yet I'm afraid it's difficult to avoid allowing Lyle Burkhead's more-than-just-outre views on this topic to colour one's views on what he says on other topics, but I will try.

Nanotech and the Second Law

"I think much of his reasoning on nanotechnology is interesting. Some of it may be wrong, other bits right. But he misses out on what I suspect is an even more fundamental flaw in the Drexler vision as set out in his "Engines of Creation", and indeed any other nanotechnological vision that comes anywhere close, including his own.

"It is the overlooking of (I almost hate to say this once more) the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

"One of the most fundamental problems facing chip designers today is keeping more and more densely built CPUs from melting. The reason they face this danger is that in the process of doing their calculations, they have to move electrons around, and like every other machine, the process is less than 100% efficient -- that's what the Second Law tells us is inevitable. The electrical energy that does not end up translated into repositioned electrons ends up as heat. This is a very serious difficulty and may well be what eventually brings Moore's Law to a stop.

"Now consider a nanoscale replicator, Drexlerian or not. Here we are moving around not electrons but entire atoms. Even a hydrogen atom, the lightest there is, has a mass roughly equivalent to one thousand electrons. But we would not be moving around hydrogen. Carbon (12 times the atomic mass of hydrogen), or silicon (28 times), or iron (56 times) or many other elements are vastly more likely candidates. So each individual nanoscale "operation" could be from 12,000 to 56,000 or more times more energy intensive than each individual electronic "operation" in a CPU. And assuredly the process would be less than 100% efficient.

"Thus, even if a nanoscale replicator were as efficient as a modern CPU, the energy required to run it at the same speed (in operations per second) as the CPU would be many thousands of times greater. Not a problem in itself, perhaps, but it's very doubtful it would be more efficient. So the waste heat would also be thousands of times greater.

"Such a machine would not be in danger of melting so much as exploding. Very violently too: more powerfully, mass-for-mass, than TNT.

"You might think to avoid this problem by running your replicator slowly. But there are going to be trillions upon trillons of "operations' to perform. To run slow enough to avoid explosion would, I suggest, have to be geologically slow. A few hundred thousand years to replicate a can of Diet Coke, say? Can you just hang on please?

"No, it's full-speed or not at all.

"Stand well back."