But is the world ready for munchkins?

I Find Karma (adam@milliways.cs.caltech.edu)
Mon, 25 Aug 1997 03:19:24 -0700 (PDT)

Munchkins. Assume that the science is good, the engineering is
feasible, the paths of the approach are many, the consequences are
revolutionary-times-revolutionary, and the schedule is: in our

But what?

No one knows but what. The technology will arrive piecemeal and
prominently, but the consequences will arrive at a larger scale and
often invisibly.

Perspective from within a bursting revolution is always a problem
because the long view is obscured by compelling immediacies and
the sudden traffic of people new to the subject, some seizing
opportunity, some viewing with alarm. Both optimists and pessimists
about new technologies are notorious for their tunnel vision.

The temptation is always to focus on a single point of departure or a
single feared or desired goal. Sample point of departure: what if we
can a munchkin in any electronic device? Sample feature/desired goal:
what if munchkin-based medicinal diagnoses let people live for

We're not accustomed to asking, What would a world be like where many
such things are occurring? Nor do we ask, What *should* such a world be

The first word that comes to mind is CAREFUL. The second is CARNIVAL.
Munchkin breakthroughs are likely to be self-accelerating and
self-proliferating, much as other information technology advances have
been for the past several decades (and as nanotechnology will be once it
kicks into maximum overdrive). We could get a seething texture of
constant innovation and surprise, with desired results and unexpected
side effects colliding in all directions.

How do you have a CAREFUL CARNIVAL? Technofixes spell some of the answer.

Some technofixes had the property of changing human perspective in a
healthy way. Personal computers empowered individuals and took away
centralized control of communication technology. Space satellites
proved to be invaluable environmental surveillance tools, and their
images of Eath from space became an engine of the ecology movement.

I think munchkins are a perspective shifter. They are a set of
technologies so fundamental as to amount to a whole new domain of back
to basics. We must rethink the uses of materials and tools in our lives
and civilizations.

The ultimate responsibility for the wholesome use and development of
munchkins falls upon every person aware of them.

[Adapted from Stewart Brand's preface to


_Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution_ by Drexler, et al]


So, Sally can wait, she knows it's too late as she's walking on by...
Please don't put your life in the hands of a rock and roll band.
We'll throw it all away.
-- Oasis, "Don't Look Back in Anger"