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Results of Our Ongoing Research

These pages, marked with GREEN headings, are published for comment and criticism. These are not our final findings; some of these opinions will probably change.   LOG OF UPDATES 

CRN Research: Overview of Current Findings

bullet Timeline for Molecular Manufacturing   
bulletProducts of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletBenefits of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletDangers of Molecular Manufacturing  
bulletNo Simple Solutions
bulletAdministration Options
bulletThe Need for Early Development
bulletThe Need for International Development   YOU ARE HERE
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies

Why International Development May Be Safest

Overview:  Even at this early stage, we can make some recommendations about how the technology of molecular manufacturing should be developed. Without some controls, advanced nanotechnology will probably be extremely dangerous—but desirable to many people. In addition, manufacturing systems will probably be portable and easy to duplicate. This means that it will be quite hard to control the use of the technology if unrestricted versions ever become widely available. On the other hand, overly restrictive policy will encourage uncontrolled release. It seems likely that an early, closely guarded, international development program is probably the approach that retains the most control in the long run. CRN will continue working to clarify this issue and make specific recommendations.

The question is how, not whether, to develop MNT. It appears that the development of molecular nanotechnology (MNT) manufacturing systems is inevitable. They are too useful; they will keep getting easier to develop; and even their dangerous qualities may be attractive to several kinds of groups. The question, then, is not whether to develop them, but how: on what schedule, and with what project architecture. The question of schedule is discussed on our Early Development page. This page discusses the design of the project(s). Is it best to have one project, or a few, or many?  Is there a reason to prefer an international project over a national or corporate project?  CRN's preliminary conclusion is that a single international project is best. It allows the most control, and also directly reduces some of the risks.
MNT is powerful and dangerous. Once control is lost it's hard to regain. The point of MNT is to fabricate molecular shapes, integrate them into machines, and integrate those machines into products. All of this can take place in a compact system. For efficiency, it will take place under automated control, and the manufacturing system will be capable of self-duplication. This means that MNT systems (once they are developed) will naturally be small, self-contained, and relatively easy to use. This means that an MNT system that's worth building will probably be easy to steal, copy, and smuggle. It will also be extremely useful: in military terms, a "force multiplier" for almost any goal.
  Experience with computer software has shown that it's difficult or impossible to control the use of malicious programs. A whole online community of "script kiddies" has emerged, finding ways to share viruses and cracking programs. A nanofactory will be vastly more useful than a script kiddie's programs—and useful to more groups. A complete MNT production system could be built smaller than a grain of sand, so would be easy to hide or distribute covertly. If unrestricted MNT fell into the hands of any malicious network—script kiddies, international terrorist organizations, the Mafia—it would be virtually impossible to track down and recover all the copies.
International development may reduce the number of programs—and security leaks. Unless it's acceptable for everyone (especially criminals) to have access to unrestricted MNT, some form of tight control will have to be kept on the technology. Even one easy-to-duplicate manufacturing system falling into the wrong hands would give the "bad guys" unlimited use. High levels of security will have to be applied to unrestricted MNT systems, as well as to (at least) the final stages of the development process. Each independent development program, and each independent MNT administration system, multiplies the chances of a technology leak.
  An international program can absorb national or corporate programs, reducing the total number of programs. It can benefit from worldwide expertise in security, and perhaps from international cooperation to track and prevent attempts to crack security. It can distribute MNT benefits worldwide, reducing the incentive for independent development programs. 
Some dangers need to be addressed internationally. As explained on our Nanotechnology Dangers page, MNT could spark an unstable arms race between nations, and could also be very useful to terrorists. The dangers of an MNT-based arms race will require more study. But one thing that can probably reduce the dangers is international development of defensive technology, to be placed at the service of any nation that is threatened. Also, if a large proportion of the world's MNT expertise is developed internationally, national advances will be less destabilizing.
  International terrorism may also require international action. An international body taking such action is probably preferable to individual nations acting outside their borders. Action against MNT-based terrorism will require at least a solid understanding of MNT, and may require MNT-derived capabilities to be effective at preventing terrorist attacks. An international MNT development project may be an appropriate foundation for addressing international dangers arising from MNT.
International development may reduce special-interest restrictions. The owners of molecular manufacturing technology may choose to restrict its use to increase profit. Although CRN is not opposed to companies trying to maximize their profit (within the law), we believe that profit calculations will not be adequate to administer such powerful technology. Some corporations restrict the use of their intellectual property to maximize their profits, even when thousands of lives could be saved by a slightly less tight-fisted approach. A prime example of this is the recent partially successful attempt by the US pharmaceutical industry to prevent affordable medicine being given to poor countries (see story here and follow-up here). This is not good policy in the long run. It encourages independent, rogue, and even internal efforts to evade the restrictions. A successful international development program should prevent a corporate monopoly (though it can still allow plenty of profit-making).

A national program will likely be subject to security restrictions. There will be little incentive for a nation to make MNT manufacturing systems safe enough to give to their enemies. In this case, only some of the products could be traded—which would be only an incremental improvement over today's situation. By contrast, a well-planned international program would consider from the start the fact that enemy nations would have access to the technology. Security features could be built in. In many cases, countries may allow an international body to inspect and enforce security measures where they would not allow a foreign country to do so. With more options for implementing security, more technology could be given to more countries while maintaining the same level of risk.

Submit your criticism, please!

The only way to prevent abuse of such powerful technology is to have multiple national programs, so no one becomes too powerful.

Abuse is possible in any scenario. Powerful nations have repeatedly abused their own and foreign people. An international program, not tied to any one nation's interests, may have more power and impetus to prevent national abuses than either the abusive nation or its competitors.

Government is inherently abusive, whether national or international. Multiple corporate programs are the best way to go.

Democratic governments, in theory at least, are responsible to their citizens. Corporations are responsible only to their stockholders. Anyway, big companies tend to turn into monopolies and start to look pretty governmental. At this writing, the RIAA is suing a college student for billions of dollars. The tobacco industry has killed millions of people. Finally, corporations are not set up to consider any risk or harm that can't be converted into money. We don't believe corporations alone are capable of properly administering such a powerful technology.

Any group is abusive. Give the technology to the people. Let the right solution emerge.

We believe there is too much at stake to take a chance on the right solution emerging without planning. Left unchecked, abusive individuals would quickly form abusive groups, because there wouldn't be any preexisting legitimate groups to counteract them. Anarchy and feudalism are both ugly, and both are likely in any scenario where individuals are more powerful than government.

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