Nanotech Scenario Series
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
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
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
|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
|Some dangers need to be
|As explained on our
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
DEVIL'S ADVOCATE —
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
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
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.
The Need for Early Development
Next Page: Thirty
Essential Nanotechnology Studies
Overview of Current Findings