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
The Need for International Control
Overview: International administration appears to be
necessary for several reasons. Some of the risks of
potentially global in scope. At least one of the sources of
possibility of a nanotech arms race, is explicitly international. Even
well-intentioned and well-policed nations cannot always prevent internal
terrorism, and companies with strong financial incentive do not always design
secure products. Each additional MNT program increases the risk that
unrestricted molecular manufacturing will fall into the wrong hands. For all these reasons, it
seems best to have a single, trustworthy, international administration imposing
tight controls on the technology. However, unless the technology is made widely
available for a wide variety of applications and purposes, there will be strong
incentive for independent MNT programs. Any successful administration
program must satisfy many competing interests.
|Nanotech problems and
nanotech solutions are international.
|Both nanotech problems and nanotech solutions are
MNT goes wrong, some of its problems may be global in
scope. Grey goo and military nanobots will not respect national borders. Economic collapse of any large nation will shake all the rest. Likewise,
MNT risk prevention must also be global. Programs and policies for reducing
poverty must be international. Administration to detect and prevent rogue
MNT programs must have global jurisdiction. An accretion of national
programs may be able to mitigate some problems and risks, but cannot address
all of them. International policies, and international bodies, must be
designed and created before molecular manufacturing arrives.
|Nanotech arms races can only
be prevented internationally.
|Conflict between nations killed millions in the last
century. MNT-based conflict could be even worse. Nations attack when they
feel threatened by others, or to satisfy internal political pressures
including desperate domestic conditions. As discussed on our
Dangers page, molecular manufacturing can easily
lead to an unstable arms race—a very threatening situation. Even nations
that are ostensibly allies may be uneasy about each other's ultimate
intentions, and there are many combinations of powerful nations that
maintain at best an uneasy truce. Unless nations can find some basis for
trusting that MNT won't be used against them in unexpected ways, they will
have no choice but to develop defensive, and probably offensive,
nanotechnology. International MNT arms control, with strict and trustworthy
verification, appears to be the best alternative.
|Internal politics may drive a nation to war even when this
is not a wise course. A nation that is starving may go to war out of
desperation, or a single war-minded leader can drag a nation into a pattern
of conflict and conquest. MNT can help with one of these problems—the
technology can be deployed far faster than humans reproduce, and can
alleviate material shortages for at least a few generations. Bad leaders
cannot be prevented by technology, but again, the best way of dealing with
such situations appears to be an international institution that protects
each nation from each other. It will require careful design to implement a
system that nations can trust enough not to engage in ultimately suicidal
arms races on a national level. But without such a system, arms races and
eventual conflict are far too likely.
|Preventing rogue nanotech
requires international effort and cooperation.
|Unrestricted molecular manufacturing is far too risky,
but useful restrictions will require international cooperation. With
millions of criminals and thousands of terrorists in the world, immense
damage could be done to people and to society. Hackers, even without
intending harm, could create a self-replicating device that could do
billions of dollars of damage—as software worms and viruses have done. Unfortunately, creating and maintaining useful restrictions is a huge job. Companies with strong incentive to protect their intellectual property have
failed. The DVD standard, eBook format, audio watermarking, WAP, and at
least one cell phone encryption system have been cracked. A multiplicity of
security systems only multiplies the chance that one of them will be broken,
removing all restrictions on the technology. The safest course appears to
be a single security infrastructure, designed and implemented with a maximum
of scrutiny from military, commercial, and private experts, applied to all
nanotechnology that could be used to create unrestricted molecular
manufacturing systems. A lot would be riding on this system: international
arms control, commercial intellectual property control, and the continued
ability to innovate without creating unacceptable risk. In the broader
picture, independent or rogue nanotechnology programs would have to be
discovered and prevented. This requires a body with global jurisdiction,
perhaps analogous to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
|A single, international,
MNT development program is safest.
|Multiple MNT programs multiply the risks. If multiple
programs exist, nations cannot be nearly as secure about what their
neighbors are doing. There are more chances for MNT restrictions to be
broken. However, it will be quite hard to stop a determined program that
has support from its government. The alternative is to reduce the desire
for such programs to the point that legitimate governments do not want
them. This requires making molecular manufacturing available
internationally, on terms that all governments will accept, including:
|No (or at least very low) royalty payments to foreign
|Provision for each military to develop defensive
capabilities with an appropriate degree of secrecy, while being able to
track other nations' offensive capabilities.
|Commercial as well as military availability, even in
countries that did not participate in development.
A national or commercial program is unlikely to be able to
satisfy all these requirements. An international program might be able to.
DEVIL'S ADVOCATE —
Submit your criticism, please!
So you want to see Big Brother?
Let's talk specifics, not labels. We do want to see
international monitoring of advanced nanotechnology—just as we have
international monitoring of nuclear technology today. We do not want to see
ubiquitous surveillance of every person. In fact, one of the
risks we're trying to avoid is "personal or social
risk from abusive restrictions". Bad restrictions are easy—and they're what
we will have if people start to panic about uncontrolled molecular
Next Page: The Need for
Possible Technical Restrictions
Overview of Current Findings