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Commentary on Nano

Notes and discussion about Nano, the techno-thriller from John Robert Marlowe

(See links in bold for more information on each topic.)

The technology that inspired Nano is molecular manufacturing: building machines out of engineered molecules. Although the novel presents a fictionalized version, the real technology will be powerful enough to be extremely dangerous if not used wisely.

Molecular manufacturing is often thought to use only small machines, but in fact it will be easier to fasten down the molecular manufacturing systems into a nanofactory: a conveniently sized, fully automated appliance that can make large as well as small products. The products will not need to replicate themselves
it will be more efficient to use nanofactories for production than to attach a tiny factory to each product.

The products of nanofactories can include weapons of all sizes, amazingly powerful computers, and replacements for much of today's infrastructure. The benefits can be extreme, but so can the risks. If one group develops molecular manufacturing ahead of everyone else, a worldwide dictatorship appears to be a significant possibility. If two competitive groups develop it around the same time, a dangerously unstable arms race could lead to devastating war. Many other problems could arise from widespread access to such a powerful technology.

Avoiding the worst of the dangers will require carefully crafted and wisely implemented policy
on a global scale.  As if this weren't hard enough, this policy will have to be created and implemented before molecular manufacturing arrives, because the technology will develop too rapidly to allow for an effective reaction. Panicked policy will be bad policy, and could even create several new problems at once.

The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology is dedicated to raising awareness of the need for wise nano policy, and is working to create the needed policy. We urge you to join our network and to support this vital work.

CRN was a non-profit research and advocacy organization, completely dependent on small grants and individual contributions.


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