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CRN Publications

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
Arthur Schopenhauer

At CRN, we feel a powerful sense of urgency. We are convinced that our work is vitally important and uniquely necessary. But not everyone agrees with us. Typical objections are: "What's the big deal? Isn't all this stuff decades, or even centuries, away? And anyway, aren't you over-dramatizing the effects of this technology? Why are you trying to scare people?"

CRN is constantly involved in researching and publishing our ideas. The questions above—and many more—are being addressed, and, we believe, convincingly answered.


bulletFive-Minute Molecular Manufacturing - March 2006
bulletNanobots Not Needed - March 2005
bulletGrey Goo is a Small Issue - December 2003
(in chronological order)

Some of CRN's papers are available in a bound, hardcopy format (costs shown in US dollars). Shipping outside of North America may be higher. Papers also can be viewed online or downloaded (PDF) at no cost.

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bullet Safe Utilization of Advanced Nanotechnology - January 2003
bullet Applying the Precautionary Principle to Nanotechnology - January 2003
bullet Molecular Manufacturing: Start Planning - August 2003
bullet Technical Commentary on Greenpeace Nanotechnology Report - September 2003
bulletThree Systems of Action - October 2003
bullet Design of a Primitive Nanofactory - October 2003
bullet Invited Commentary on Royal Society Nanotechnology Workshop - December 2003
bullet Projected Environmental Impacts of Molecular Manufacturing - December 2003
bullet Of Chemistry, Nanobots, and Policy  - December 2003
bullet Accurately Describing a Technology That Does Not Yet Exist - March 2004
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies - May 2004
bullet Safe Exponential Manufacturing - August 2004
bullet Bridges to Safety, and Bridges to Progress - November 2004
bullet Developing Molecular Manufacturing - March 2005
bulletLarge-Product General-Purpose Design and Manufacturing Using Nanoscale Modules - May 2005
bullet Molecular Manufacturing: What, Why and How - May 2005
bulletNanotechnology and Future WMD - December 2006
bulletChallenges and Pitfalls of Exponential Manufacturing - August 2007

LIST OF PAPERS, WITH ABSTRACTS (in alphabetical order)

Accurately Describing a Technology That Does Not Yet Exist - published March 2004

ABSTRACT: This paper explains CRN’s ongoing process of defining and describing our work. By carefully and repeatedly examining our terminology, we hope to succeed in walking the narrow middle line between dispassionate observation and zealous activism; between being boosters for nanotechnology and being sentinels. We aim to avoid being marginalized as irrelevant fanatics, and instead fulfill our chosen function as informed, principled, interested analysts and effective advocates for responsible use of nanotechnology.
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Applying the Precautionary Principle to Nanotechnology - published January 2003, revised December 2003

ABSTRACT: The development of general-purpose molecular manufacturing through nanotechnology carries numerous risks, including the production of potentially unhealthy nanoparticles, the possible creation of tiny, destructive, self-replicating robots, and many others. The Precautionary Principle is often invoked when dealing with situations that might be hazardous; however, the label "Precautionary Principle" is attached to at least two different ideas, which must be analyzed separately. This paper discusses two forms of the Precautionary Principle, which we will call the "strict form" and the "active form", and relates them to the purpose of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, and to CRN's policy recommendations.
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Bridges to Safety, and Bridges to Progress - presented at the November 2004 International Congress of Nanotechnology
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ABSTRACT: Advanced nanotechnology offers unprecedented opportunities for progress—defeating poverty, starvation, and disease, opening up outer space, and expanding human capacities. But it also brings unprecedented risks—massive job displacement causing economic and social disruption, threats to civil liberties from ubiquitous surveillance, and the specter of devastating wars fought with far more powerful weapons of mass destruction. The challenge of achieving the goals and managing the risks of nanotechnology requires more than just brilliant molecular engineering. In addition to scientific and technical ingenuity, other disciplines and talents will be vitally important. No single approach will solve all problems or address all needs. The only answer is a collective answer, and that will demand an unprecedented collaboration—a network of leaders in business, government, academia, and NGOs. It will require participation from people of many nations, cultures, languages, and belief systems. Never before have we faced such a tremendous opportunity—and never before have the risks been so great. We must begin building bridges that will lead to safety and progress for the entire world; bridges that will develop common understanding, create lines of communication, and create a stable structure that will enable humankind to pass safely through the transition into the nano era.
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Challenges and Pitfalls of Exponential Manufacturing - originally published as a chapter in Nanoethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Nanotechnology, edited by Allhof, Lin, Moor, Weckert (2007, John Wiley & Sons)

ABSTRACT: This paper explains exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing, the basic concepts behind it, and why it will be a technological breakthrough of transformative power. We show why preparing for it is vitally important—and will be very difficult. Along the way, we explore how several types of social systems may respond to the changes that molecular manufacturing will bring, including unprecedented material abundance and other opportunities. We take a brief look at the possible timeline (sooner than many people will expect), explore problems in familiar areas such as military conflict, and touch on new classes of problems that humanity will have to face. By the end, it should be clear that the challenges and opportunities created by molecular manufacturing cannot be addressed by any simple solution.
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Design of a Primitive Nanofactory  - published October 2003 in the Journal of Evolution and Technology  (85 pages) 
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ABSTRACT: Some theorists expect that molecular manufacturing will cause a sudden, rapid advance in our ability to design and build nanotech products. Others argue that each product will require significant debugging, so that products will arrive in a stream rather than a flood, even after the first self-duplicating assembler is built. This paper will describe the mechanisms and processes required to bootstrap a macro-scale, programmable nanofactory from a single self-contained assembler. Nanofactory structure, power requirements and thermodynamic efficiency, control of mechanochemistry, reliability in the face of radiation damage, convergent assembly processes including joint mechanisms, product design, and bootstrapping steps are discussed in detail. Bridging the gap between the first assembler and the flood of nanotech products can probably be accomplished in a matter of weeks.   (EXTENDED SUMMARY)   
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Developing Molecular Manufacturing - published March 2005
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ABSTRACT: Any of several diverse pathways might be used to develop molecular manufacturing. There are many strategies, techniques, and tools that may contribute to its development.  Further study will be needed to decide which approach is best. Questions to be answered for each approach include effort required to develop it, performance (throughput and cost) of the manufacturing system, performance of the products. Three milestones can be identified for molecular manufacturing: 1) Basic molecular manufacturing—digital control of precise molecular assembly; 2) Exponential molecular manufacturing—the ability to use molecular manufacturing systems to build additional usable molecular manufacturing systems, making it possible to produce large quantities of product; 3) Integrated molecular manufacturing—the ability to combine outputs of molecular manufacturing into large products. After exploration of the range of options for developing these capabilities, several specific areas for study are suggested. These studies, which could be initiated today, would help to quantify the potential of the technology and the effort required to develop that potential.
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Invited Commentary on Royal Society Nanotechnology Workshop - published December 2003

ABSTRACT: CRN is encouraged by many of the opinions expressed in the report, especially the interest in issues of nanomaterial safety. However, we believe that the report pays insufficient attention to a significant expected application of nanotechnology: molecular manufacturing. Direct chemical manufacturing of complex nanosystems surely will be extremely difficult to develop. However, recent work has produced well-grounded and limited proposals that retain high value and utility. Sufficient effort might develop such systems in as little as a decade, and large incentives may motivate such early development. This possibility can be addressed within the current framework of your studies.
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Large-Product General-Purpose Design and Manufacturing Using Nanoscale Modules - report to NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts, presented May 2005
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ABSTRACT: The goal of molecular manufacturing is to build engineerable high-performance products of all sizes, rapidly and inexpensively, with nanoscale features and atomic precision. Molecular manufacturing is the only branch of nanotechnology that intends to combine kilogram-scale products, atomic precision, and engineered programmable structure at all scales. It is no coincidence that molecular manufacturing has gone far beyond other branches of nanotechnology in investigating productive nanosystems, because high-performance nanoscale manufacturing systems are the only way that these goals can be achieved. Building such a product appears to require direct computer control of very small operations. In other words, it needs programmable manufacturing systems capable of acting at the nanoscale. The core of this project is planar assembly: the construction of products by deposition of functional blocks one layer at a time. Planar assembly is a new development in molecular manufacturing theory. It is based on the realization that sub-micron nano-featured blocks are quite convenient for product design as well as manipulation within the nanofactory construction components, and can be deposited quite quickly due to favorable scaling laws. The development of planar assembly theory, combined with recent advances in molecular fabrication and synthesis, indicate that it may be time to start a targeted program to develop molecular manufacturing.
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Molecular Manufacturing: Start Planning - originally published August 2003 in the Journal of the Federation of American Scientists

ABSTRACT: Despite claims to the contrary, molecular nanotechnology manufacturing is coming soon. Because it will be so useful, there will be strong pressure to develop it as soon as possible, and past a certain point it could happen quite rapidly. Macro-scale integrated nanotech manufacturing systems will improve product functionality, product design time and manufacturing speed and cost by orders of magnitude. This advance may profoundly affect economics and geopolitics, creating enormous benefits and risks. It will be difficult to prepare adequately for such a powerful technology. For all these reasons, molecular nanotechnology should be a current topic in high-level policy and planning.
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Molecular Manufacturing: What, Why and How (links to - published May 2005
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ABSTRACT: Molecular manufacturing emphasizes the use of precise, engineered, computer-controlled, nanoscale tools to construct vast numbers of improved tools as well as products with vast numbers of precise, engineered nanoscale features. It has not been clear how to design and build the first nanoscale tools to start the process of scaleup and improvement, or how easily the operation of many advanced tools could be coordinated. This paper develops a roadmap from today's capabilities to advanced molecular manufacturing systems. A number of design principles and useful techniques for molecular construction via nanoscale machines are discussed. Two approaches are presented to build the first tools with current technology. Incremental improvement from the first tools toward advanced integrated "nanofactories" is explored. A scalable architecture for an advanced nanofactory is analyzed. The performance of advanced products, and some likely applications, are discussed. Finally, considerations and recommendations for a targeted development program are presented.
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Nanotechnology and Future WMD - published December 2006

ABSTRACT: Although most forms of nanotechnology do not pose unfamiliar risks, one advanced field – molecular manufacturing – may present a source of extreme risk due to the implications of the power of its products. Molecular manufacturing will benefit from multiple advantages that other technologies, including earlier generation nanotechnologies, do not possess. Work toward this form of manufacturing is still in formative stages, but development could rapidly become easier, and it may be achieved with surprising speed once a few basic capabilities are attained. Rapid, inexpensive, large-scale manufacture of highly advanced products may have several unfortunate consequences, including new classes of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), unstable arms races, environmental impacts, destructively enabled individuals, social upheaval, and oppressive governance. However, the technology is dual-use and also may be highly beneficial. For this and other reasons, patchwork policy solutions will be counterproductive.
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Of Chemistry, Nanobots, and Policy - published December 2003

ABSTRACT: The ability to build products by molecular manufacturing would create a radical improvement in the manufacture of technologically advanced products. Everything from computers to weapons to consumer goods, and even desktop factories, would become incredibly cheap and easy to build. If this is possible, the policy implications are enormous. Richard Smalley, a prominent nanotechnologist, has tried for several years to debunk this possibility. Most recently, he participated in a published exchange with Eric Drexler, another prominent nanotechnologist, who has been the primary proponent and theorist of molecular manufacturing. This paper examines the arguments presented by each side and concludes that Smalley has failed to support his opinion that MNT cannot work as Drexler asserts.
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Projected Environmental Impacts of Molecular Manufacturing - published December 2003

Nanotechnology may lead to a breakthrough manufacturing technology. Some projected implications have been extreme enough to inspire disbelief and fear. The resulting lack of attention and active opposition are unfortunate, because limited versions may be developed in the next decade, and may require proactive environmental policy attention. If the stated theory is correct, mechanical chemistry can form the basis of a general-purpose fully automated manufacturing system capable of directly fabricating additional manufacturing systems, and also capable of manufacturing large products with nanoscale features and atomic precision. Such a system would be cheap to operate, and manufacturing capability could be increased exponentially at low cost. These pages provide supplemental information to the presentation made by CRN before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board on December 11, 2003.


Safe Exponential Manufacturing - published in the August 2004 issue of the Institute of Physics journal Nanotechnology

ABSTRACT: In 1959, Richard Feynman pointed out that nanometer-scale machines could be built and operated, and that the precision inherent in molecular construction would make it easy to build multiple identical copies. This raised the possibility of exponential manufacturing, in which production systems could rapidly and cheaply increase their productive capacity, which in turn suggested the possibility of destructive runaway self-replication. Early proposals for artificial nanomachinery focused on small self-replicating machines, discussing their potential productivity and their potential destructiveness if abused. In the light of controversy regarding scenarios based on runaway replication (so-called ‘grey goo’), a review of current thinking regarding nanotechnology-based manufacturing is in order. Nanotechnology-based fabrication can be thoroughly non-biological and inherently safe: such systems need have no ability to move about, use natural resources, or undergo incremental mutation. Moreover, self-replication is unnecessary: the development and use of highly productive systems of nanomachinery (nanofactories) need not involve the construction of autonomous self-replicating nanomachines. Accordingly, the construction of anything resembling a dangerous self-replicating nanomachine can and should be prohibited. Although advanced nanotechnologies could (with great difficulty and little incentive) be used to build such devices, other concerns present greater problems. Since weapon systems will be both easier to build and more likely to draw investment, the potential for dangerous systems is best considered in the context of military competition and arms control.

Chris Phoenix and Eric Drexler, "Safe Exponential Manufacturing", Nanotechnology 15 (August 2004) 869-872. Nanotechnology © Copyright 2004 IOP Publishing Ltd.
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Safe Utilization of Advanced Nanotechnology - published January 2003, revised December 2003  (12 pages)
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ABSTRACT: Many words have been written about the dangers of advanced nanotechnology. Most of the threatening scenarios involve tiny manufacturing systems that run amok, or are used to create destructive products. A manufacturing infrastructure built around a centrally controlled, relatively large, self-contained manufacturing system would avoid these problems. A controlled nanofactory would pose no inherent danger, and it could be deployed and used widely. Cheap, clean, convenient, on-site manufacturing would be possible without the risks associated with uncontrolled nanotech fabrication or excessive regulation. Control of the products could be administered by a central authority; intellectual property rights could be respected. In addition, restricted design software could allow unrestricted innovation while limiting the capabilities of the final products. The proposed solution appears to preserve the benefits of advanced nanotechnology while minimizing the most serious risks.
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Technical Commentary on Greenpeace Nanotechnology Report - published September 2003

ABSTRACT: The purpose of this document is to augment a portion of the August 2003 Greenpeace report on nanotechnology and artificial intelligence and to comment on a few specific statements in it. That report's treatment of molecular nanotechnology (MNT) was necessarily brief and did not cover several key areas. The present document supplements Greenpeace's work, explores further some of the misconceptions of MNT, and describes one area within MNT, limited molecular nanotechnology (LMNT), which is currently being pursued by most MNT researchers. LMNT can produce most of the desired medical devices, advanced materials, and product innovation goals sought after today and will be significantly easier to achieve. CRN believes that recent advances in LMNT research should underscore to policy makers the urgent need for discussion of possible consequences, both positive and negative.
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Thirty Essential Studies - published May 2004  (73 pages)
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ABSTRACT: These 30 studies are organized in several sections. The first section covers the fundamental theory: insights that may be counterintuitive or unobvious and need explanation, but that can be double-checked by simple thought. The second section addresses technological capabilities of possible molecular manufacturing technologies. The third section addresses 'bootstrapping'—the development of the first self-contained molecular manufacturing system (which will then be able to produce duplicates at an exponential rate), including schedule considerations. The fourth section explores the capabilities of products, building toward the fifth section, which raises urgent questions about policies and policymaking. The overall objective is to acquire a preliminary but comprehensive understanding of all significant issues related to molecular manufacturing, in preparation for its possible development within the next ten years.
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Three Systems of Action: A Proposed Application for Effective Administration of Molecular Nanotechnology  - presented at the October 2003 Discovering the Nanoscale conference in Darmstadt, Germany  (22 pages) 
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ABSTRACT: Within the next few decades, and perhaps sooner, a new type of manufacturing will be made possible by molecular nanotechnology (MNT). Considering its enormous potential for profound economic, environmental, social, and military impacts, MNT has received insufficient attention in ethical and policy discussions. The first section of this paper provides a brief introduction to MNT, in order to establish the need for increased policy attention. The second section describes three different approaches to policymaking, each based on a different system of action, or set of principles, used for solving various kinds of problems. The third section demonstrates that MNT, as a flexible “general purpose technology”, will require a flexible approach to policymaking that encompasses all three systems of action. The fourth section presents specific recommendations and possibilities for accomplishing this difficult balance between incompatible policy styles.
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