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Nanotech Scenario Series

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Asking the Right Questions

"The molecular age may let us connect our actions more directly with consequences arising from them. As manufacturing becomes compressed in time and space, many of its consequences, beneficial or otherwise, are going to be right in front of us." 
Douglas Mulhall

We believe an important function of CRN is to find and ask the right questions. Until we have uncovered the crucial ethical issues, societal implications and potential risks, we can't expect to design effective solutions.

For that purpose, we are indebted to many esteemed colleagues who share our concern and have assisted by directing us to the areas of greatest import. Among others, we must acknowledge Kevin Ausman (Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology), Davis Baird (University of South Carolina), Eric Drexler and Christine Peterson (Foresight Institute), Jerry Glenn (American Council for the United Nations University), Hans Glimell (Goteberg University, Sweden), Lisa Hopper (World Care), Alfred Nordmann (Technische Universitat Darmstadt, Germany), and Dr. Sinclair Wang (Tainano).

A special thank-you is offered to Douglas Mulhall, author of Our Molecular Future, for articulating some of the vital questions to be addressed. Here are some of the momentous topics he expects we may confront in the coming years:

bulletWhat happens to the monetary system when everyone is able to satisfy his own basic material needs at very low cost?
bulletHow would we use cash when digital manufacturing makes it impossible to differentiate a counterfeit bill or coin from the real thing?
bulletWhat happens to fiscal policy when digital information, moving at light speed, is the major commodity?
bulletHow fast will monetary cycles move compared to, say, the ten- or twenty-year cycles of the late twentieth century, when products and patents go out of date in a matter of months instead of years?
bulletWhat happens when we don't have to worry about trade or social services for our basic needs, because most of what we need is provided locally with digital manufacturing, and the biggest trade is in information?
bulletHow do we control the excesses of the ultrarich, the overabundance of the molecular assembler economy, and the challenge to intellectual property laws created by intelligent, inventive machines?
bulletWhat happens if half of all jobs are made redundant every decade?
bulletWhat happens to the War on Drugs when there's no import, export, or transport of contraband because drugs can be manufactured in a desktop machine using pirated software downloaded from the Internet?
bulletWhat happens to democratic controls when individuals can get as rich as small governments in a year or so?
bulletWhat's the relevance of insurance if many things are replaceable at very low capital cost, but liabilities from software are potentially unlimited?
bulletHow should organized labor react when molecular assemblers and intelligent robots eliminate most manufacturing jobs?
bulletWhat is the nature of work going to be?
bulletWhat happens to land prices when an individual can build a tropical farm under a bubble in North Dakota, and get there from New York in an hour?
bulletWhat happens when everyone can go everywhere, whenever they want, and work from wherever they want?

excerpted from Our Molecular Future, copyright 2002 by Douglas Mulhall

Thanks, Doug. It looks like we've got our work cut out for us! To these questions we will add a few more of our own:

bulletWho will own the technology for molecular manufacturing? 
bulletWill it be heavily restricted, or widely available? 
bulletWhat will it do to the gap between rich and poor? 
bulletHow can dangerous weapons be controlled, and perilous arms races be prevented? 
bulletWhat happens to privacy when powerful surveillance devices are smaller than a mosquito, just as mobile, and so cheap that they are virtually everywhere? 

The purpose of CRN is to investigate the societal implications, long-range risks, and effective use of nanotechnology, and to educate those who will influence its use, or be affected by it. In order to provide well-grounded and complete information, clear explanation, and workable proposals, CRN studies, clarifies, and researches all the issues involved—political, economic, military, humanitarian, and technological—then presents the results for both technical and popular audiences.

Results of Our Ongoing Research

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


Copyright © 2002-2008 Center for Responsible Nanotechnology TM        CRN was an affiliate of World Care®, an international, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization.