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Current Results of Our 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   

bulletTimeline for Molecular Manufacturing   
bulletProducts of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletBenefits of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletDangers of Molecular Manufacturing  
bulletNo Simple Solutions
bulletAdministration Options
bulletThe Need for Early Development
bulletThe Need for International Development
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies
bulletStudy #29     YOU ARE HERE

Thirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies - #29

Overview of all studies: Because of the largely unexpected transformational power of molecular manufacturing, it is urgent to understand the issues raised. To date, there has not been anything approaching an adequate study of these issues. CRN's recommended series of thirty essential studies is organized into five sections, covering fundamental theory, possible technological capabilities, bootstrapping potential, product capabilities, and policy questions. Several preliminary conclusions are stated, and because our understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting the studies is urged. 

CRN is actively looking for researchers interested in performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on the proposed studies.

Study #29 What policies toward administration of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
  There are several options for administering molecular manufacturing. Which ones might work as planned, and how desirable are they? Which classes of problem are suitable for the various options? What are the consequences if an option is tried and fails? Which options can coexist in one society, or even in one (shrinking) world?

 Scope and Degree of Control

  The impact of local policy may reach far beyond local borders.
Subquestion Total control: ironclad, worldwide control of all that relates to development or use of molecular manufacturing?
Preliminary answer This could work, if the controllers were sufficiently ruthless and intrusive. Obviously, unless the controllers are also saintly, it would be a human rights disaster.
Subquestion No control: let a solution emerge?
Preliminary answer The continuing problems of spam and computer viruses and intrusion indicates that this is unlikely to protect most people.
Subquestion Local control: several autonomous regions each find their own solutions?
Preliminary answer Nano weapons, nanofactories, and other dangerous products can easily cross borders. Unless the regions all have an interest in keeping each other safe as well as themselves, this probably won't work.
Subquestion Coordinated or hierarchical control: a mix of local and top-down policy?
Preliminary answer This might be a good approach. Note that it would require an international organization at the top, probably with verification and enforcement capability. Note also that hierarchy is a 20th century invention, and may be outdated/surpassed by human networks. The concept of "network democracy" as suggested by Jim Garrison may work better these days.
Subquestion Other structures? Implications of space access?
Preliminary answer It's hard to control what happens several light-seconds away. This may imply a need to allow only trusted people/groups into space. (It looks like this is our unofficial global policy already.)

 Approaches to Resources

  There are several fundamentally different approaches to dealing with resource allocation and other policy issues. We have covered these in detail in "Three Systems of Action: A Proposed Application for Effective Administration of Molecular Nanotechnology".
Subquestion Security: preserve the status quo against destructive change
Preliminary answer Prevent negative-sum transactions (e.g. theft). Deception and the use of force are acceptable. Commerce and information sharing are potential weaknesses. Loyalty, tradition, and honor are relevant values. Molecular manufacturing will raise many security issues.
Subquestion Commerce: optimize use of scarce resources; collect resources
Preliminary answer Maximize/optimize positive-sum transactions (e.g. free market trade). Use of force is not acceptable. Efficiency, innovation, and honesty are relevant values. Several resources will still be scarce even under nearly-free manufacturing, and much work will still benefit from commercial/monetary incentives.
Subquestion Information (non-rivalrous): maximize availability of non-scarce resources
Preliminary answer Optimize use of unlimited information (unlimited-sum transactions: the cost is very low and is unrelated to the value). Creativity and openness are relevant values. Reputation is a major motivator. This approach may be relevant for many blueprints and nano-produced objects.

 Worldviews and Values

  There are several cultural traditions in the world—very different, and perhaps incompatible.
Subquestion Personal freedom and opportunity, openness, free market (Western)
Preliminary answer This has spearheaded the development of science and technology, as well as democracy. It values diversity, which makes it less destructive/oppressive. It may be unwilling or politically unable to exert sufficient force to deal with major threats to security. This will be countered to some extent by creativity in problem solving.
Subquestion Paternalism, social constraint (Tribal, Moralist)
Preliminary answer Compared with Western, this has more opportunities for social engineering and less resistance/rebellion to government control. But central planning allows less creativity and diversity, and creates more oppression and limitation (at least from the Western point of view). Lack of feedback and emergence allow mistakes to persist.
Subquestion Suffering, nihilism, submission (Fundamentalist)
Preliminary answer As far as we can see, this can only be justified by intangible values alien to Western thought (though present to some extent in America's Puritan heritage). It may also see Western tradition as dangerous and immoral; this may lead to unavoidable conflict.

 Decision Making Options

  There are many ways to make decisions. This is just a sample.
Subquestion Laissez-faire?
Preliminary answer Just let things happen. This is likely to be very hard on the average person.
Subquestion Democracy?
Preliminary answer Requires an informed electorate. Not likely—too much science and technology background required, too many counterintuitive and nonlinear effects.
Subquestion Bureaucracy?
Preliminary answer Adds friction to the system. This is sometimes good, but unlikely to be adequately responsive for most problem solving.
Subquestion Dictatorship?
Preliminary answer Requires a good dictator, which is not likely and perhaps not possible—there's simply too much to understand.
Subquestion Network?
Preliminary answer (As suggested by Jim Garrison.) Not well understood yet, but may be the best option.

 Administration Options

  There are many ways to influence or limit the use of this technology. All have limitations. These are just a sample.
Subquestion Law?
Preliminary answer Must be backed by police force. Too much force reduces the legitimacy of the law.
Subquestion Treaty?
Preliminary answer At best, a process for agreeing to standards and creating awareness of mutually beneficial choices. Won't work if not in the interests of all signatories, though may serve to formalize and focus the use of other incentives such as military threat (see study #27).
Subquestion Social engineering and public perception?
Preliminary answer Will only work on some people.
Subquestion Intellectual property?
Preliminary answer An odd convention, probably over-used in modern economies; not a good match for non-rivalrous goods.
Subquestion Commercial self-regulation?
Preliminary answer Companies will sometimes modify their own behavior to prevent more onerous regulation. But this probably requires a substantial threat of government regulation.
Subquestion Surveillance?
Preliminary answer Surveillance will be extremely useful and effective when sensors get cheap enough and computers get powerful enough to watch everyone full-time and highlight anomalous behavior. There are no obvious inherent limits on the use of surveillance, and several obvious benefits. This poses a severe threat to modern Western concepts of privacy. It also creates practical problems, including strong pressure for full-time behavioral conformity (since any unusual action will be scrutinized, only exhibitionists will be comfortable risking any unusual behavior) and lack of ability to oppose unjust government.
Subquestion Human modification?
Preliminary answer Even more intrusive than surveillance: With compact technology, cheap manufacturing, and accelerated medical research, an implantable device could be developed to monitor and possibly change people's psychiatric/neurochemical profile. This threatens our concepts of autonomy and even selfhood. However, it may be the most effective way to solve the most difficult security problems, making it dangerously attractive. Efforts to design administration must take this possibility into account, either rejecting it or limiting it, with strong safeguards in either case. Conversely, the use of such technology within the administration could serve to limit the impact of destructive people and improve the effectiveness and reliability of the administration.

 Opposing Extremes That Won't Work

  It will be very tempting to choose simplistic extremes of policy, especially if events seem to be leading toward loss of control. But this virtually guarantees failure. Furthermore, extreme policy disasters can't be corrected by further extreme policy; in general, the bad effects will add, not cancel.
Subquestion Crash program vs. delay
Preliminary answer As discussed in study #30, a crash program without substantial policy planning will lead to a powerful technology we don't know how to handle. But a delay, especially if it's implemented by denying the feasibility of the technology, will also lead to lack of preparedness—and reduced ability to control or predict when someone finally does develop MM.
Subquestion Restriction vs. freedom
Preliminary answer A policy that is too restrictive will inspire attempts to circumvent it, from within the administration (idealism, high-stakes blackmail or subversion) and from without (cracking restrictions, independent development). This will require intolerable and unsustainable restrictions, and will eventually fuel a black market where one leak spreads unconstrained nanotech beyond hope of containment.
  A policy that is too lax will lead to a situation that can't be controlled, a "state of nature" in which anyone can strike at anyone else unless eternal vigilance is kept. This will create a public outcry for control as well as government insecurity, leading to overly restrictive policy.
  It looks like the best approach is wide availability of personal nanofactories with built-in technical restrictions. The more benefits are freely/widely available, the less pressure for independent development. The widespread use of 'approved' hardware allows all sorts of less-intrusive controls. See our paper on "Safe Utilization of Advanced Nanotechnology".
Subquestion Global empire vs. independent states
Preliminary answer A declared global empire will be resented, hated, and feared, no matter who is emperor. Preparation for it is likely to tempt preemptive strikes.
Independent states will not be able to coordinate the cross-border policing necessary to prevent cross-border crime and terrorism. Some states will not be able to police themselves adequately. Any state that maintains an uncontrolled nanotech capability will threaten the entire world.
  The best solution is probably an international organization, both to administer the molecular manufacturing that has been developed and to prevent possession of dangerously unrestricted versions by illicit actors. This might be modeled on the IAEA, the WHO, or UN peacekeeping forces. Unfortunately, international cooperation is not at its best right now (in mid-2004); such an organization would take time to develop, and some nations (especially, perhaps, the U.S.) may try to sabotage it and go it alone.
  Both nanotech problems and nanotech solutions are international. If MM goes wrong, some of its problems may be global in scope. grey goo and military nanorobots will not respect national borders. Economic collapse of any large nation will shake all the rest. Likewise, MM risk prevention must also be global. Programs and policies for reducing poverty must be international. Administration to detect and prevent rogue MM 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.
  We'll mention again Jim Garrison's "network democracy" as a possible approach. Small groups with specific focus may be both more responsive and less threatening. However, there still has to be some way to apply their recommendations.
Subquestion Guardian vs. Commercial vs. Information
Preliminary answer As explored above, negative-sum, positive-sum, and unlimited-sum situations require very different approaches. Any single approach will be inadequate, and will not only fail but will be destructive in situations that demand a different approach. (See Systems of Survival on "monstrous moral hybrids".) Effective administration will require application of all these approaches, chosen appropriately to address the various kinds of problems, and probably implemented by distinct but coordinated organizations.
Subquestion Capitalism vs. socialism
Preliminary answer The goal of socialism is to make sure that everyone is provided for adequately by redistributing wealth. Molecular manufacturing will certainly produce enough wealth to make everyone (worldwide) rich by today's standards, and will probably exacerbate imbalances and inequities; this will tempt socialist policy. Socialism is great in theory, but in practice it cripples the main incentives for productivity, innovation, and trade.
  The goal of capitalism is to accumulate resources and use them to generate wealth. However, it can lead to destructive imbalances of power such as monopolies. When the cost of production becomes a miniscule fraction of the value to the user, and when manufacturing capital and labor alike lose their value, capitalistic wealth accumulation may cease to provide its customary spinoff of value to the economy and to society.
  The best solution may be one inspired by software development. Software is another area where the cost of duplication is far lower than the value of the product. For several decades, commercial software has coexisted with free software; each has benefited from the other, and neither has out-competed the other. Commercial software tends to be more polished, adding value; free software (and its recent cousin, Open Source software) has been an important source of innovation, and is available to people with no money to spend.
  Patents or other artificial scarcity applied to the personal nanofactory could restrict trillions of dollars of economic benefit and comparable social benefit. Since a single general-purpose manufacturing system can make millions of different kinds of products, there is plenty of opportunity for corporations to make money by designing and licensing products, and paying part of that fee to the nanofactory inventors. At the same time, vast benefits could be delivered both to poor users and to the common pool of information by designers who wish to make their designs available for free—but only if nanofactory use for producing free designs is not encumbered by heavy licensing fees. This would allow a single fundamental invention, the personal nanofactory, to be used in both a commercial context and a non-rivalrous, unlimited-sum context.
  The difference between socialism and free sharing of non-rivalrous goods should be carefully noted. Socialism is about redistribution: something must be taken away from its owner in order to give it to someone else. By contrast, increasing the distribution of non-rivalrous goods does not require denying them to anyone. Intellectual property (both patent and copyright) is a legal construct, a right invented and maintained by society and granted for the purpose of benefiting society by stimulating innovation while maximizing distribution. Failing to maintain this artificial scarcity does not take away an inventor's intellectual property, because that property does not exist unless and until society bestows it. Under the current proposal, the inventor of a nanofactory would still become astonishingly rich by extracting whatever licensing fee the market would bear from commercial users. Thus the incentive to innovate would be preserved, while distribution would be better than if the IP were completely commercialized. (See e.g. Lawrence Lessig on upstream vs. downstream patents.)

 Post-Molecular-Manufacturing "To Do List"

  After molecular manufacturing is developed, the job is just beginning. This list should be expanded in consultation with various future studies groups and think tanks.
Subquestion Active shield? (Global sensor grid to detect, and possibly respond to, nanorobot activity)
Preliminary answer If the administration fails to prevent the development of small undesirable nanorobots, it may be very important to have a system in place to rapidly detect their activity. For example, Robert Freitas has calculated that a well-dispersed airborne self-replicator of advanced design might produce sufficient copies to block all sunlight in as little as two days. If this development is possible, it obviously must be prevented with multiple levels of safeguards. Research must be done well ahead of time to determine whether such a thing may become possible; unless it can be conclusively ruled out (better than billion-to-one certainty), then deploying an early-warning sensor net and pre-positioning countermeasures would seem to be a minimal precaution.
Subquestion Artificial intelligence?
Preliminary answer Computers will be one of the easiest things to build with molecular manufacturing. A sudden increase in available computer power by many orders of magnitude will surely make various forms of artificial intelligence more powerful, and enable new forms that are not practical with current hardware. Even if runaway AI doesn't introduce inherent danger, misused AI could be extremely powerful. Conversely, AI of various sorts—even something as straightforward as advanced data-mining—could solve several problems that currently have us stumped. It may be worth pre-planning to launch an AI research program as soon as the computer power becomes available.
Subquestion Space program?
Preliminary answer Access to space will become cheaper by at least several orders of magnitude. This should be planned for. Space may be useful for resources, for quarantine, and for science.
Conclusion Many options need to be considered and synthesized. Hastily chosen or simplistic policy is extremely unlikely to be wise or effective.
Other studies 1. Is mechanically guided chemistry a viable basis for a manufacturing technology?
2. To what extent is molecular manufacturing counterintuitive and underappreciated in a way that causes underestimation of its importance?
What is the performance and potential of diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
4. What is the performance and potential of biological programmable manufacturing and products?
5. What is the performance and potential of nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
6. What other chemistries and options should be studied?
What applicable sensing, manipulation, and fabrication tools exist?
8. What will be required to develop diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
9. What will be required to develop biological programmable manufacturing and products?
10. What will be required to develop nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
11. How rapidly will the cost of development decrease?
12. How could an effective development program be structured?
What is the probable capability of the manufacturing system?
14. How capable will the products be?
15. What will the products cost?
16. How rapidly could products be designed?
Which of today's products will the system make more accessible or cheaper?
18. What new products will the system make accessible?
19. What impact will the system have on production and distribution?
20. What effect will molecular manufacturing have on military and government capability and planning, considering the implications of arms races and unbalanced development?
21. What effect will this have on macro- and microeconomics?
22. How can proliferation and use of nanofactories and their products be limited?
23. What effect will this have on policing?
24. What beneficial or desirable effects could this have?
25. What effect could this have on civil rights and liberties?
26. What are the disaster/disruption scenarios?
27. What effect could this have on geopolitics?
28. What policies toward development of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
30. How can appropriate policy be made and implemented?
Studies should begin immediately. The situation is extremely urgent. The stakes are unprecedented, and the world is unprepared. The basic findings of these studies should be verified as rapidly as possible (months, not years). Policy preparation and planning for implementation, likely including a crash development program, should begin immediately.

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