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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 #30     YOU ARE HERE

Thirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies - #30

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 #30 How can appropriate policy be made and implemented?
  What options are still available to choose the course of molecular manufacturing (MM) and its effects, and how rapidly are those options disappearing?
Subquestion In the absence of concerted government action, when will molecular manufacturing be developed?
Preliminary answer Several technology trends point to molecular manufacturing, or equivalent capability, being developed around the 2020-2030 time frame. However, the cost of development is falling rapidly, the paradigm is becoming well-known and plausible, and the incentives to develop it sooner appear quite significant—the impact on a single industry could easily be greater than $1 billion. This indicates that individual corporations may begin development when the cost falls below $1 billion and the time below five years.
  The cost and time may already be small enough to allow development within five years and $1 billion. Several of the major sub-projects appear to cost less than $10 million apiece. We don't have a cost estimate for the lab work to build the first fabricator, and any estimate may be revised downward by invention of an easier technique. But the cost of a capability to build 3D structures with 20 nm feature sizes and thousands of features may already be less than $1 million, and limited provision of smaller feature sizes and even atomically precise features may be feasible with off-the-shelf chemistry.
Subquestion If a crash program were implemented (or has already been) in the United States or elsewhere, how soon could MM be developed, including a general design capability?
Preliminary answer If a well-funded crash program had been started, say, in 1992 when Nanosystems was published, it could succeed literally at any time. A program started today might be limited by software and nanosystem design, requiring maybe five years of intense Manhattan-project-level effort to develop a CAD program, a few basic molecular machines, and several designers capable of making products from them.
  It should be noted that software (including computational chemistry software) is relatively cheap, and easy to work on in secret; one strategy for asymmetric development would involve developing a full set of software and nanomechanical designs in the absence of experimental verification, then waiting for lab techniques to advance to the point where the lab work could be done in just a year or two. If such program were not discovered until the lab work started, it would be extremely hard to catch up.
Subquestion How quickly could the studies listed here be completed?
Preliminary answer A detailed analysis of all these points might easily take a year or more, even if they were approached in parallel.
Subquestion How high are the stakes?
Preliminary answer It appears that development of molecular manufacturing by a hostile nation would seriously threaten the ability of any nation, including the U.S., to defend itself or to respond effectively to an attack.
Further, it appears that an arms race focused on this technology would probably end in a devastating war with extremely high civilian casualties. Several other independent disaster scenarios might cause unacceptable loss of life in the absence of effective policy administered by an acceptable controller.
Subquestion If a national crash program is necessary, how quickly could it succeed?
Preliminary answer As implied above, a crash program started today might easily take five years. Since a major gating factor may be the development of novel software, this time may not shrink much in the future, though cost can be expected to decrease rapidly.
It must be emphasized that simply implementing a crash program is not an adequate strategy to avoid disaster. In the absence of proactive policy work and implementation of the policy for effective administration, the existence of the technology very likely will lead to disaster. However, as explained below, this is not an adequate argument for postponing the development.
Subquestion If international cooperation is necessary, how effective could it be, and how long would it take to establish?
Preliminary answer If past experience is any guide, international cooperation could take years to establish, and would at best delay the problems.
Subquestion How detailed a plan must be worked out in advance? Who must buy into the plan?
Preliminary answer It must start with the design of quasi-governmental administration (effectively, a constitution as well as procedures). It must also address the practical steps necessary to create that administration. Everyone who will have access to the technology (including the ability to develop it independently or acquire it through a black market) will have to buy into the plan or else be forcibly subjected to it. Note that widespread and prolonged use of force leads inevitably to an unsustainable conflict and/or a human rights disaster.
  An alternate view is that it's better not to have a central over-arching administration at all: that such an administration would be too likely to abuse its power, while simultaneously suppressing the development of technologies (e.g. active shields) to mitigate bad consequences. We believe that in the absence of central administration, too much power will 'trickle down' to bad people and groups, then concentrate and be used for destructive purposes, creating tragedy and probably disaster.
  However, central administration may not be adequate either. An effective solution may require the invention of new forms of administration/government, taking advantage of rapidly organized networks and high information flow.
Subquestion How long will it take to set up administrative structures?
Preliminary answer Probably several years.
Subquestion What effects will public perception of 'nanotechnology' have?
Preliminary answer It depends on the country. In a democracy, too much fear can remove a lot of support; conversely, realistic education about the benefits and challenges/problems can create a massive and productive effort to solve the problems. In other places, e.g. China, public perception probably doesn't matter as much.
Subquestion What could be done to delay molecular manufacturing?
Preliminary answer Scientists such as Smalley, Whitesides, and Ratner have done a very effective job of delaying investigation and development in the U.S., but this may be about to change. CRN has heard increasing frustration and skepticism among young scientists against the position that it's impossible. Still, it would probably be possible to postpone U.S. attention for another few years if key pro-MM spokespeople could be convinced to announce that they had shifted position and now believed it was impossible to achieve.
  However, now that a group in Russia appears to be working on MM, delay there may not be possible. At least one publication from Iran has announced MM as a goal of that government. So it will probably be developed somewhere in the world no matter what the U.S. does. If the U.S. doesn't work on it, it might take between 5 and 10 years; if the U.S. actively opposes development and/or sabotages programs it's aware of, it might be stretched to 10-15 years, though this doesn't appear at all certain.
Subquestion What would be the effects of delaying molecular manufacturing?
Preliminary answer If it could be delayed three decades, its impact may already be largely eclipsed by other powerful technologies. However, this long a delay is unlikely.
If delayed by one to two decades, general nanotechnology progress combined with continuing theoretical and hobby work could make it much faster and more widely proliferated once it happens: the recipe could spread widely and quickly, and could be easily applied. The sources and timing of development would become increasingly hard to predict.
  Also, realization of all the benefits (reduction in poverty, improvement in health, increased abundance providing for aging populations, avoidance of severe ecological collapse) would be delayed. This could account for tens of millions of deaths per year. Anyone who deliberately delays molecular manufacturing by even a few years could go down in history beside Stalin for mass murder by deprivation.
Conclusion 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.
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?
29. What policies toward administration of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?

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