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
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.
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?
In the absence of
concerted government action, when will molecular manufacturing be developed?
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
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.
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
If a well-funded crash program had
been started, say, in 1992 when
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.
How quickly could
the studies listed here be completed?
analysis of all these
points might easily take a year or more, even if they were approached in
How high are the
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.
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.
If a national
crash program is necessary, how quickly could it succeed?
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.
international cooperation is necessary, how effective could it be, and how
long would it take to establish?
If past experience is any guide,
international cooperation could take years to establish, and would at best
delay the problems.
How detailed a
plan must be worked out in advance? Who must buy into the plan?
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
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.
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.
How long will it
take to set up administrative structures?
What effects will
public perception of 'nanotechnology' have?
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.
What could be
done to delay molecular manufacturing?
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
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.
What would be the
effects of delaying molecular manufacturing?
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.
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
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
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?
3. 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?
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
11. How rapidly will the cost of development decrease?
12. How could an effective development program be structured?
13. 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?
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
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?