This paper builds on concepts introduced in my paper, "Three Systems Of Ethics For Diverse Applications," available at no charge from this web
Any organization has an explicit or implicit code of ethics: rules that
its members are expected to follow. We expect merchants to be honest,
policemen to be honorable, and librarians to be informative. There
are at least three ethical systems that are commonly used to administer
different types of resources. Defending against loss is best achieved
by Guardian ethics, which include the use of force and deception.
Resources that can be traded to mutual benefit are best administered with
Commercial ethics, which include honesty and efficiency. Things that
can be freely duplicated, producing unlimited benefit, are best handled
with Information ethics, which maximize the accessibility and utility of
Nanotechnology presents a wide range of problems and opportunities:
not just diverse issues, but different kinds of issues. Many
of these issues have arisen already, with older technologies and institutions.
Some of the issues are new, and even the old issues take on new urgency
when they occur in new combinations. Nanotech will make most existing
products quite a bit more powerful and flexible; it will probably also
allow the creation of new products, and even of new ways of manufacturing
and distributing products. The promise of nanotech is material abundance
and rapid improvement of technology at low cost and high convenience.
The threat of nanotech is the potential of developing and fabricating dangerous
weapons, drugs, and other undesirables covertly or in large quantity.
To minimize the threat while maximizing the benefit will require the cooperation
of many organizations of several distinct types.
This paper provides a brief overview of the problems and benefits created
by nanotechnology, and substantiates the claim that a variety of ethical
systems will be necessary to deal appropriately with the range of issues
raised by nanotech. It begins by discussing the power of nanotechnology
as a technology, then surveys the risks, commercial opportunities, and
abundance that may be created by nanotech, and concludes by restating the
need for the deliberate development of collaboration between diverse organizations
with radically different ethics.
The Capabilities of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology has several meanings. The National Science Foundation
defines nanotech as, "Research and technology development at the atomic,
molecular or macromolecular levels, in the length scale of approximately
1 - 100 nanometer range, to provide a fundamental understanding of phenomena
and materials at the nanoscale and to create and use structures, devices
and systems that have novel properties and functions because of their small
and/or intermediate size." By this definition, some kinds of nanotechnology
exist already. Computer manufacturers are exploring new types of
circuits built with individual molecules, and other technologies too numerous
to list are being developed or already in use.
Rapid prototyping is the production of 3D parts using a sort of 3D printer.
Parts can be made of plastic, metal, or other substances, and can be quite
intricate. Efforts are currently under way at the macro-scale to
build rapid prototyping systems that can use a variety of materials to
build complete products, not just parts. We should expect rapid prototyping
to develop at least as rapidly as 2D color printing. It's easy to
forget how rapidly inkjet printers have developed from grainy black-and-white
to photo-quality color. Even if rapid prototyping does not become
economically viable for home use, it will certainly find a niche in industry
that will fuel its continued development.
At least one rapid prototyping capability, dip-pen nanolithography (DPN),
is being developed at the nanoscale. DPN can be done with a desktop
machine, and can deposit a wide variety of materials. It seems clear
that, to at least some extent, we will be able to build structures with
nanometer-scale parts. Nanoscale motors and structures have already
been tested in the lab. There is no evidence that a nanoscale machine
would violate any laws of physics; the only question is how well we can
engineer such a thing, and how long it will take to invent and develop
a particular device.
Certain visionary organizations such as Foresight Institute assert that
we will be able to build entire robot systems at the nanometer or even
atomic scale. Such a system could be used to build a rapid-prototyping
machine capable of duplicating its own construction. Again, there
is no evidence that such a thing is impossible, though it would certainly
take a huge engineering effort to design and build the first working model.
However, such an effort might pay off; a molecular manufacturing system
would have several advantages over conventional bulk manufacturing processes.
For one thing, because atoms are all the same size, it would be able to
produce exact, not just approximate, copies of any design it was given.
The first system could build ten, and each of them could build ten... the
user of such a device could quickly produce an unlimited amount of manufacturing
capability. It should be noted that many small manufacturing systems
could be combined into a convergent-assembly factory, where parts are assembled
by automation to make larger parts; this is the preferred design, since
a large factory is easier to use (and easier to keep track of) than billions
of tiny "assemblers".
Even if a desktop-scale, convergent-assembly, rapid-prototyping nanofactory
is too difficult to build in the near term, the combination of rapid prototyping
and nanometer-scale technology will enable a wide range of new product
designs with an unprecedented ease of manufacture. However, the complexity
of a desktop-scale nanofactory is probably less than that of a large commercial
software package, and the return on investment is far greater. If
one projects any of several technology curves, it appears likely that we
will be building machine-scale molecules, or molecule-scale machines, within
a few decades. For the sake of argument, this paper will assume the
development of a self-duplicating desktop nanotech factory. The path
of technology development may not lead in this direction, but some technology
of equivalent power will certainly be developed within the lifespan of
Nanotech will also have a large impact on the most mundane products.
Carbon nanotubes (Buckytubes) are many times as strong as steel, and can
also be used as wires, computer switches, chemical sensors, heat conductors,
and for storing hydrogen. Silicon nanocrystals do interesting things
to light; they can be used for biotech research, optical computing, and
to make more efficient light bulbs. Nano-sized aluminum powder makes
a better rocket fuel. Zeolites, materials with nano-sized holes,
are useful in all sorts of industrial processes. The list goes on
and on--every time we study something at the nanometer scale, we find new
effects that are often amazingly useful, both for new products and in existing
products. Even if we ignore the nano-robot scenarios, we will see
unprecedented improvement in many of our current technologies, including
computers and weapons. Even the conservative opinions about nanotechnology
sound like a new industrial revolution.
Reducing the Risks of Nanotechnology: Guardian Systems
In 2002, researchers used DNA purchased over the Internet to build fully
infectious polio virus. A nanotech-based rapid-prototyping or manufacturing
capability, whether available in the home or by mail order, would be able
to build things more intricate and functional than a simple virus.
Nanometer-scale computer circuitry will probably be one of the first products;
this enables all sorts of computing, communication, and surveillance devices.
If the technology is based on biochemistry, then medicines, drugs, and
poisons may be available; indeed, a wide range of custom-designed chemicals.
If the technology is based on rigid machine parts, then a wide range of
shapes and manipulations will be possible; it has already been demonstrated
that a cavity in plastic can act as a "binding site" to trap chemicals,
so even a purely mechanical nanotechnology should be able to interact with
biochemical systems to some extent.
Today's supercomputers can be used for tasks of military significance,
such as simulating nuclear explosions and cracking codes. In fact,
sufficiently powerful computers are considered a munition (armament), and
their export is controlled. Certain software, including some common
encryption software, is also considered a munition. But the supercomputers
of today are the desktop computers of tomorrow and the palmtops of the
day after, and nanotechnology will certainly allow the building of computers
that are immensely powerful by today's standards. These computers
may be integrated with devices of varying degrees of sophistication; but
a near-magical surveillance technology could be packaged into a device
too small to see. Even the mundane types of nanotech products may
need to be controlled.
The more extravagant suggestions, such as "gray goo," can get quite
scary. Gray goo is a kind of nanodevice that takes in biomass and
turns it into copies of the gray goo device. In theory, if such a
device were not countered, it could "eat" the biosphere. Fortunately,
the design of such a device would be quite difficult. Furthermore,
devices of the gray goo class would have no commercial or even military
use, since more specialized non-replicating devices would be far more efficient.
It is thus highly unlikely that anyone would build a gray goo, or device
that could run amok and become gray goo, by accident, and military or commercial
organizations would have little interest in building such a thing on purpose.
However, the prevalence of computer viruses indicates that some people
build things like this for fun.
If approached with pessimism, nanotech appears far too dangerous to
be allowed to develop to anywhere near its full potential. However,
a naive approach to limiting nanotech R&D, such as "relinquishment,"
is flawed for at least two reasons. First, it will almost certainly
be impossible to prevent the development of nanotechnology somewhere in
the world. China, Europe, and Japan all have thriving nanotechnology
programs, and the rapid advance of "enabling technologies" such as biotech,
MEMS, and scanning-probe microscopy (SPM) ensures that nanotech R&D
efforts will be far easier in the near future than they are today.
Second, nanotech will provide benefits that are simply too good to pass
up, including environmental repair; clean, cheap, and efficient manufacturing;
medical breakthroughs; immensely powerful computers; and easier access
If the spread of nanotech ability cannot be prevented, then the resulting
problems must be dealt with piecemeal. Some sort of watch will have
to be kept, on an ongoing basis, to reduce the number of criminals, terrorists,
and hobbyists building dangerous nanodevices, and to clean up problems
when they do occur. A deployment of nasty stuff such as "time bomb
dust" or "gray goo" might have to be dealt with quickly, forcefully, and
invasively. Thus a nanotech police organization would need broad
powers to exert force on random people or property. It is crucial
that such an organization be incorruptible. Several of the Guardian
ethics, such as "Shun trading" and "Be exclusive," are designed to minimize
corruption. Others, such as "Exert prowess," "Take vengeance," and
"Deceive for the sake of the task," are uncomfortable to many people but
When facing a new and rapidly improving technology, it is tempting to
think that a guardian organization would need to adapt rapidly. However,
there is a good reason why Guardian ethics include "Adhere to tradition"
and "Be fatalistic." An organization that allows itself to change
too quickly may lose focus. In addition, if the guardians are too
quick to try new things, they may create cures worse than the diseases.
Of course, innovation will be necessary, but it must occur outside of the
Guardian mindset. This is one of several reasons why a Guardian-only
solution such as attempting to outlaw nanotech research cannot work.
Instead, the guardians must be willing to allow a broad range of innovation,
carried out by more than one type of organization, and then adapt the most
suitable technologies to do their work.
Nanotech For Profit: Commercial Systems
"Be thrifty. Be optimistic. Be efficient. Be industrious.
Be honest." No, it's not the Boy Scout Oath; it's a few of the Commercial
ethics. Commercial organizations will work very hard to give people
what they want--or what they will pay for, which is frequently the same
thing. If a product needs to be developed to satisfy a market, some
company somewhere will probably be working on it. Money can be a
Commercial organizations must compete, but they are not allowed to use
force--that is reserved for Guardian organizations. So they try to
make their products better, and sell to more people. They are willing
to invest in developing products, and making them easier to use, and making
consumers aware of them. They are accustomed to collaborating and
innovating, and to making and keeping contracts. Nanotechnology encompasses
hundreds of new technologies, many of them quite specialized and quite
useful. The development of all this potential requires an incentive,
and commercial organizations will use the incentive of money to bring the
benefits of nanotech to a wide swath of the population. Without the
commercial system, many applications of nanotech would not be developed
nearly as quickly, if at all.
In fact, the benefits of capitalism are so well established that it
would be redundant to spend more time on them here. I will, however,
mention some limitations. Motivated by money, corporations do not
tend to consider factors that cannot be quantified. Some industries
are notorious for creating environmental or health problems, simply because
it is profitable to do so. In addition, money tends to flow where
it can achieve a quick return on investment; venture capitalists won't
invest in a project that takes longer than a few years. Long-term
benefits, like hidden costs, are largely ignored by the commercial mindset.
This is not bad; it simply means that Commercial entities cannot be the
sole decision-makers. Some opportunities would be missed due to long
development cycles or unwillingness to do "pure research," and some problems
would be created that, even if they were acknowledged, would not be avoided
due to institutionalized short-sightedness.
Another limitation of Commercial ethics is that there is no obligation--none!--toward
people who can't afford to pay for a product or service that they need.
Again, this is not bad, as long as there are non-commercial organizations
that can take up the slack. A philanthropic money-grubbing corporation
is a contradiction in terms--it would become ineffective through making
unprofitable choices. What this means is that commercial organizations
should do what they do best, developing and selling products with a relatively
short planning horizon, but they should not claim ownership of everything.
A society based entirely on commercial ethics would have some people starving
in the streets, and most of us would not want to live there. The
solution is not to nationalize commercial entities. Societies that
have tried that have seen their economies stagnate or implode. The
solution is to maintain thriving commercial entities, caring only about
the bottom line, in balance with other entities using other ethics.
Fortunately, nanotechnology--at least the more advanced forms--will allow
the creation of vast amounts of non-commercial, widely-distributable wealth.
Unlimited Benefits of Nanotechnology: Information Systems
The invention of writing allowed information to be stored for later use,
and even copied verbatim. The printing press made the copying process
much easier, giving many more people access to the information. Computers,
with networks and word processors, have reached another level. The
cost of copying information is virtually zero. You can write a book
yourself, then email it to all your friends or put it on a web site for
the whole world to see. You can do the same thing for recipes, music,
and drawings. With some training, you can even write a better word
processing program so that all your friends--or the whole world--will find
it easier to write books. There are programs to help you write that
word processing program, and there are people working to improve those
programs. The whole system can be improved exponentially, as long
as people are willing to "give away" their work. It may seem strange
at first, but many people are willing to do just that. Microsoft
operating systems cost hundreds of dollars. The Linux operating system
is absolutely free. How can this be? What induced the thousands
of Linux programmers to work without pay?
A look at the Information ethics gives a clear answer to that question.
It's only a matter of time until the manufacture of products becomes
as cheap as the copying of files. Nanotechnology will help this process
along, because the first practical self-duplicating factory will almost
certainly be designed on the nanometer scale. A tabletop model might
weigh two pounds, and use methanol as a raw material. The amount
of methanol required to produce a new factory would cost less than a dollar,
and a well-designed factory could process that much material in an hour
or so. Once one such factory exists, it and its copies can be used
to make an unlimited number of tabletop factories, cheap enough to give
away. Building a new product would be as simple as emailing its blueprint
to the factory--which might be sitting beside your computer.
If nanotech factories were ubiquitous, then their products would be
readily available. The only limits would be raw materials--which
would be completely renewable--and licensing fees for the products.
If a product design were created and given away, as Linux was given away,
anyone who wanted or needed one could have it. Any product that could
alleviate poverty or suffering would be instantly available to everyone.
And as soon as a need was recognized, designers and programmers would be
competing to be the one to create and give away the solution. Imagine
the ego boost of knowing that your product, your hobby, has improved the
lives of millions of people! And don't forget the reputation you
would gain from such a coup.
Of course this would only be possible if the factories were not restricted
to prevent their making free products. Commercial entities, of course,
would have a strong interest in preventing competition from products that
people didn't have to pay for. And Guardian entities would be sweating
over the malicious uses that an unrestricted factory could be put to.
A completely uncontrolled factory looks like a very bad idea for several
reasons, including intellectual property violations and dangerous products.
A completely controlled factory is a bad idea for one very simple reason:
total control would prevent the alleviation of vast amounts of human suffering,
and the creation of an undreamed-of level of prosperity. Some sort
of compromise must be reached.
Diverse Ethics Require Diverse Organizations
The esprit de corps of an army is radically different from the corporate
culture of a company, and both are different from the "hacker ethic" of
an Open Source project. A quick look at the following table of ethics
(extracted from "Three Systems Of Ethics For Diverse Applications";
see references in that paper) shows why this must be so. The ethical
use of force, coercion, and secrecy requires a very different mindset from
the honesty and cooperation required for proper trading. Information
ethics are just as dissimilar: no one would throw open a store, or a fortress,
and invite everyone to enter and take what they wanted, but Information
ethics are designed to do just that.
|Information - Spread Innovation
||Commercial - Improve the Status Quo
||Guardian - Maintain the Status Quo
Imagine a programmer working at 2 AM to add a feature to an Open
Source program he didn't write. The programmer is not paid for this
work; he does it because he wants the program to be more usable and more
popular; he has been working for ten hours without a break. At 2:30
AM he adds his name to the list of authors, uploads the improved program
to a web site for free distribution, then spends the next hour reading
free articles on-line.
Imagine a small neighborhood shop. The employees should be
ready to do business with anyone who walks in, and must maintain a reputation
of honesty with both suppliers and customers. The store must continually
improve, or the other stores will lure away its customers. A small
business owner does not have a lot of free time and must work efficiently.
Imagine a fortress guarding a frontier. The soldiers must
always be prepared to fight, but most of the time they are training or
relaxing. Strict discipline is necessary to make them a unified fighting
force. One traitor, or paid spy, can get them all killed. Visiting
merchants are a distraction and a security problem; too much money floating
around can weaken their dedication to the task.
||[Rely on force]
||[Rely on trading]
||Use initiative and enterprise
|Publish all information
||Deceive for the sake of the task
||Promote comfort and convenience
||Make rich use of leisure
|Respect authorship; Ignore ownership
[Defend your territory]
|Demonstrate the superiority of your own ideal
||Dissent for the sake of the task
||Be obedient and disciplined
|Invent and create
||Be open to inventiveness and novelty
||Adhere to tradition
||[Adapt to the system]
|Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
||Collaborate easily with strangers and aliens
|Be unique; Develop a reputation
||Invest for productive purposes
||[Fight, when necessary]
||Come to voluntary agreements
|| Show fortitude
||[Treasure financial success]
|| Treasure honor
It should be clear that no person, or organization, can simultaneously
follow all of these ethics. Attempting to switch systems would be
disastrous; the organization would become schizophrenic and no one, including
the members, would know what to expect from it. Even maintaining
several branches within the same organization would be difficult; leading
a Guardian organization is very different from leading a Commercial or
Information one. Any problem sufficiently complex to require more
than one system of ethics cannot be solved by a single organization.
The solution requires several organizations working together, with clear
lines of responsibility so that the organizations do not attempt to extend
themselves into territory they are not competent to deal with.
A successful organization will usually attempt to extend its influence,
to grow larger and deal with more issues. In general, Guardian groups
are threatened by change, and want to control everything; Commercial groups
want to own and use everything, even things that cannot be priced; and
Information groups want everything to be free, even secrets and private
property. When new issues arise, it sometimes takes time to decide
what kind of organization should deal with them. For example, companies
in America used to use force to end strikes, sending in violent people
to beat up the striking workers. This is a clear violation of Commercial
ethics, but it took some time before the use of force by companies was
curbed. When a new issue arises that requires action from all three
types of organizations, it will require great care to avoid misapplication
of ethics. There is a very real risk of creating, in Jane Jacobs'
words, a "monstrous moral hybrid" which, by applying the wrong ethics to
a situation, will make wasteful or destructive choices.
Building a Nanotech Society: A Balance of Power
As described above, nanotechnology will present a large range of new problems
and new opportunities. Commercial and Information groups cannot be
trusted to take appropriate precautions in every case, so a Guardian approach
is sometimes necessary. Likewise, Guardian and Information ethics
do not create money, so Commercial organizations must be involved to pay
for large parts of the development and deployment of the technology.
Finally, although Guardian ethics include "Dispense largesse," neither
Guardian nor Commercial organizations can be expected to create and distribute
the almost limitless benefits that will become possible from vastly improved
materials and manufacturing.
Ideally, each organization involved in nanotechnology would be aware
of its own ethics and the ethics of the organizations it interacts with,
and make good decisions about which problems to tackle and which problems
to leave for someone else. In practice, of course, organizations
are usually not so self-aware, and even when they are, short-sighted self
interest may tempt them to expand into areas where they have no competence.
In the end, an organization that overreaches itself will find that its
plans don't work; it will make ineffective and antisocial decisions, and
it will be out-competed by its fellow organizations and attacked by those
it has encroached on. However, such a process may take much time
and cause much destruction; consider the long-delayed fall of the Soviet
Union, due in large part to its application of Guardian ethics to commerce
and information. Nanotechnology will develop too quickly for such
slow adjustments. If an organization manages to usurp power in an
area where it does not belong, and hold that power for even a few years,
it may create an imbalance that tempts a radical and destructive solution.
For example, if no institution takes responsibility for forcibly preventing
the worst abuses of the new technology, commercial liability will act to
reduce the risks of any given design, and this may prevent disaster for
a while. But as nanotech becomes more accessible, more pervasive,
and more powerful, eventually a security hole or design flaw will cause
a breakdown, a vulnerability that can be exploited, or an unexpected use
as a weapon. Likewise, if no institution is allowed to distribute
nanotech-related information and products freely, clandestine and foreign
institutions will spring up to do the job, creating a massive exchange
of "pirate" designs and a security liability. If commercial activity
is overly restricted by Guardian interests, a black market will form.
None of the three ethical systems contains the commandment, "Be aware
of the limitations of your ethics." Most organizations that attempt
to deal with nanotech will not know why they act as they do or why they
cannot successfully address certain problems. If not constrained
externally, they will try and fail, perhaps creating significant waste
or even tragedy. Yet the organization that normally does the constraining,
the government, is itself limited in its ethics and its understanding of
them. The design of our government includes many provisions, such
as free interstate trade, that promote commercial activity. It even
includes some, such as the patent system, that promote sharing of information
(although with a commercially significant incentive that limits the utility
of the information). A century ago, the Information ethic could be
found largely in the scientific research community, which did not interact
directly with commercial activities. More recently, however, the
patent system appears to be supporting commerce more than information,
by granting a flood of poorly-evaluated patents; furthermore, scientific
research has also become more closely tied to commercial endeavor.
A backlash is building against the free copying of information, with Digital
Rights Management, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and network snooping
aiming to curtail most illegal copying--and some legal copying as well.
Although there are some partnerships between Commercial and Information
entities, such as Red Hat Software and the Linux project, there are many
problems yet to be resolved before Information ethics can find its proper
place in society.
The phrase, "Information economy," is a clear symptom of attempting
to mix two ethical systems. Companies that tried to make money in
the Information Economy were doomed from the start. One after another,
they found that they could get a large number of users as long as the "customers"
were not paying them any money; the customer base grew exponentially, as
might be expected in an unlimited-sum system. Yet when the companies
began charging fees, most of the users went elsewhere. We may suspect
that many of these users felt that charging fees for what had been a free
service was unethical. In terms of Information ethics, it is in fact
improper to charge fees. The companies that succeeded, such as Amazon.com,
were the ones that offered a traditional Commercial service, using the
vast potential of the Internet simply as a communication channel.
A similar lesson will be learned with nanotech: most of the potential of
nanotech will be inaccessible to Commercial organizations, and yet Commercial
organizations will be necessary to keep the money flowing.
A Specific Proposal
The Internet was originally created by a governmental agency. As
it grew, it was supported by funding and technology from many sources,
including Guardian (government), Commercial (corporate web sites and private
users paying ISPs), and Information (hobbyist programmers, responsible
among other things for creating the Internet Protocol). The Internet
is an infrastructure, usable by any group. A comparable nanotechnology
infrastructure could provide a project that all three types of groups could
contribute to. Guardians could regulate, Commerce could charge tolls,
and Information groups could enhance both the infrastructure and the products
available through it.
As explained above, a tabletop factory appears to be quite possible
with moderately sophisticated nanotech. Such a factory could form
the core of a nanotech delivery infrastructure. Depending on the
cost of the factory, it could either be available in service bureaus or
in individual homes. It would be able to produce an immense range
of incredibly useful products at very low cost. The benefits to society
would be almost incalculable: the financial and environmental costs of
manufacturing and transportation would disappear, and new products would
be available far more quickly, and customized for each user.
Once a nanofactory can be built, people will demand access to it; it
is too useful to pass up. If a legitimate one is not provided, people
will obtain black market devices of comparable functionality. Such
devices would presumably be uncontrolled, short-circuiting any attempt
to regulate, tax, or charge royalties on any product they produced.
Since a small nanofactory can make a bigger one, and a large one can make
thousands of duplicates, smuggling would be impossible to prevent.
It is in the interests of both Guardian and Commercial organizations to
supply nanofactories, as capable and flexible as possible, to the entire
population, to minimize the black market and the illicit information distribution
networks. This flexibility must include the ability to build certain
products with minimal royalties or taxes--preferably zero added cost, because
anything else will only encourage illicit factories. Of course, the
factories cannot be completely flexible. Certain weapons, drugs,
and dangerous nanobots should be prohibited, and all commercial intellectual
property should be controlled according to the wishes of the owner.
However, aside from these limitations, Information workers should be given
free rein to design and give away any product. This will greatly
reduce the pressure for illicit factories.
Free availability of freely designed products will not eliminate commercial
value; "Promote comfort and convenience" is a Commercial ethic, but not
an Information ethic. We see this in practice--it is well known that
Linux is more difficult for the average user than, say, Microsoft Windows.
Products of Information are likely to be highly functional, but not especially
easy to use or stylish--except for the type of people who produced them.
Still, the activities of Information-producing groups will serve as a release
for needs the Commercial groups are failing to fill. They will also
serve as a source of innovation that will be usable by both Commercial
and Guardian groups, which will certainly have their hands full trying
to keep up with the rapidly advancing technology. Branding, advertising,
and spreading "fear, uncertainty, and doubt" about free products are other
ways that Commercial entities can make their products desirable.
Regulation would be necessary regardless of who was designing the products.
Some classes of product, of course, will not require much scrutiny.
But even the simplest medical and hygiene products will benefit greatly
from nanotech, and will need to be studied carefully to ensure their safety.
Government regulatory bodies, such as the FDA, and private organizations
such as Underwriters Laboratories have been performing this function for
conventional products. Perhaps the biggest problem would be ensuring
that Information people submitted to regulation--"Shun authority" is one
of their ethics--or rather, that they did not become frustrated with the
regulation and obtain (or create!) illicit factories. However, researchers
running experiments on human subjects have been required for several decades
to submit their experimental plans to an "Institutional Review Board,"
and researchers in other sensitive fields such as genetically modified
bacteria face similar restrictions. Designing a functional nanotech
product will require significant training, and the training period may
be used to create a culture of responsibility.
In summary, the creation and wide distribution of nanotech factories
appears to maximize the benefits of nanotechnology while providing opportunities
to minimize the risks. Guardian/regulatory, Commercial, and Information/creative
organizations will all be able to pursue their goals through this infrastructure,
which will provide substantial benefits to society while short-circuiting
many illicit uses of advanced nanotech-based manufacturing. It is
not too soon to begin designing the procedures, organizations, and technologies
that will be required to make this infrastructure work and give everyone
access to it.
NSF Nanotech Definition: http://www.nsf.gov/home/crssprgm/nano/omb_nifty50.htm
Catching file sharers... http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/pulpit20020919.html