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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Center for Responsible Nanotechnology > Exploring Nanotech's Profound Implications

Mike Treder
Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

Who should be most concerned about the implications of advanced nanotechnology? Whose interests will be impacted enough by molecular manufacturing that it should be part of their long-term planning?

March 28th, 2007

Exploring Nanotech's Profound Implications

Who should be most concerned about the implications of advanced nanotechnology? Whose interests will be impacted enough by molecular manufacturing that it should be part of their long-term planning?

I would propose that if you have an interest in, or are affected by, any of the following, then you should start learning as much as you can about the potential impacts of molecular manufacturing:

  • Arms Control & Geopolitics
  • Sustainable Development
  • Business & Trade
  • Medical Ethics & Research
  • Surveillance & Privacy
  • Social Justice
  • Information Technology
  • Ecological Remediation
  • Policing & Criminology
  • Intellectual Property

Depending on which of many scenarios for nanotechnology's development and management actually occurs, large gains and severe losses can be projected for stakeholders in each of these areas.

Too many people are still unaware of nanotechnology's full implications. Not all the anticipated impacts are negative, of course. But to realize the benefits, we must anticipate and prepare for the dangers. To complicate matters, many issues overlap or intersect, and an apparent solution for one problem may end up making another problem worse.

General-purpose molecular manufacturing (which may be achieved by any of several routes) offers unprecedented opportunities for environmental reclamation, disease prevention, vastly improved infrastructures, highly advanced communication technologies, financial gain, and more.

However, it also presents severe risks, including widespread economic disruption, ubiquitous intrusive surveillance, and horrendously powerful nanotech weaponry.

Stakeholder groups for each of the areas listed above should begin a concentrated effort to understand the implications of advanced nanotechnology, and to determine what steps might be taken to protect and promote their interests.

To help in this endeavor, my organization, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), has prepared a summary of the thirty most essential topics that should be examined. It is urgent to understand numerous issues related to molecular manufacturing (MM), to prepare for its probable development sometime in the next decade. The technology will be more transformative than most people expect, and could develop too rapidly for reactive policies to succeed. MM is the result of convergence of many technologies, and will benefit from synergies between them. It will be far more powerful than most people will comprehend without serious study.

CRN's thirty recommended studies are organized into five sections:

Section One covers fundamental theory: insights that may be counterintuitive or unobvious and need explanation, but that can be double-checked by simple thought.

Section Two addresses technological capabilities of possible molecular manufacturing technologies.

Section Three addresses 'bootstrapping'—the development of the first self-contained molecular manufacturing system (which will then be able to produce duplicates at an exponential rate), including schedule considerations.

Section Four explores the capabilities of products that may be built with molecular manufacturing systems.

Section Five examines a range of serious questions about policies and policymaking.

Here is a brief sampling of proposed questions to be studied:

  • Which of today's products will the system make more accessible or cheaper?
  • How rapidly could products be designed?
  • What impact will the system have on production and distribution?
  • What effect will molecular manufacturing have on military and government capability and planning, considering the implications of arms races and unbalanced development?
  • What effect could this have on civil rights and liberties?
  • What are the disaster/disruption scenarios?
  • How can appropriate policy be made and implemented?

We believe the situation is critical. The stakes are unprecedented, and the world is unprepared for the projected impacts of molecular manufacturing. We urge government bodies, industry groups, and non-governmental organizations to adopt CRN's "Thirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies" as a syllabus to begin exploring numerous issues that could seriously affect them and their constituents.


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