In this issue NanoNews-Now Editor Rocky Rawstern and contributing writers John Robert Marlow and Vic Pena cover nanotechnology & security.

Off the main topic: Contributing writer Pearl Chin (in the next in her monthly series) contributes an article on the nanopolitics of billions.

And finally, we close with a timely and pertinent reprint from the Responsible Nanotechnology Blog, titled So Much Work, So Little Time

Table of contents: John R. Marlow
Vic Pena
Pearl Chin
So Much Work
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Nanotechnology & Security

Rocky Rawstern Editor NanoNews-Now
Rocky Rawstern - Editor Nanotechnology Now -

There is general agreement among business people, scientists, and governments that advances in our understanding of the nanoscale will enable massive changes in technology, and therefore society, and therefore the way we live, work, play, and secure ourselves against harm.

While we have been talking about nanotechnology for over a decade, we are just beginning to understand and apply what we've learned. However, we are already seeing changes in our ability to detect and counter terrorist threats, and to monitor the public.

Some say that current and projected future means by which we will counter terrorism has the potential to intrude into our everyday lives, opening a huge can of worms.

We would point out that technology is in and of itself neither good nor bad; the way it is used determines the label. Which leads us to this month's topic.

Join us as we review Nanotechnology & Security.

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Nanosecurity and the Future (if Any)

By John Robert Marlow, Author of NANO

Copyright ę by John Robert Marlow
all rights reserved
John Robert Marlow


This article is intended to serve both as an overview of nanotechnology's security implications, and as an introduction to the specific issues of concern to various parties. Limitations of time and length necessitate a balance between brevity and detail, which has hopefully been well-served. Numerous resources have been linked in the body of the text and also in footnotes for the convenience of those wishing to explore particular aspects of the larger picture in greater detail. Readers should feel free to contact the author (here) with suggestions regarding corrections or additional resources to be added to later versions of this article, which will appear on the articles page of the author's website beginning on May 1, 2004. The author would like to thank everyone involved for their time, comments, and suggestions.

Security Issues Defined

For the purposes of this article, the term security will be broadly defined. The areas covered in the remainder of this article include:

Background: How we came to be where we are with respect to nanotechnology, where we're headed, and why.

Politicomilitary Security: Issues surrounding the development, deployment, and use of nanocommerce and nanoweaponry.

Environmental Security: Issues surrounding the effects of nanotechnology on the environment/biosphere.

Cognomorphic Security: Issues surrounding development of, access to, and use of the means to alter one's own mind or body through nanotechnology.

Brain/Mind Security: Issues surrounding the development and use of the means to read and/or alter the brain/mind/thoughts of others through nanotechnology.

Survival Options: A quick overview of proposals designed to ensure Mankind's survival in the face of nanotechnology.

Conclusion: Final summary.




In his now-famous dinner speech at the 1959 Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom: An Invitation to Enter a New Field of Physics, Nobel laureate physicist and Manhattan Project veteran Richard Feynman noted: "The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It is not an attempt to violate any laws; it is something, in principle, that can be done; but in practice, it has not been done because we are too big." In realizing this, Feynman became the grandfather of what we now know as nanotechnology. In his speech, he went on to describe this feat of atomic-level manipulation as "a development which I think cannot be avoided." As usual, Feynman was right.

It would be several decades, however, before the means to transform Feynman's dinnertime speculation into reality would appear on the horizon. The first to grasp the fact that those means were coming within reach was K. Eric Drexler-and if Feynman was nanotech's grandfather, Drexler is its father. He coined the very term "nanotechnology," published the first scientific paper on the topic [1], has authored several books about it [2] (including Nanosystems, the standard technical treatise)-and co-founded the nonprofit Foresight Institute "to guide emerging technologies to improve the human condition."

Foresight's primary focus, of course, is nanotechnology-and when it comes to building awareness of nanotechnology on all fronts, Drexler's efforts-and Foresight's-have been tireless. There can, in fact, be little doubt that Drexler and Foresight are primarily responsible for bringing nanotech into the public, scientific, and political eye.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the future.

Chaos, Panic, Disorder: The Smalley Spectacle

With the long-awaited prospect of serious government funding under President Clinton, things began to get strange-and continue to remain so today. "My greatest concern regarding advanced nanotechnologies at present," says Drexler now, "is the widespread confusion regarding the actual prospects and the state of research. Work world-wide, with protein and nucleic acid engineering playing a leading role, is laying the groundwork for eventual swift advances toward molecular manufacturing [nanotechnology]."

Which should be good-but for the fact that, as Drexler continues: "Meanwhile, through a peculiar twist of history, a powerful funding establishment has stretched the term "nanotechnology" to cover a host of other fields, while making strenuous and increasingly shrill efforts to cut the heart out of nanotechnology itself-attempting to redefine it to include everything but what most people have long understood it to mean. Their disinformation campaign has wasted years of time and created enormous confusion regarding both nanotechnology and security issues. The Ratners' recent book [3] on homeland security is a striking example of this syndrome."

Simply put, with billions of dollars in government nanofunding about to materialize, and private investors eager to capitalize (and capitalize on) research results, everyone and his brother suddenly claimed (often with little or no justification) to be working in the hot field of "nanotechnology"-something akin to the recent dot-com boom. The unfortunate effect has been to confuse the public as to just what nanotech really is (for a particularly absurd example, see Little Robots In Your Pants, a transcript of a recorded conversation with clothier Dockers' customer service department).

This is of course good for those not really working on nanotech (but receiving funds from those who think they are), and bad for both those actually engaged in the field-who are bound to be damaged in the public's perception when the fake nanocompanies are exposed and/or fail-and those who simply want to see the field advance as swiftly as possible.

Worse still-for the field and the world-is the misrepresentation (or "disinformation," as Drexler puts it) of the technology's true nature and capabilities. Nowhere has this been more apparent, or potentially more damaging, than in the public pronouncements of one Richard E. Smalley, a Nobel laureate scientist who really does works on nanoscale technologies. Smalley, a chemist by training, suddenly announced one day-in complete contradiction to all available evidence, the opinion of Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman, and the detailed theoretical work of Eric Drexler and others-that nanites (he called them "nanobots") are "an impossible, childish fantasy - a fuzzy-minded nightmare dream." [4]

Such an out-of-the-blue attack on the very foundations and, indeed, logical ultimate goal of nanotechnology might seem inexplicable. Two facts render it less so: a) Smalley said this while seeking approval of a half billion-dollar nanotech funding bill, and; b) Smalley's own research is federally funded. The full meaning of Smalley's oft-quoted words becomes rather clearer in context: "We should not let this fuzzy-minded nightmare dream scare us away from nanotechnology.... NNI should go forward both here in the U.S. and in major research programs around the planet." [4] NNI-the National Nanotechnology Initiative [5]-being the aforementioned half billion-dollar funding bill (which was soon followed by the $5 billion 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (S189). [6] As Drexler (whose book Engines of Creation first sparked Smalley's interest in nanotech) himself stated in an open debate [7] with Smalley: "You apparently fear that my warnings of long-term dangers will hinder funding of current research." And, indeed, Congress might be somewhat less-than-willing to fund research into something perceived as possessing the ability to reduce the planet to dust in less time than it takes to hold a hearing.

But, as Drexler went on to say, "I have from the beginning argued that the potential for abuse of advanced nanotechnologies makes vigorous research by the U.S. and its allies imperative. Many have found these arguments persuasive. In an open discussion, I believe they will prevail. In contrast, your attempt to calm the public through false claims of impossibility will inevitably fail, placing your colleagues at risk of a destructive backlash. Your misdirected arguments have needlessly confused public discussion of genuine long-term security concerns. If you value the accuracy of information used in decisions of importance to national and global security, I urge you to seek some way to help set the record straight. Endorsing calls for an independent scientific review of molecular manufacturing concepts would be constructive."

Smalley's response was more of the same-full of colorful turns of phrase ("fat fingers," "scared our children," "pretend world," "monster," etc.), devoid of any valid scientific argument. Surely, in a published debate, someone of Smalley's intelligence would cite any scientific argument which supported his claims-if such arguments existed. Even the debate's host felt moved to say: "Smalley's objections to molecular assemblers go beyond the scientific. He believes that speculation about the potential dangers of nanotechnology threatens public support for it." [7]

Chris Phoenix, co-founder and research director of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), in his paper on this debate, Of Chemistry, Nanobots, and Policy, "concludes that Smalley has failed to support his opinion that MNT [molecular nanotechnology] cannot work as Drexler asserts. Much of Smalley's discussion is off-topic, and his assertions about the limitations of enzyme chemistry are factually incorrect-a fatal weakness in his argument. He therefore does not provide a useful criticism of MNT." And, indeed, Drexler points out that regardless of the feasibility of nanites/nanorobots, "molecular manufacturing does not require that nanobugs of any sort be built, and a more pressing concern is that an adversary will build something like a weapon system."

It has in fact been suggested by some that Smalley is attempting to dissuade assembler/disassembler research in the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere in order to buy time for a secret U.S. nanoweapons program focusing on this area.

But whatever Smalley's reason or reasons, the result is divisive, counterproductive, and damaging to the field-which now seems to be focused (in the U.S., at any rate) on an effort to reap short- and mid-term commercial benefits while ignoring if not deliberately sidelining molecular manufacturing research.

"We're in the middle of a paradigm shift," notes Foresight Institute co-founder and president Christine Peterson, "and it's a tough one. Some people get it, and some don't. We might have to wait until there's explicit funding for molecular manufacturing research for the more senior members of the R&D community to come around on this, because right now there's no economic or professional reason-other than the pure joy of science and technology-to make that change when your skill sets are based in the old paradigm. There are massive benefits to be had in the new paradigm-but they're perceived as being much longer-term. There's no way to wave a magic wand; people generally wait until they're forced to develop new skill sets. Unfortunately, at the moment the funding apparatus still buys into the old paradigm-and they wield a huge influence when it comes to research directions." She also notes, however, that "the military is more open-minded than most parts of the research establishment."

Drexler, however, sees some light at the end of this rather bizarre tunnel. "The present growing awareness that there is something very wrong with the goals and leadership of the NNI," he relates, "is a hopeful sign."

Mark Twain once advised his readers: "Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint." Something similar might be said of nanotechnology-though in this case, the world could die of a misprint, or a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, the people charged with making policy in this area often lack a complete understanding of the most fundamental concepts of nanotechnology. Even Admiral David E. Jeremiah, Vice-Chairman (ret.) of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the second highest-ranking military officer in the United States, has said (in 1995, it should be noted) that "among some of the books that I read was Eric Drexler's Engines of Creation, which I found fascinating reading. I was able to understand from time to time, at least conceptually, what he was trying to say! Brashly I then decided that I would go on and take up Nanosystems and flamed out completely in that one."[8] Nonetheless, he relates, "I found that I could be a messenger for nanotechnology because the little tiny bit that I knew about it was an enormously larger amount than almost everybody else I talked to." [8] Fortunately, Admiral Jeremiah found the Foresight Institute, which provided him with a wealth of unbiased and factual information on nanotechnology.

How much more difficult must it be for policymakers to render informed decisions vital to the future-even the very survival-of humanity, when it seems they're being intentionally misled by what Drexler has called "a disinformation campaign?" From the field's real beginnings with Drexler, molecular nanotech-assemblers and their products-has always been both the goal and the logical maturity-point for this technology. To ignore that or, worse, try to sweep it under the carpet and nail down the edges in the name of short-term profit-can lead only to economic and/or military disaster by ensuring that those others who actively pursue molecular nanotech (which will itself make possible all things achieved by any lesser form of nanotech, and more) will come to dominate all economic and military fields of endeavor. Sadly, this seems to be the path we're on now.

Which leaves us rather woefully unprepared to deal with the issues which follow.

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Commercial Potential

Politics, commerce, and military affairs are now more inextricably interwoven than ever before. Nanotechnology will blur the line between the latter two because, for the first time, it will be possible to use the same technology to build consumer products-and weapons capable of exterminating all life on the planet in a matter of days. Nanotechnology is like a computer-or a gun; its capacity for good or evil is entirely dependent upon the motivations (and skills) of its wielder-or programmer. How does one reconcile this? Can one reconcile this?

As Sun Microsystems co-founder and former chief scientist Bill Joy pointed out in his Why The Future Doesn't Need Us essay for Wired magazine, "nanotechnology will not require large facilities or rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable [its] use. Thus we have the possibility not just of weapons of mass destruction but of knowledge-enabled mass destruction (KMD), this destructiveness hugely amplified by the power of self-replication."

Joy, who also served as co-chair of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, goes on to say: "The nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) technologies used in 20th-century weapons of mass destruction were and are largely military, developed in government laboratories. In sharp contrast, the 21st-century GNR [genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics] technologies have clear commercial uses and are being developed almost exclusively by corporate enterprises. In this age of triumphant commercialism, technology - with science as its handmaiden - is delivering a series of almost magical inventions that are the most phenomenally lucrative ever seen. We are aggressively pursuing the promises of these new technologies within the now-unchallenged system of global capitalism and its manifold financial incentives and competitive pressures." [9]

Richard Smalley, in a presentation to the U.S. House Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Basic Research hearing Nanotechnology: The State of Nano-Science and Its Prospects for the Next Decade, championed that pursuit: "The impact of nanotechnology on health, wealth, and lives of people will be at least the equivalent of the combined influences of microelectronics, medical imaging, computer-aided engineering and man-made polymers [plastics] developed in this century." [10]

Chris Phoenix explains why in his paper Of Chemistry, Nanobots, and Policy: "The ability to build products by molecular manufacturing would create a radical improvement in the manufacture of technologically advanced products. Everything from computers to weapons to consumer goods, and even desktop factories, would become incredibly cheap and easy to build. If this is possible, the policy implications are enormous."

Indeed, in a National Science Foundation paper authored by M.C. Roco, NSF's Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology, it is estimated that by 2015, nanotech will be a $1 trillion industry employing two million workers. [11]. In short, because nanotechnology will make it possible to create any product now made faster, better, and cheaper than at present-and also to create an almost unimaginable host of new products which cannot be produced at all using current technologies-its development seems a surety for reasons of commerce alone.

Commercial Destabilization

Even a purely commercial nanobreakthrough, however, could be enormously destabilizing. "With the advent of automated self-contained local manufacturing," notes Phoenix, "shipping, warehousing, and manufacturing jobs will all be lost."

And that could be only the beginning: what happens when one company, one industry-or one nation-is suddenly able to reduce production costs to near-zero? Competitors will find themselves insolvent overnight. Millions of people may awaken to find their jobs being performed by nanodevices. Cities, built as they are around conventional job concentrations-may become insupportable. Non-nanoeconomies will collapse.

Under such circumstances, the source of the breakthrough-or the technology itself-may be blamed for the sudden woes of the world, resulting in a wave of global nanoluddism. Fading nations may consider such a staggering economic advance to be an act of war-surely the results could be as devastating-and lash out militarily before effective defenses can be put into place. All of these issues and others are fully addressable with a comprehensive nanotechnology the benefits of which are widely distributed-but for the moment, profit dominates, altruism seems in short supply, and the societal and ethical implications of nanotechnology are taking a distant backseat. [12] This is in itself a security issue.

And commerce, of course, is not the only factor driving the development of nanotech.

Nanoweapons: The Shape of Wars to Come?

Military Potential

If ever there were a technology capable of creating "the perfect weapon," nanotechnology would be it. A few of the more dramatic possibilities presented in the author's recent novel Nano are: disassembling a targeted individual identified by his DNA; disassembling the entire population of an enemy city, leaving the city itself intact and ready for occupation; disassembling an enemy's arsenal, including soldiers, ships, ground vehicles, aircraft, guns, biological and nuclear weapons; detonating an enemy's nuclear weapons where they stand, or retargeting and launching them; creating a billion new weapons of any description in the space of a single day; disassembling a targeted area such as a city, leaving less than rubble behind. Nanites will be infinitely programmable and, therefore, infinitely versatile. Whether the task at hand calls for the elimination of an enemy commander or the overnight disintegration of his troops, weapons, or home country-nanoweapons fit the bill. When fully developed they will, in the words of Nano's lead character John Marrek, "make nukes look like capguns."

"Molecular manufacturing," asserts Phoenix, "raises the possibility of horrifically effective weapons." Some of which, no doubt, have yet to be conceived. "With the broad reach nanotechnology has in terms of capabilities," notes Kevin Coleman in Nanotechnology and the Fight Against Terrorism, "the direct applications for defense and homeland security are only limited by our imagination and how rapidly the technology advances. From shape-shifting armor to fabric that can turn away microbes as well as bullets to new power sources, the defense industries are launching major initiatives and planning for nanotechnology."

Dan Ratner, co-author of Nanotechnology and Homeland Security, emphasizes important but more prosaic defense-related uses for nanotech: "Airport security stations still have no ability to detect chemical or biological weapons or even some exotic explosives. Detection systems usually consist of metal detectors coupled with nitrogen sniffers and some basic chemical analysis via a swab test. Nanotechnology techniques involving DNA-barcode sensors, metal square sensors, quantum size-effect based sensors, and lab-on-a-chip technology will change that. Within just a few years it will be possible to detect an entire library of chemical and biological threats affordably and in real-time. This technology will protect airports, container ports, and subways and will also have dual-use applications in medical diagnosis."

Still, the larger arena in which major players will vie for world dominance-or seek some cooperative, strength-based solution-cannot be ignored. As Mark Avrum Gubrud, of the University of Maryland's Center for Superconductivity Research, points out in Nanotechnology and International Security, "assembler-based nanotechnology and artificial general intelligence have implications far beyond the Pentagon's current vision of a "revolution in military affairs." "

Because of the awesome military potential of nanoweapons alone, their development seems inevitable. The situation is perhaps analogous to that which existed at the dawn of the atomic age, when it was first realized that the development of an atomic bomb was possible. From the instant of that recognition, the bomb's development was inevitable-for no major power could risk entering the future without it. Or, more precisely, all major powers were unwilling to risk a future in which only other major powers possessed the device. Thus, security concerns drove all to seek the creation of a device which (save for Nazi Germany, it might be argued) none really desired.

While it is true that a World War was raging at the time, no such war was in progress a decade later when the far more powerful hydrogen bomb was developed over the vehement protests of the Manhattan Project's lead scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer-whose life and career were effectively destroyed by government reprisals. The motivation behind the hydrogen bomb's creation seemed twofold: a quest by nations for ever-greater power over other nations, and a fear of that same power being wielded by other nations.

An identical power/fear equation seems likely to drive the development of nanoweapons by those modern powers advanced enough to be concerned about such things and technologically proficient enough to do something about it. As Admiral Jeremiah stated in his Nanotechnology and Global Security address to the Foresight Institute: "Military applications of molecular manufacturing [nanotechnology] have even greater potential than nuclear weapons to radically change the balance of power."

Indeed, as Eric Drexler points out, "The natural course of events-absent a strong, wide-spread understanding of the issues at stake-would be for the world to drift into an arms race as nanotechnology matures toward powerful military capabilities." Most if not all of those thinking about this issue agree.

And though many might expect the United States to prevail in a nanoarms race, other powers may be more motivated by this unprecedented opportunity to leapfrog America's longstanding military dominance, a feat attainable at no other time, and in no other way-and one which will almost certainly be rendered forever impossible should the U.S. cross the nanothreshold first. According to the National Science Foundation, worldwide government spending on nanotech increased 700% between 1997 and mid-2003. [11] (This before the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act.) And private industry is almost certainly spending several times more than government programs.

The major players in a nanoarms race are for the most part predictable: the United States, Japan, Western Europe, and perhaps Israel. More troubling-more dangerous, some would say, given its politics-is China.

The Chinese Question

According to an October, 2003 article in Small Times magazine, China currently holds third place among nations for the number of nanotech patents issued. [13] They also have, as Christine Peterson notes, more centralized research control, allowing them to swiftly dictate and fund any area determined to be a priority-a significant advantage not possessed by western nations with a more diverse research structure. There have been some curious statements coming from China, foremost among them the following, from a report cited by Gannett News Service: "Chinese military specialists urge the development of 'magic weapons' that would allow an 'inferior to defeat a superior enemy.' .... The report quotes General Pan Jungfeng as calling the United States 'the enemy' " [14] Curious, indeed-particularly when coupled with (Arthur C.) Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." [15]

A recent report prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission by Richard D. Fisher, Jr. of the Center for Security Policy (entitled New Developments in Russia-China Military Relations: A Report on the August 19-23 2003 Moscow Aerospace Salon (MAKS)) notes an "increased Chinese propensity to invest in Russian military firms capable of providing technologies better than that available to the Russian armed forces." The report goes on to state that "China is able to acknowledge areas of Russian excellence over its own, and then employ the Russian military-technical complex to build new capabilities much faster than if it relied on indigenous firms." Thus, "by employing Russian firms to build in some cases new generations of technology, China is also enabling Russia to market new weapons which can pose possible threats to other U.S. interests while providing profits which these same Russian firms can use to remain competitive with U.S. technology." It is easy to imagine that such cooperation extend to nanotechnology-and nanoweaponry.

No one has been more vocal about Chinese nanotech involvement than Russian ╚migr╚ Lev Navrozov, president of the Center for the Survival of Western Democracies and author of several columns and a book [16] dealing with what he calls the Chinese desire to preserve its present form of government by any means possible-including world domination. As Navrozov explains it, "The national student movement, associated with Tiananmen Square, endangered the Chinese dictatorship more than any group in Soviet Russia two years later. Yet the Soviet dictatorship fell. What a lesson for the Chinese dictators! We know authentic information about the Tiananmen Square movement from Zhang Liang's publication "The Tiananmen Papers," a 514-page collection of Chinese government documents. It is clear that the dictators of China saw how absolutism was endangered in China and understood that the only way to prevent future Tiananmens was to annihilate the source of subversion, viz., the West."

Thus, according to Navrozov, Chinese leaders view the West as threat to their own survival.-and Chinese dreams of world domination will remain dreams only so long as U.S. and other nuclear forces remain impervious to certain destruction. If an attack against the West were launched now, China would be devastated by a massive counterattack employing land-, sea-, and air-launched nuclear weapons. Because of this, says Navrozov, the will of Chinese leaders is being held hostage to the Cold War stalemate known as MAD, or mutually-assured destruction. "To avoid the fate of Soviet leaders," says Navrozov, "the Chinese dictators began in 1986 to develop post-nuclear superweapons in seven fields, and molecular nano super-weapons have become the eighth field of Project 863. (Curiously, the Chinese government's official 863 Program homepage lists annual project reports for 1999, 2000, and 2001-but nothing more recent.)

"Post-nuclear superweapons, such as molecular nano superweapons-as strategically superior to nuclear weapons as firearms were to spears and bows, or as nuclear weapons are to conventional firearms," Navrozov continues, "-are expected to solve the Chinese dictators' problem of annihilation of the West without Western nuclear retaliation. Molecular nano superweapons are expected to be able to destroy the Western means of nuclear retaliation (such as submarines deep underwater)."

The Chinese strategy-again according to Navrozov-is simple: "China's government-controlled "capitalist corporations" have been penetrating into the entrails of the Western economies, absorbing the latest science and technology--or sometimes entire Western corporations, induced to operate in China on cheap local labor." Indeed, offshoring/outsourcing/visa-worker replacement of U.S. white-collar information technology jobs is a major issue in both Silicon Valley and the United States as a whole-and many of these vanishing American jobs are finding their way to China. Navrozov believes that Chinese leaders hope to combine nanointelligence gained from Western corporations and perhaps government-funded labs with China's own, considerable research efforts to gain a decisive nanoadvantage which can be used to intimidate or destroy all Western powers combined.

He points to a document announcing an "international symposium on molecular nanotechnology and self-assembly of metallo-nanosystems" sponsored by, among others, the People's Liberation Army and the National Defense Science and Engineering Committee. [17]

"If the United States developed molecular nano superweapons at least at the same time as China," says Navrozov, seeming to wax hopeful for an instant, "peace would be ensured through a new mutual assured destruction-not with nuclear, but molecular nanotech means of retaliation." His mood soon turns gloomy: "But the U.S. progress on molecular nano weapons is virtually zero: the possibility of molecular nano superweapons has been denied by the U.S. government-funded National Nanotechnology Initiative, just as the "China threat" has become-for reasons of commerce-unmentionable in the United States in the 21st century. Why else would there be no official mention of efforts by the largest dictatorship in world history to develop molecular nano weapons?"

Understandably, Navrozov's view of the future is dim: "To predict the future, one must delve into the history of China, which was in some respects freer than the West of the time of the Inquisition, for example, but in other respects was more ruthless than the West ever was, except in Germany under Nazism. Unless the electoral majority in the West, or at least in the United States, awakens to the Chinese threat-as it did to the German threat in 1939-the West is doomed to a Chinese molecular nano-annihilation, or to colonization." Many of Navrozov's views are summarized in A Glimpse Into China's Post-Nuclear Super-Weapons: Interview with Lev Navrozov. [18]

Nanopower and Radical Destabilization

The fact that a fully-developed nanotech will enable its wielder to build-and/or destroy-anything, anywhere, practically instantaneously, raises a host of disturbing possibilities. "It is plausible," says Mark Avrum Gubrud, "that a nation which gained a sufficient lead in molecular nanotechnology would at some point be in a position to simply disarm any potential competitors." Or, of course, destroy them. "Somewhere in the back of my mind," says Admiral Jeremiah in his Nanotechnology and Global Security address, "I still have this picture of five smart guys from Somalia or some other nondeveloped nation who see the opportunity to change the world. To turn the world upside down."

How might that happen? Gubrud summarizes the situation in Nanotechnology and International Security: "The greatest danger," he relates, "coincides with the emergence of these powerful technologies: A quickening succession of "revolutions" may spark a new arms race involving a number of potential competitors. Older systems, including nuclear weapons, would become vulnerable to novel forms of attack or neutralization. Rapidly evolving, untested, secret, and even "virtual" arsenals would undermine confidence in the ability to retaliate or resist aggression. Warning and decision times would shrink. Covert infiltration of intelligence and sabotage devices would blur the distinction between confrontation and war. Overt deployment of ultramodern weapons, perhaps on a massive scale, would alarm technological laggards. Actual and perceived power balances would shift dramatically and abruptly. Accompanied by economic upheaval, general uncertainty and disputes over the future of major resources and of humanity itself, such a runaway crisis would likely erupt into large-scale rearmament and warfare well before another technological plateau was reached."

No nation is remotely prepared for such a scenario, and few are even thinking about it. Military policymakers seem no better prepared than any other sector of society. This situation cannot stand, for while economic instabilities might be rapidly corrected through cooperative negotiations, military actions cannot be reversed. As Will Ware notes in Conflict and Defense in an Age of Nanotechnology, "Nanotechnology would provide an extremely novel technological shift in weaponry. Such technological shifts invalidate previously acceptable military policies, and demand the invention of new policies. Any society that fails to respond to this demand places itself at a grave disadvantage relative to its more adaptive and ambitious neighbors." More than that, the time to invent and adapt will be short-and trial-and-error may prove fatal to all.

"MNT," observes Thomas McCarthy in War in the Age of Invisible Machines, "will change the nature of war in two fundamental ways. One of these is what one would normally expect from a technology that is so novel and powerful: it will make war far more dangerous and devastating than it has been at any time in the past, due to its ability to create weapons of extreme destructiveness. The other way is less obvious, but just as real: MNT will make war between states more likely in the present world system."

The temptation for the world's first nanopower to launch a first strike-and so ensure its perpetual dominance in world affairs-will be considerable, particularly if international relations are less than stable at the time of Breakthrough. Such a first strike could be limited, or total. Given a sufficiently advanced and well-controlled nanotechnology, no military response would be possible. Such a strike might happen without bloodshed; weapons could simply be infiltrated and disabled-again, assuming a sufficiently finessed nanotechnology; a cruder nanotech (which is likely to be developed first) may allow only for total destruction.

Another disturbing possibility is raised by Nick Bostrom, who wrote Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards: "While a preemptive disarming strike by the first nanopower is a disturbing possibility, the alternative might be even more frightening. If two or more nations became locked into a nanotech arms race, it would be extremely dangerous. Such an arms race might be unstable, so that there is no level of armament at which a second strike capability would be ensured. Instead, the competing powers may be compelled to constantly escalate their arsenals in order not to fall behind and in effect surrender. The situation that developed from such an arms race might also crisis-unstable, meaning that there would be an overwhelming incentive to strike first in a crisis. Arms race instability combined with crisis instability is a recipe for disaster."

Even if a second strike capability is assured, the risk of accidents remains. Nations, says Bostrom, may intentionally render their own weapon-control systems risky. Why would any nation do this? "Suppose," Bostrom suggests, "you are a little rogue nation like North Korea, and you have a very dangerous weapon that you want to use to blackmail the U.S. One thing you could do would be to say "Pay us $$$ or we will attack you with this weapon." But this threat may not be credible, because the U.S. may believe that if they don't pay, it will not be in North Korea's interest to attack, since they would then suffer a devastating counterattack. So instead, North Korea could build a risky control system that has a certain probability of "accidentally" launching an attack on the U.S., and say "Pay us $$$ and we will make our control system safer, and promise to refrain from selling the weapon to terrorists or other rogue nations." This threat can be much more credible." Will such nations acquire nanoweapons? It is impossible to say.

What some have argued, says Peterson, "is that it looks harder to do defense than offense-and this is true for biotech as well." In both cases, advanced computer simulations could be used to model possible offensive uses and design defenses, which could then be built before problems arise. Many feel that nanoattack is likely to be easier than nanodefense-and attack capabilities are likely to arrive before a complete or comprehensive defense is possible, even with computer simulations.

Regarding attack, McCarthy offers a chilling insight. "Clearly," he relates, "the types of weapons described above will make warfare far more dangerous than it has ever been before. But the weapons themselves, though frightening, should not be our primary concern. Our primary concern should be the targets of these new weapons, because an advanced manufacturing capability based on nanotechnology will eliminate two of the traditional targets of military action, factories and weapons, leaving only one target: people."

Drexler anticipated many of these possibilities in Engines of Destruction (Chapter 11 of Engines of Creation): "Able to replicate swiftly, they [nanites] could become abundant in a matter of days. Able to make almost anything, they could be programmed to duplicate existing weapons, but made from superior materials. States could use replicating assemblers to build arsenals of advanced weapons, swiftly, easily, and in vast quantity. States could use special replicators directly to wage a sort of germ warfare - one made vastly more practical by programmable, computer-controlled "germs." " In summary, he notes, "a state that makes the assembler [nanite] breakthrough could rapidly create a decisive military force - if not literally overnight, then at least with unprecedented speed."

Thus, today's military "nobody"-even today's Somalia-could become the world's next leading superpower. Could, in fact, become something incalculably more powerful-the world's first nanopower. And--as noted in the Afterword to the author's book Nano -"the first nanopower, if it plays its cards right, will be the only nanopower, and will remain unchallenged for the foreseeable future. (Assuming there remains a future to foresee.) In the entire history of the human race, there has never been such a prize for the taking, and there likely never will be again."

Further, the first nanopower may be, not a nation, or even a corporation, but a small band of scientists-or a single individual. Again, Bill Joy from Why The Future Doesn't Need Us: "Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within the reach of individuals or small groups. I think it is no exaggeration to say we are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil, an evil whose possibility spreads well beyond that which weapons of mass destruction bequeathed to the nation-states, on to a surprising and terrible empowerment of extreme individuals."

As Chris Phoenix elaborates in Dangers of Molecular Nanotechnology, "Terrorists could have a field day. Chemical and biological weapons could become much more deadly and much easier to conceal. Many other types of terrifying devices are possible, including several varieties of remote assassination weapons that would be difficult to detect or avoid. If such devices were available from a black market or a home factory, it would be quite difficult to detect them before they were used; a random search capable of spotting them would be a clear violation of current human rights standards in most civilized countries. Detecting a criminal user after the fact might also be difficult; since many devices can be computer-controlled and networked, the criminal does not have to be at the scene."

He offers an example: "The smallest insect is about 200 microns; this creates a plausible size estimate for a nanotech-built antipersonnel weapon capable of seeking and injecting toxin into unprotected humans. The human lethal dose of botulism toxin is about 100 nanograms, or about 1/100 the volume of the weapon. As many as 50 billion toxin-carrying devices-theoretically enough to kill every human on earth-could be packed into a single suitcase." And there are toxins more lethal than botulism.

Fixing the problem, says Phoenix, also has its downside: "Many of these problems appear to have an obvious solution. However, in each case, that solution, applied to the extreme necessary to impact the target problem, would exacerbate another problem and make the overall situation worse. A collection of extreme solutions will surely be undesirable; it will either be ineffective (and ineffective policies can still be quite harmful) or will create massive human suffering or human rights violation." Given such stakes, are nation-states likely to balk at human rights concerns?


To fully picture the coming situation: imagine, for a moment, a large room. Gathered in this room are the leaders of all nations, large and small, friend and bitter foe alike-along with a few eccentric billionaires and a madman or three. The doors are locked, so no one can leave. Imagine, as well, that in the center of this room is a table-and on that table is a gun. No ordinary gun, this-but a revolver loaded with nanobullets. When the gun is first placed on the table, each bullet contains crudely-programmed disassemblers which may disassemble one person, or the entire room-there's no way to tell. Now imagine that with each passing hour, the nanobullets evolve, their programs growing progressively more refined until-six hours after the gun has been placed on the table-any bullet fired will disassemble only what the gun's wielder tells it to disassemble.

Finally, ask yourself two questions: How long will that gun remain on the table-and who will be the first to pick it up?



The environmental issues are considerable, and several environmental groups have expressed concern that nanometer-size particles could be potentially damaging to both living organisms and the environment. Though the jury is not yet in on the effect of nanoparticles and nanoscale materials on living systems, a recent presentation cited in The Washington Post found that nanoparticles introduced into an aquatic environment caused organ damage, brain damage, and death in some aquatic species [18], and an earlier article in The New York Times [19] quoted a DuPont researcher as saying nanotubes introduced into rat lungs caused "the highest death rate we had ever seen." The particles and tubes involved in the experiment were, of course, not part of any nanodevice, and a properly-programmed device could be programmed to avoid damage to living systems-but nonprogrammable materials will come first, and further study into potentially harmful effects is sorely needed.

Thus far, most of the attention in environmental-effects arena seems devoted to the possibility of nanoaccidents, the consequences of which could range in severity from microscopic to near-planetary destruction.


As Drexler pointed out in Engines of Destruction (Chapter 11 of Engines of Creation), "we cannot afford certain kinds of accidents with replicating assemblers." He explains why: "The early transistorized computers soon beat the most advanced vacuum-tube computers because they were based on superior devices. For the same reason, early assembler-based replicators could beat the most advanced modern organisms. "Plants" with "leaves" no more efficient than today's solar cells could out-compete real plants, crowding the biosphere with an inedible foliage. Tough, omnivorous "bacteria" could out-compete real bacteria: they could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days. Dangerous replicators could easily be too tough, small, and rapidly spreading to stop - at least if we made no preparation. We have trouble enough controlling viruses and fruit flies. Among the cognoscenti of nanotechnology, this threat has become known as the "gray goo problem." "

A world-threatening scenario could come about as the result of an accident-most likely an accident involving weaponized nanites already programmed to destroy things. Whatever its origin, the progress of a nanoevent could be incredibly rapid. Robert A. Freitas, Jr., author of the landmark four-volume Nanomedicine series, lays out some grim possibilities in his paper Some Limits to Global Ecophagy by Biovorous Nanoreplicators, with Public Policy Recommendations. Though widely believed to be a statement of the maximum possible speed at which a nanoevent could progress, this paper largely concerns itself with intentionally-limited expansion rates specifically designed to prolong detection avoidance. It does however allow for more rapidly-progressing scenarios. In fact, Freitas' calculations, which few would dispute, demonstrate that the biosphere could be completely and irrevocably annihilated by a gray goo-type nanoevent in 2.44 days. It gets worse.

The 2.44 day timeframe is conservative in itself; Freitas' paper suggests the possibility of expansion rates orders of magnitude greater. And, as Chris Phoenix pointed out during recent discussions of the superswarm concept (covered below) "if we reach the 2% goo stage globally, or even the 0.02% stage, we're probably already doomed" because "the biosphere would already be near-boiling, and the damage we care about would already be done." [20] The 2.44 day figure, it should be mentioned, refers to the 100% goo stage.

Phoenix, who was kind enough to review portions of this article prior to publication, would like to note that, although the numbers cited above "are both horrific and plausible," he believes that non-goo nanoweapons will be both easier to design and more efficient than goo-and will pose a risk to humanity that is more immediate and at least equally severe. Thus, he feels that gray goo, while an important consideration, should not be the primary focus of nano-safety efforts.

For the moment, prospective solutions to these issues are few. (See Survival Options, below.)


Building Better Humans: Cognomorphic Security and the Transhumanist Perspective

Another aspect of security-and one not typically included in nanosecurity discussions, which tend to focus on international military affairs and global calamities-is the issue of what might be termed human modification; the deliberate and voluntary alteration of the physical and mental characteristics of individuals.


"Transhumanism," explains Dr. Max More, co-founder of the transhumanist Extropy Institute, "seeks the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations. Transhumanists support critical thinking in the development of technologies to extend the human lifespan...and encourage physical and mental well-being."

Adds Nick Bostrom, a Postodoctoral Fellow on the Philosophy Faculty at Oxford University and co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association: "Transhumanism advocates the ethical use of technology to extend human capacities. The potential upside of future machine-phase nanotech is quite extreme. In addition to eliminating negatives such as aging, hunger and disease, we may look forward to enhancements of our cognitive faculties and our emotional well-being. Space colonization would be another important application in the long run."

"It is essential," More cautions, "to be aware of and thoroughly examine the possible dangers that lie ahead, because some of these may affect not only transhumanists, but the entire world. The use of nanotechnology in particular must be looked at with critical and ethical observation." Bostrom, too-while advocating widespread access to the benefits of new technologies-is concerned with safety issues. "Transhumanists argue that we should work towards making these benefits available to all people who want them," he notes, adding: "-presumably under some regulatory framework that addresses legitimate safety issues."

And therein lies the problem: Should individuals be permitted to alter their own bodies and minds? Clearly, this seems a fundamental right. "No one," says Natasha Vita-More, Extropy Institute president, "has the overriding right to tell us that we must go into "old age" crippled or feeble. No organization, no policy, no person should have the absolute power and authority to hinder scientific and medical advances that can and do help millions of people throughout the world."

True enough-but governments have a long and violent history of denying fundamental rights to individuals. The United States, though long a world leader on civil rights issues, has enacted what many consider to be obstructive (and others downright draconian) policies in the areas of cloning, stem cell research, genetically-modified foods, and-more significantly for the current discussion-mind-altering drugs. Can that same government be expected to react any differently to a technology which will allow individual citizens to alter their appearance, increase their lifespan and intelligence, experience any emotion at will-or escape the surly bonds of earth and government? The answer is obvious. The solution, less so. The issue of an individual's right to alter his/her own mind and body will be referred to here (for want of a better term) as cognomorphic freedom (or, in the present context, cognomorphic security).

Nanoenhancements with Military Applications

Already, says World Transhumanist Association Secretary James Hughes, "a lot of enhancement research is being done by the military, and we would all be better off if that basic research was done in the public, non-classified, just as we are better off with other forms of research being done in the open-source, non-proprietary and non-classified domain." Hughes, whose book Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future will be published by Westview Press in October 2004, is concerned about "the potential violation of the rights of soldiers being used as guinea pigs, as we've seen with the multi-vaccine-related immune disorders."

Another, perhaps greater concern arises over the issue of the rights violations which will become possible if nanoenhanced police or military forces are rendered so vastly combat-superior to ordinary citizens that no resistance to their will is possible-whether that will is acting in accord with (hopefully benign) government policy or (as is the case with today's South American death squads, which operate in an environment of unarmed civilians) simply reflects the sadistic tendencies of local commanders.

The issue itself is more than local. "If rogue states use human enhancement to create super-soldiers or super-ninjas, they might have security ramifications for the world," says Hughes, who also hosts Changesurfer Radio. He suggests a solution: "The best way for the liberal democratic states to protect themselves is by capitalizing on our diversity, our civil liberties and our wealth, and by allowing people to choose and use as many of the safe (FDA-approved) enhancements as they want. Then we will be smarter and faster, with better immune systems, and better prepared for whatever challenges the world offers, from SARS to terrorism." This would, one might argue, be the equivalent of an armed populace. Hughes again: "Although I support gun control, in the case of human enhancement there are so many advantages compared to guns that it really is true that we will be endangered by bans: "If enhancements are outlawed, only outlaws will have enhancements" And, like the Drug War, they will have enhancements that are less safe and distributed by criminal networks."

A related issue, of course, is this: if all individuals are free to modify or enhance their own bodies, the advantages sought by governments through police or soldier nanoenhancements will be diminished or eliminated. It would therefore seem obvious that governments will seek to restrict access to nanoenhancements by non-approved individuals. Nanoenhancements with military applications include intelligence, speed, immune resistance, healing ability, strength, endurance, pain tolerance, perceptual speed and intellectual capacity. Given the fact that most if not all transhumanists (and, likely, most people who've never heard of transhumanism) will desire one or more of these enhancements, a thriving black market may be inevitable.

"It will not be all or nothing," says Vita-More. "The military hegemony will not be the only ones with nanoenhancements, nor will it be just the wealthy. Nanotechnology, unlike other marketable products, can self-replicate. If this is the case, it could be literally free." Vita-More is already working on a posthuman body design, which she calls Primo Posthuman.

At first glance, some restrictions may seem reasonable; after all, even in America, civilians aren't permitted to own fully-functional rocket launchers, tanks, or warplanes-and few would argue that such a policy is misguided or unjust. Nanoenhancement, however, is another matter-for what good are superstrong or superfast police/soldiers (and the distinction between police and soldiers may well vanish) if the people they're expected to deal with are superintelligent, and the police/soldiers are not?

Intellectual Nanoenhancement

Intellectual enhancement has implications far beyond the military, but as always, military concerns play a role-one which could be devastating to those seeking personal "intellihancements." Will intellectual nanoenhancement be permitted for all? Do politicians really want an educated citizenry? Will the politicians themselves enhance their intelligence?

Certainly anyone expecting to be elected to office or to see their directives obeyed by police or military personnel cannot expect support from a citizenry, or allegiance or obedience from a police/military force, which is itself intellectually enhanced beyond the capacity of the officeholder. In the past, politicians could gain elective office by being smart enough to persuade only those voters less intelligent than themselves; exceptionally bright individuals have always been a minority by definition. What happens when everyone is superintelligent (assuming this is possible), and the dullest of minds are virtual Einsteins?

Another possible scenario is this: the political leaders in power at the time when nanoenhancements become possible use them to remain in power indefinitely-doling out selected enhancements to necessary supporters (such as the military and police forces) and denying them to all others. In this manner, the need to be elected by a superintelligent populace could be eliminated.

Surely the police/soldiers themselves must be enhanced, lest they face an intellectually superior enemy. But what happens if the soldiers see a way to end whatever dispute they've been commanded to resolve by force-without using force? Will they be emotionally modified for belligerence or bloodlust to prevent such an occurrence? Clearly, to do this would be suicidal, if not genocidal-but suppose the soldiers do it themselves, using black market enhancements? Suppose an enemy supplies them with black market "enhancements" which don't do what the users think they do-but something which serves the enemy? What happens if one group of supersoldiers (or several) decides it can run the country-or the world-better than those giving the orders? If everyone is not enhanced-who's going to stop them? Shades of Khan Noonien Singh.

Lifespan and Immortality

Together with intellihancement, enhancement of the human lifespan is probably the most eagerly anticipated nanoboon. Perfect health will be achievable, the eradication of disease and genetic defects is clearly possible-and there seems no reason why (given an adequate understanding of the human body) physical immortality cannot be attained. This presents several issues-foremost among them the availability of whatever enhancement renders the body immortal. Will it be available to all, or only to selected individuals? Will it be a one-time treatment, or will it be deliberately designed to require periodic boosters-perhaps contingent upon some form of government allegiance? Will the general public even be told that the treatment exists?

Then there's this: if people stop dying, and more continue to be born, the earth is going to run out of room. Certainly, nanotech can be used to support a far greater population than presently resides on this planet while simultaneously restoring the environment to a healthier state than now exists-but, eventually, there's going to be a problem. Fortunately, nanotech will make space travel, artificial habitat construction, terraforming, and colonization practical-which is good, because a growing number of people are going to have to move off-planet. Which raises yet another issue: who stays, who goes-and who decides?

Cosmetic Enhancements

Nanotechnology will make it possible to alter one's physical appearance in ways ranging from the subtle (a better nose or jawline; more height; less weight; a facelift) to the bizarre (a new set of horns growing from one's forehead, with perhaps a nice tail and cloven hooves to match). Of obvious concern to governments will be the ability of individuals to alter their appearance to the point where they bear little or no resemblance to their former selves; it does little good to distribute photos of Osama if he now looks like Rock Hudson. Clearly, there's a legitimate security concern here, and with it the probability of severe restrictions on the use of "nanocosmetics" by individuals. Hello, black market.

Will those desiring better (or simply different) faces be required to seek government approval beforehand, and supply updated photos afterward? Will the suppliers of nanocosmetics be required to report all transactions? How many men want to look like Tom Cruise-or women, like Monica Bellucci-and what happens when it becomes possible for all of them do so? Will public figures copyright their appearance? Will fugitives alter their appearance? Will men become women and women, men? What about politicians-could one person be elected multiple times without the public catching on? Could an enemy assassinate a political leader-and then replace that leader with a perfect duplicate?

Biometric Identification

Distasteful and invasive as it is, DNA-based biometric identification seems the only possible hope of keeping track of such things. Unfortunately, requiring widespread use of bioID could also foil those who obtained black market enhancements for the most innocent of reasons-wanting better cheeks, for example-subjecting them to whatever civil or criminal penalties the government decides to impose for non-approved or unregistered enhancements. Given the issues detailed above, however, bioID seems an inevitability. Then again-a fully-developed nanotech should make it possible to alter the genetic code itself.



Peace (and Security) of Mind

The coming advent of nanotechnology presents a sea of looming nanotroubles every bit as deep and broad as the ocean of nanobenefits promised by the technology's most visionary advocates. Perhaps the most disturbing of these (and it's a tough call, to be sure) is the possibility-indeed, probability-that nanotechnology will make it possible to invade not just a citizen's home, or body, but the brain and mind itself.

Wrye Sententia, director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, a rights-based public policy organization dedicated to promoting freedom of thought, is "particularly concerned about the forward-looking implications of nanotechnology in relation to human freedoms-specifically freedom of thought. Already, current technologies are providing us with an increasing ability to image the brain and higher cognitive functions. Advancing nanotech will certainly perfect these capabilities, making it possible to "see" and "know" ever more about the thoughts going through any given person's head."

Already, Sententia cautions, "a number of researchers are working on technologies of deception detection--using neurotechnology for improved lie detection techniques. (see for example Britton Chance LED scanners at UPENN). Probably the best-known (and perhaps most intoxicating for the media because of its clever name) is Dr. Larry Farwell's, "brain fingerprinting." Brain fingerprinting (which was considered by the US government in the month following 911) uses the application of EEG brainwave measurement to detect factual knowledge of events, crime scenes, group affiliations, etc.

"While a voluntary use of something like brain fingerprinting causes little reason for concern, the possibility of mandatory screenings as part of an enhanced security program (say in airports or the criminal justice system) should raise our freedom fighting hackles."

Looking to the future, says Sententia, "advances in nanotechnology will certainly impact our ability to deliver novel drugs to the brain, across the blood-brain barrier, and to perform minute, nanoscale adjustments to our electro-chemical consciousness. These are just two ways that I can imagine potential impacts on peoples' "cognitive liberty," ways that will affect their brain privacy, their individual autonomy, and their personal choices. Somewhat disconcerting is the likelihood that as novel neuro- (and eventually) nano- sensing tools come along, the idea that freedom of thought is a core tenet to successful democracy may erode even more than it has."

Clearly, these technologies will move forward-but we as a society need to ensure that progress continues while (to borrow CCLE's slogan) "keeping freedom in mind."



International Cooperation

Given the grim prospect of nanoannihilation by accident or design, there is near-universal agreement that the best hope of stability in a world on the brink of nanobreakthrough (and beyond) lies in a cooperative international security agreement. As Gubrud says: "If we believe that assemblers are feasible, perhaps the most important implication is this: Ultimately, we will need an integrated international security system. For the present, failure to consider alternatives to unilateral "peace through strength" puts us on a course toward the next world war." Few now writing on this topic would disagree. Whether such cooperative agreement is possible is another matter. Bill Joy cites J. Robert Oppenheimer's post-Trinity effort to convince nation-states to place nuclear weapons research in the hands of an international agency-though, as Joy himself points out, this effort quickly failed. [21]

"If peaceful agreements won't work," says Drexler in Strategies for Survival (chapter twelve of Engines of Creation), "one might consider using military force to suppress dangerous advances. But because of verification problems, military pressure alone would not be enough. To suppress advances by force would instead require that one power conquer and occupy hostile powers armed with nuclear weapons-hardly a safe policy. Further, the conquering power would itself be a major technological force with massive military power and a demonstrated willingness to use it. Could this power then be trusted to suppress its own advances? And even if so, could it be trusted to maintain unending, omnipresent vigilance over the whole world? If not, then threats will eventually emerge in secret, and in a world where open work on active shields has been prevented. The likely result would be disaster. Military strength in the democracies has great benefits, but military strength alone cannot solve our problem. We cannot win safety through a strategy of conquest and research suppression."

Accordingly, the Foresight Institute has proposed Molecular Nanotechnology Guidelines in an effort to promote the ethical development of nanotech-a goal to which the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) is entirely devoted.


Bill Joy states a case for abandonment in Why The Future Doesn't Need Us and his follow-up piece Act Now to Keep New Technologies Out of Destructive Hands. His conclusion: "These technologies are too powerful to be shielded against in the time frame of interest; even if it were possible to implement defensive shields, the side effects of their development would be at least as dangerous as the technologies we are trying to protect against." He continues: "These [defense] possibilities are all thus either undesirable or unachievable or both. The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge."

"Relinquishment" counters James Hughes in Relinquishment or Regulation: Dealing with Apocalyptic Technological Threats, "is impossible because the benefits of the technology will create enormous corporate, citizen and patient constituencies for their development. The Third World will never agree to ban technologies which promise economic development. Attempts to ban beneficial research will therefore drive research underground, making it more difficult to regulate."

CRN's Chris Phoenix agrees. "Many nations are already spending millions on basic nanotechnology;" he notes, "within a decade, advanced nanotech will likely be within the reach of large corporations. It can't be outlawed worldwide. And if the most risk-aware countries stop working on it, then the less responsible countries are the ones that will be developing it and dealing with it. Besides, legal regulation may not have much effect on covert military programs."

Active Options

If relinquishment is not attainable (or, as most would hold, desirable), an active defense of some kind will be required. Because the consequences of a nanoevent anywhere on the globe can be so utterly dire, a comprehensive and global defense system offers the only possible means of containment, and will be necessary as a failsafe measure even if cooperative international nanodevelopment agreements are in-place and working.

The Nuclear Option

Though nuclear weapons could be employed to vaporize the site of a nanoevent (along with the offending nanoswarm and, unfortunately, everything else in the area), warhead delivery and detonation would have to take place within minutes of event origin to be effective, which-given the time required for detection, verification, decision-making, targeting, launch authorization, launch, and flight time to target-isn't likely to happen in time to make a difference. A late detonation will actually increase the nanoswarm's expansion rate by carrying outlying nanites on the blast wave and depositing them in fresh locations.

Active Shields

First proposed by Drexler in Strategies for Survival, the active shield concept consists of (as defined by Drexler) "a defensive system with built-in constraints to limit or prevent its offensive use." Such systems need not-indeed, some would say, must not-be controlled by humans.

"We now can design devices," relates Drexler, "that sense (looks like a thousand missiles have just been launched), assess (this looks like an attempted first strike) and act (try to destroy those missiles!). If a system will fire only at massive flights of missiles, then it cannot be used for offense or a space blockade. Better yet, it could be made incapable of discriminating between attacking sides. Though serving the strategic interests of its builders, it would not be subject to the day-to-day command of anyone's generals. It would just make space a hazardous environment for an attacker's missiles. Like a sea or a mountain range in earlier wars, it would threaten neither side while providing each with some protection against the other."

Can such a concept be adapted to deal with nanoweapons?

The Superswarm Option

The Superswarm Option is one attempt to accomplish this with respect to both nanoaccidents and nanoattack. First presented as an appendix to the author's novel Nano, the superswarm is an effort to address the most lethal aspect of nanoevents-the speed at which they progress.

The most dangerous thing about a rogue nanoswarm-a group of out-of-control, microscopic nanodevices which destroy everything in their path to make more copies of themselves-is that, once the swarm reaches a critical threshold, it has the capability to expand faster than anything subsequently deployed to stop it. Once the swarm's expansion rate passes point x, it cannot be stopped by any means. Logically, since no countermeasure can be reliably delivered to the site of any given nanoevent after that event has begun, it must already be there before the event takes place. This is possible in only one way.

The Superswarm Option proposes the creation of a benevolent, globe-spanning swarm of nanites programmed to detect, target, and destroy by disassembly any unauthorized or dangerous (including dangerously-replicating) nanodevices. A rogue swarm attacked by a properly-implemented superswarm will be quickly defeated; no other outcome is possible.

The superswarm will begin with a larger number of nanocombatants, will occupy all territory which surrounds the rogue swarm, will multiply exponentially upon rogue swarm detection, and will by its presence and by its rapid consumption of available local nanite-building resources deny those resources to the rogue swarm-which will then be facing superior attack and diminishing resources with which to sustain its own attack/defense efforts. Again, victory for the rogue swarm is not possible.

Assuming the superswarm is capable of detecting nanomimics (hostile nanites which disguise themselves as friendly nanites), the mere survival of a single member of the rogue swarm is not possible. This is crucial, because a single rogue nanite can swiftly generate a new rogue swarm.

Obviously, many additional factors not detailed here (decentralized superswarm control, rigid prioritization of disassembly targets to avoid collateral damage, etc.) must be considered, and are discussed in The Superswarm Option. Though the superswarm's obvious advantages are many, it will not become an option until the threat it was conceived to counter has already arrived. And once in-place, the potential downside would be staggering: should the superswarm somehow turn rogue itself, whether through accident or attack, the biosphere will vanish in seconds-the biblical "twinkling of an eye," if you will.

Clearly, to implement such a defense would be insane-but, to paraphrase Sarah Conner in James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgement Day-in an insane world, it may be the sanest choice.

Friendly AI

"As a field of study," notes the website of the Singularity Institue for Artificial Intelligence, " "Friendly AI" is the theoretical knowledge needed to understand goals and choices in artificial minds, and the engineering knowledge needed to create cognitive content, design features, and cognitive architectures that result in benevolence." Friendly Artificial Intelligence has enormous potential to ensure humanity's safe transition to a world containing nanotech.

"Super-human artificial intelligence," adds the Singularity Awareness site, "is the creation of greater-than-human level knowledge, reasoning, and cognition in a computer. The practical applications of SAI in human activities such as science, engineering, politics, business, medicine, and entertainment are almost without limit."

The challenge lies in making it friendly-a goal to which both organizations are devoted.



Bill Joy cautions in Why The Future Doesn't Need Us that "we are being propelled into this new century with no plan, no control, no brakes, and the last chance to assert control - the fail-safe point - is rapidly approaching."

As to that future (if any), it may be that someone from the past has summarized it best: Machiavelli, in The Prince, wrote: "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

Admiral Jeremiah-who quotes this passage at the close of his Foresight Institute address-adds: "you have the power to do that."

We do.

John Robert Marlow
April, 2004


[1] Molecular Engineering: An Approach to the Development of General Capabilities for Molecular Manipulation

[2] Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology; Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution; Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation.

[3] Nanotechnology and Homeland Security: New Weapons for New Wars

[4] Smalley's fuzzy-minded statement appeared in his Nanotechnology, Education, and the Fear of Nanobots presentation, which may be found in Focus on Science and Education Implications (Section 6.3 of Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology , the Final Report of the Workshop held at the U.S. National Science Foundation, September 28-29, 2000). The particular stements quoted here appear on page 116.

[5] The White House press release of January 21, 2000 (announcing President Clinton's signing of the NNI bill) has been removed from the White House site by the current administration; for current news regarding the NNI, see the official U.S. government National Nanotechnology Initiativehomepage. See also National Nanotechnology Initiative: The Initiative and its Implementation Plan.

[6] The basics of the act are covered in this EE Times article; see also the White House press release.

[7] Point/CounterpointNanotechnology: Drexler and Smalley Make the Case For and Against Molecular Assemblers

[8] Nanotechnology and Global Security

[9] Why The Future Doesn't Need Us

[10] Prepared Written Statement and Supplemental Material of R.E. Smalley

[11] Government Nanotechnology Funding: An International Outlook

[12] See, however, Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology-a significant work.

[13] China's Patent Applications Rank 3rd in World

[14] Quoted by Gannett News Service; February 20, 2000.

[15] Clarke's Third Law first appeared in the revised edition of Profiles of the Future (1973); the first two appeared in the original edition (1962). See the Wikipedia entry on Clarke's Three Laws.

[16] See for details on Center, columns, and book.

[17] See also Lev Navrozov's expanded comments on the Chinese issue.

[18] Nanoparticles Toxic in Aquatic Habitat, Study Finds; March 29, 2004, page A02 (Free registration required to view online.)

[19] Nanotechnology's Dangers: Small Can Kill; November 4, 2003 (This link does not require registration for viewing.)

[20] These discussions took place on the sci.nanotech newsgroup and the CRN blog.

[21] The Acheson-Lilienthal report, which led to the Baruch Plan.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Robert Marlow is a freelance journalist, novelist, nanotech columnist, and screenwriter. His first novel Nano (released in February 2004) was honored with the Nanotechnology Now Editor's Choice Award, and has been selected as the current Book of the Month by the World Transhumanist Association. Nanotechnology Now editor Rocky Rawstern's review of Nano calls it "plausible, scientifically accurate, and timely - the most important piece of fiction written to date." John's column on nanotechnology will appear in this report and on his website beginning next month.

His work has often specialized in two areas: explaining complex scientific and medical topics in understandable terms for a general audience, and weapons & tactics for law enforcement and counterterrorist publications. He drew heavily on both talents in preparing Nano, and is now working on his next novel.

Contact the author.

Thoughts on the Topic: Security and Nanotechnology

By Vic PeĎa, CEO nanoTITAN, Inc.
Vic Peña

Commonwealth of Virginia. April 2004

"Anything that makes money under the rubric of nanotechnology is nanotechnology." Suchan Chae, Associate Professor of Economics, Rice University.

This quote is significant because it underscores what is becoming a driving force in the rapid evolution and commercialization of things nanotechnology - Speed to Market. This being the case, Security may be compromised in the process.

Nanotechnology is "the next big thing." As this phrase becomes common in business and scientific circles throughout the world, the very perception causes concern about the security implications and issues surrounding the entire emergence of nanotechnology as well as its impact on so many things affecting our daily lives.

The security implications for doing things right in nanotechnology are as big as the science of nanotechnology itself.

Consider the scientific truth that nanotechnology, as a defining and enabling science and technology, will affect virtually all aspects of the human experience. In fact this phenomenon is best realized in the National Science and Technology Council's recently published "National Nanotechnology Initiative: Research and Development Supporting the Next Industrial Revolution: Supplement to the President's FY 2004 Budget." In this initiative nine areas are identified as having the "potential to realize significant economic, governmental and societal impact." These areas are collectively known as the "nine grand challenge areas." The reason for drawing attention to these is because while they represent a funding strategy, they best represent the spectrum across which nanotechnology will profoundly impact the socio-economic-technology scale.

They are:

Nanostructured Materials by Design
Manufacturing at the Nanoscale
Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Explosive Detection and Protection
Nanoscale Instrumentation and Metrology
Nano-Electronics, -Photonics, and -Magnetics
Healthcare, Therapeutics, and Diagnostics
Efficient Energy Conversion and Storage
Microcraft and Robotics
Nanoscale Processes for Environmental Improvement

A significant addition to these would be a fully funded effort to study and resolve the security implications of nanotechnology on the world order, as we know it.

The industries that nanotechnology will likely have a disruptive effect on in the near term include the following:
(Amounts are Billions of US Dollars)




Long Term Care








U.S. Chemical












Hospitality / Restaurant


US Insurance




Corrosion Removal


US Steel




Diet Supplement


















Blue Jeans




Fluorescent Tagging

Figures are from:

The Next Big Thing Is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business. J Uldrich & D Newberry. March 2003
Read our review

Nanotechnology and
Homeland Security
New Weapons for New Wars.
Dan Ratner, Mark Ratner. Nov. 2003

It's Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology, and Business.
Chris Meyer, Stan Davis

Got Nanotechnology?
If not, read this:

Our Molecular Future: How Nanotechnology, Robotics, Genetics, and Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Our World.
Douglas Mulhall, March 2002
Read our review

Editorial Calendar

May '04

Nanotubes & Buckyballs

Jun '04


Jul '04

Memory & Chip Technology

Aug '04


Sep '04

Life Extension

Oct '04

Space Elevator

Nov '04


Dec '04

Self Assembly

Jan '05


Security concerns in nanotechnology can be broken out into several areas. The following are representative of the more urgent ones:

National Security and Defense

This is perhaps the most obvious area where concerns for security should be focused. Already, ongoing research and development for applications of nanotechnology to National Security and Defense is beginning to result in rapid advances in the way we do battle with our adversaries, to the way we defend ourselves. New weapons systems and combat support systems assuredly are being conceived (1), and funding for their rapid development and deployment is being appropriated. While these are prudent measures under the constitutional requirement to provide for the common defense, a policy of extraordinary measures should be implemented to ensure that nano-weapons systems or supporting materiel currently under consideration and research should be extraordinarily secured in order to prevent their falling into the wrong hands. Equal policy guidelines should be enacted and enforced to prevent misuse of nanotechnology information and materiel, either in development or subsequent handling, which may result in a compromise of National Security.

The infrastructure in the Federal Government upon which to build a security program already exists within these agencies to implement such a program. Its implementation costs therefor should not be too burdensome.

Recommendation on a Global Scope

Of more concern than U.S. based R&D and deployment of nano-based Defense systems, is the undertaking of similar research by both allies and potential adversaries and the potential for malevolent proliferation. As a matter of policy, the U.S. should seek a Geneva Convention-like model to address issues arising from the application of nanotechnology to weapons systems, and establish meaningful norms for security of such programs.


Perhaps the most challenging security program to implement in nanotechnology R&D will be in industry. The range of security challenges in industry (and for the purpose of this think-piece, academia is included) are more challenging than in Defense and National Security. Whereas in Defense and National Security, security programs implemented are mandatory under penalty of law, in industry such programs would be difficult to implement and to police. Security in industry is made all the more difficult by identifying and regulating "dual use" technologies. These are technologies that either in their intended design or by slight variation to their applications can also be used for malevolent purposes.

Another threat area of security in industry is economic advantage, in which competing companies or nations will entice or otherwise recruit unscrupulous researchers to divulge or export-for-profit company secrets. The risk or threat here is industrial espionage, and the resultant uncontrolled proliferation of technologies for monetary gain. More threatening is the risk of mishandling sensitive R&D that could result in serious environmental damage.

Environmental Security

Much has been written about environmental security, and about the risks of nanotechnology products or by-products getting into an ecological system and causing irreparable environmental damage. Certainly that risk is there. Few solutions have come forth that on cursory review offer much more than recommendations to stop or slow down the R&D of nanotechnology until solutions can be reached.

The fact is the evolution of nanotechnology is moving at a very rapid pace and slowing down is not an option (2). There is one approach to mitigating nanotechnology risk to the environment that is currently emerging: it is the accelerated and increased funding to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for research into enforceable standards in instrumentation and metrology in nanotechnology R&D and subsequent deployment of nano-based products.

NIST recently held an "NNI (National Nanotechnology Initiative) Interagency Workshop: Instrumentation and Metrology for Nanotechnology" (3) for the purpose of bringing together representatives from academia, government and industry in order to develop broad, long-term visionary goals for researchers; in particular nanoscale science and technology. Attendees considered and discussed five areas relevant to Standards and Metrology:

Instrumentation and Metrology for Nanocharacterization
Instrumentation and Metrology for Nanomechanics
Instrumentation and Metrology for Nanoelectronics, Photonics and Magnetics
Instrumentation and Metrology for Nanofabrication
Instrumentation and Metrology for NanoManufacturing
Crosscut - Computational Science Issues

With the compilation of the results of this workshop, and the recommendations resulting from it, NIST and the nanotechnology R&D community at large will have a vastly improved set of standards and metrology with which to approach "cleaner" nanotechnology R&D and subsequent fabrication of nanodevices.

The result of this work will have major beneficial effects on the environment from improved precision in R&D and assembly and fabrication of nanotechnology based products. This means less waste and pollution due to non-standard production runs.

Another consideration towards environmental risk management is the adoption by industry of life cycle design standards for the development of nano-based products. Emphasis would be placed on "what-if" engineering in each phase of the development process. Under this concept, for example, standards and metrology from NIST would be built-in at the design phase, and would be enforced throughout the life cycle of the development. Special attention would be given to "what if" scenarios in which risk probabilities and their management are modeled along with the nano-product modeling and simulation process. Nanoinformatics products are available to support this concept. (4)

Societal Security

No discussion of nanotechnology and it pros and cons could possibly be complete without addressing the profound societal impacts that will result with its maturing development. Virtually all aspects of the human experience will be impacted --perhaps none more cataclysmic than on education and the world's workforce.

Immediately the demand for advanced degreed scientists and engineers will be felt and international competition for the best talent will result. Other equally highly educated professionals will be needed as well; among these, nanotechnology grounded business people, environmental engineers, lawyers, public policy developers, and sociologists to name but a few. Similarly, talents at the technician level will be needed, and Community College-level education and training will have to be changed to keep abreast of the demand for that rapidly growing need.

Finally, nanotechnology as an enabling science (affecting virtually every aspect of our lives) will need to be taught as a regular subject, at least at the introductory level, in all schools. New generations dealing with nanotechnology goods and services must know how to be "Educated Consumers" of nanotechnology-based products.

But the most profound challenge to nanotechnology security is the security of the workforce. From handling potentially deadly, toxic materials in their production state, to the training of the workforce to transition and succeed in the new "Age of Nanotechnology." This means providing the education and training necessary to become working and productive citizens in the new Age - Workforce Security. Without these educational measures being undertaken now, future worldwide dislocation of the workforce will be rampant Recommendations

The age of nanotechnology puts forth a Tenth Grand Challenge -- "Development of Meaningful and Enforceable Standards of Security, Ethics and Societal Factors." But this Grand Challenge is directed not only to the National Nanotechnology Initiative but also to the World Community. This Challenge begs the recommendation for the adoption of a Nanotechnology World Body Convention to discuss the complex issue of providing for a new standard for nanotechnology security equal to the "Next Industrial Revolution" and "The Next Big Thing." This Convention would result in a Geneva Treaty like resolution binding on the signatory countries towards a secure and benevolent nanotechnology future.


National Nanotechnology Initiative

Nanotechnology Is BIG at NIST

Drexler, K. Eric "Engines of Creation The Coming Era of Nanotechnology" Anchor Books, a Division of Random House, Inc. New York1990

Ratner, Mark and Ratner, Daniel "Nanotechnology a Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea" Prentice Hall, Professional Technical Reference, Upper Saddle River, NJ 2003


(1) Dangers of Molecular Manufacturing

(2) The author has no knowledge of specific research in this area

(3) NNI Interagency Workshop Instrumentation and Metrology for Nanotechnology Sponsored by National Institute of Standards and Technology, And, Through the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office, the other member agencies of the Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee Committee on Technology National Science and Technology Council January 27 - 29, 2004

(4) Nanoinformatics is a developing sector - here are some examples: Accelrys, Apex Nanotechnology, Atomistix, NanoHive, nanoTITAN.

Editor's Note: While I agree with Vic that these issues are both serious and immediately important, they are based on (I believe) the assumption that MNT (link) is:

a) not feasible, or
b) not happening soon.

In addition to Vic's list, I would like to add that in my opinion the most important (and possibly least understood and contentious) thing we can do is to determine - once and for all - whether MNT is feasible. Then - if it is not - we breathe a sigh of relief, and go about preparing to deal with the complex issues brought on by disruptive technologies we know about now; technologies that will inevitably result from our current understanding of the nanoscale. If it is, it's time to start developing a strong set of operating principles -- standards by which we can guide ourselves to a healthier destiny for all.

Either way, whether MNT is feasible or not, we must - as an inextricably intertwined society - begin now thinking about our collective future. Technology is changing the way we live, and doing so at an ever increasing pace. It's time we pay attention.

Read The Ethics of Nanotechnology for more on our position.

If you would like to learn more about the potential of MNT, your time is well spent at CRN.

Politics of the $3.7B + $849M
Nanotech Funding Bill

By Pearl Chin - Managing General Partner, Seraphima Ventures
Pearl Chin - Managing General Partner, Seraphima Ventures

President George W. Bush approved S189, also known as the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, on December 3, 2003. Starting in 2005, this Act will provide $3.7 billion over the following four years for federal nanotechnology programs, and reorganizes government and research communities under a National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO). Bush has requested $849 million for fiscal year 2004.

The bill calls for the president to establish a national program to undertake long-term basic nanoscience and engineering research. Emphasis will be on potential breakthroughs in materials and manufacturing, nanoelectronics, medicine and health care, computation and IT and national security. It also creates the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel (NNAP) from industry and academia to help articulate short-term (1-5 years), medium-range (6-10 years), and long-range (10+ years) goals and objectives and to establish performance metrics for the already established National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which is a collaborative initiative of 13 federal agencies. The bill provides a structure for coordination of research across agencies. Under the legislation, the advisory board will submit an annual report to the president and Congress regarding nanotechnology progress, and a review on funding levels for nanotechnology activities for each federal agency.

Funding from S189 starts October 2005, the beginning of the government's next fiscal year. Nanotech funding has increased 83 percent since 2001, according to the White House. It is estimated that a whopping 95 percent of the $3.7 Billion authorized will go to scientific research and development -- roughly 60 percent for academia and 35 percent for government labs. It also emphasizes interdisciplinary research, seeks to address concerns raised by nanotechnology, and requires outside reviews of the programs. After stating some of the bill's major details, this article will discuss the politics of the nanotech bill.

The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act started in the office of Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2001, until it was derailed by the events of Sept. 11 and shelved. In 2002, Sen. George Allen, Sen. Ron Wyden and House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert picked up the mantle.

The signing of the bill by President Bush makes nanotechnology the highest federally funded basic science and technology effort since the space race. Funding that in the past was at the discretion of the president is now mandated. The bill ultimately promised jobs and economic development, and in the short term deliver research projects to government labs and universities in potentially every Congressional district. That's a powerful combination to an elected official.

The reasoning behind that last statement is because of the role of the new National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) and National Nanotech Advisory Panel (NNAP) (an appointed group of academics and industrial leaders) who will together assess, guide, and allocate nanotechnology research spending and reports directly to the President and Congress. This advisory board potentially could have much influence over government spending policy and thus have the potential of becoming very powerful and influential.

NNAP will replace the current Nanotechnology Technical Advisory Group (NTAG) charged with providing technical information on nanotechnology to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). As part of NTAG, PCAST has formed three Task Forces in the following areas: Materials/Electronics/Photonics; Energy/Environment; and Biology/Medicine/Societal Issues. NTAG consists of experts representing a range of disciplines, such as bionanotechnology, drug delivery, biosensers, MEMS, sensing, chemistry, physics, business, commercial and government. NTAG is made up of academics and industrial players. The TAG shall expire September 30, 2005 when NNAP takes over in October 2005.

How will the members of the newly created and politically influential NNAP be best chosen? The question is important because of the existence of factions in nanotechnology, in particular, between the non-profit nanotechnology organizations themselves. The problem is that it is from these competing non-profit organizations that members of these advisory panels and offices may often be drawn from. There is a lot of money at stake here so it is no surprise that people are fighting for a piece of the pie. More interesting is if you examine the current NTAG group closely, the 40+ members invited and included are also heavily represented by one of the non-profit organizations. Where are the members supported by the other groups? In order for NTAG and NNAP to be objective and fulfill their responsibility to the American public, NNAP needs to include other notable nanotechnology experts that aren't favored by any one particular non-profit organization that may happen to have more political influence.

The formation of the NNAP should offer the opportunity to bring in new members that have been in or just entered the nanotechnology community, and who can provide additional and fresher perspectives. It would be prudent to include members capable of discussing the sociological impact of nanotechnology and technology trends in general. If the members of the NNAP group are not diverse enough in support and opinion, then the purpose for their creation and existence becomes moot. Otherwise, they become a political tool and our tax dollars aren't allocated appropriately, nor to the areas which would benefit citizens the most.

Most people have no idea the degree of politics, egos and power plays within the nanotechnology community, and shenanigans are not confined to the U.S. players, which makes sense because nanotechnology - like all advanced technology - is global. Some of you are familiar with the Drexler-Smalley debate surrounding the potential of Molecular Nanotechnology (MNT). MNT got its one-time feasibility study deleted from the bill in the final stretch. I will not go into specific details surrounding MNT , since many other articles cover that debate, and that information is easily accessible on the Internet. Unfortunately, similar to stem cell research and cloning, MNT will likely become more advanced in other countries that will support and fund it. MNT advances will eventually come out of some place like China when it is found to be truly feasible. It just takes time. Since MNT lost out in the nanotech bill, members of the opposing camp may see it as a "win" for them in the short term. However, it is a "loss" for everyone else in the long term when potential is stifled early on and not given a chance to prove itself one way or another. (See Omission in the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act for more.)

The idea that two notable scientists are battling it out publicly while the debate degenerates to name calling and emotional arguments is unfortunate and typical of the Reality TV culture we've become. If this debate was to stimulate thought and brainstorm, then the value of a public debate is a good thing. However it becomes clear that there are motivations other than this for this public display, which is indicative of the loss of scientific objectivity. This behavior among the scientific community is particularly distressing because it diminishes credibility of both sides in the eyes of the general public.

Both Drexler and Smalley camps have good points from a scientific perspective, but there is no definitive proof yet that one is more right. Which scientist can honestly say they know better than the other? Can they both be right? Of course. Can they both be wrong? Of course. Science, and in this case, Nanotechnology, is not one of those areas where who is right is determined by the majority of supporters. It will be via research and discovery of the facts to answer the basic questions that will determine who is more right.

Even the scientific community, which includes the nanotech community, needs to remember that before theory, comes hypothesis. A hypothesis is not yet proven to be a theory. So is there potential for MNT? There is no answer unless we fund the feasibility study. It's a circular argument. Neither Drexler and Smalley nor others are equipped to really know the answer to this right now, before it is studied. However, looking more closely, certain non-profit organizations have thrown their support behind one figure or another in this debate.

The best of us falls victim to the lure of power, influence, money and ego. Although Eric Drexler and Richard Smalley have achieved a pinnacle in their careers, the founders of these organizations probably have not. Unless this debate is for more constructive purposes, it is beginning to look more like a battle of egos. Of course, one can always argue how much more could a Nobel Prize physicist and famous published nanotechnology visionary want after achieving so much already. My experience is that sometimes, unfortunately, there is always more to want. The motivations of such non-profits and their organizers behind the debaters need to be examined if you want a clearer picture of why some people's profiles are promoted and why others aren't.

Let us look more closely at the non-profit organizations. Non-profits by definition imply an altruistic bent to their existence, which also sometimes allows the non-profit to qualify for a favorable tax status. As we are all allowed to speak our minds under the First Amendment, creating such an organization behind these ideas lends weight to them because it collects supporters as members and lends credibility to the ideas. These members may or may not pump money into the organization to support itself. However, in some cases, the non-profit classification aids in the raising of funds from outside sources for its collective altruistic cause. From a marketing perspective, this is a great fund-raising strategy. More interestingly, the non-profit status provides a platform for ideas to be presented as altruistic, where motivations can be judged under less scrutiny. For instance, unless there is a real problem, most do not scrutinize charities even though they may have questionable practices because the thinking is that the charity organization, a non-profit, is providing a community or social service of some sort that no one else can or wants to. There is an aversion to checking up on those who seem to be helping you. The reason this is important is because there are non-profit organizations whose activities and motivations deserve more scrutiny.

If this is the case, how do you confirm it? That is the tricky part and the only answer here is research, by asking the right questions. Some basic questions could be "Who are the members or founders of such non-profit organizations and what are their backgrounds? Are they qualified to be objective advocates of nanotechnology and its impact on society? Where do they get their money? Where do they want to get their money? What are their alliances and what is their purpose? What are the purpose and motivations for their existence: money, power, politics, ego, etc.?" These are similar questions used when assessing management of organizations in general. Look for the conflicts and overlaps of interest and ulterior motives.

There is also money to be made further down this value chain. Large corporations and investment firms will be heartened by this government policy putting their money where their mouth is. These policies are to spur economic growth by helping encourage just those industries to invest their own capital, to help themselves and the economy, by creating jobs and encouraging economic growth. In the end, the government and its citizens become a customer for those products created by taxpayer investment. It is a closed loop. Many of the non-profit nanotechnology organizations are positioning themselves in for-profit entities to handle those needs.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to make money, as we live in a capitalistic society that wholeheartedly supports this. We all have to make money to survive. However, how we make the money is an issue. Even non-profits are bound by ethical standards of doing business. Conflicts of interest here run rampant where the lines between non-profit and for-profit become vague and laden with ulterior motives. The motivations of all such organizations should be examined before deciding behind whom to throw their support and who will be appointed as members of the NNAP and NNCO.

When science does fall victim to politics and egos, even unknowingly, we invariably get an inaccurate assessment of the facts because opinions become presented as facts. The egos involved are not just the 'scientists'. Noted scientists must become wary of when they and their status are being used as pawns for someone else's political and financial ambitions. This scenario is by no means confined to just the U.S. as there are cross-country issues between non-profit nanotechnology organizations too, as you would expect.

The other reason for the existence of the non-profit nanotechnology factions is power, in particular political influence. This is a whole different can of worms, which I will not go into here, but needs to be at least mentioned.

You would be surprised as to who is really qualified to speak on nanotechnology and investing in nanotechnology, and who is actually only speaking about it. Being supported by influential people does not necessarily mean the substance is there, nor does it mean they are validated by that support.

Those who are funding nanotechnology, which in some sense is every taxpayer, needs to be aware of the politics of who is deciding what, how, where, when and to who the nearly $4.25 Billion in funding goes. We need to ensure that members of these influential panels and offices are chosen carefully, and in our own best interests. Those are our tax dollars. If this issue is important to you, I urge you to contact your Congressman to make sure he or she is not getting only one side of the big picture by design. There is money, political power and influence involved, and egos are very much a problem here. In this case, you don't need to watch soap operas because real life is more interesting.

Stay tuned for next month's article.

Dr. Pearl Chin has an MBA from Cornell, a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from University of Delaware's Center for Composite Materials and B.E. in Chemical Engineering from The Cooper Union.

Dr. Chin specializes in advising on nanotechnology investment opportunities. She is also CEO of Red Seraphim Consulting where she advises investment firms and startup firms on the business strategy of nanotechnology investments. She was Managing Director of the US offices and co-Managing Director of the London offices of Cientifica. Prior to that, she was a Management Consultant with Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath (PRTM)'s Chemicals, Engineered Materials and Packaged Goods group.

Dr. Chin will be advising the Cornell University JGSM's student run VC fund, Big Red Venture Fund (BRVF), on investing in nanotechnology.

She is a Senior Associate of The Foresight Institute in the US and was the US Representative of the Institute of Nanotechnology in the UK. She was an alternate finalist for a Congressional Fellowship with the Materials Research Society.

She was also a Guest Scientist collaborating with the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) Polymer Division's Electronic Materials Group under the US Department of Commerce.

Dr. Chin is a US Citizen born and raised in New York City.

She can be contacted here.

So Much Work, So Little Time

Reprinted with permission from the March 22nd, 2004 CRN Blog Responsible Nanotechnology (link)

A year ago, when CRN was starting out, we said that we expected full-blown (atomically precise, exponentially proliferating, general-purpose) molecular manufacturing to become a reality in less than twenty yearsˇpossibly less than ten. Now, however, after taking a closer look at the rapid progress taking place in enabling technologies, we're concerned that a major "Nanhattan Project" could succeed in as little as five years. And if such a project already began somewhere in secret a few years ago, then...

But even if molecular manufacturing is at least a decade away, that's still not much time to prepare, given the tremendous amount of work to be done. How much work? Let's examine it:

First, the risks have to be fully understood. Then we need to work out a series of plans for dealing with each riskˇa task made much harder by the fact that measures to reduce one risk may increase another. Then all this information has to be delivered, convincingly, to the people who make the policy. There are a lot of them, in many different governing bodies, all over the world. Then organizational structures have to be designed to administer the agreed-upon policy. Then the organizations actually have to be set up.

Each of the steps above will take time. And clearly this isn't a complete list. Technological security measures will have to be painstakingly invented and developed. Public opinion, and then public support, will be necessary at several stages. Nations must learn to cooperate in ways that have never been tried. Ten years, or even twenty years, is not a long time in which to accomplish everything.

But, you may ask, is all of this really necessary? As explained on CRN's No Simple Solutions web page, we don't see any way that a simplistic form of regulation can work, because a single regulation may make a dent in one risk but will increase other risks, doing more harm than good overall. And the idea that no regulation at all is necessary seems hopelesslyˇand dangerouslyˇnaive. Comprehensive, carefully thought-out, and delicately balanced plans must be made, well in advance.

If solutions are not developed until the problems are staring us in the face, we will not have time to make good decisions. Some of the risks are severe enough, or scary enough, to cause people and governments to panic. Panic and time pressure will tend to produce a patchwork of simple, knee-jerk solutions. It is extremely unlikely that a good set of solutions will evolve under these circumstances, and it is also unlikely that bad solutions will be able to prevent bad consequences.

The time to begin discussing, evaluating, and preparing effective policy solutions for molecular manufacturing is now.

Editor's Note: I fully agree with CRN - this is one thing we must "do right the first time."

Return to Top

In closing, these quotes:

"Wet nanotechnology includes scientific techniques, such as artificial photosynthesis, that increase our ability to control matter. "Theoretically," Shipbaugh says, "it should be possible to build molecular structures that self-replicate, just as living cells are able to reproduce themselves" using wet nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is dependent upon the development of assemblers, which are machines that position and connect molecules into components. A successful assembler would encourage the formation of molecular bonds, and these bonds ultimately enable the manufacturing of nanoscale products. Replicators allow copies of the assembler to be made, which allows for the possibility of an unlimited number of products. Dry nanotechnology can increase the performance of electronics and permit extremely high-density memory storage and data operations. Wet nanotechnology may have military applications in such critical areas as power sources and biomedicine. For example, medical tissues generated through wet nanotechnology could help repair wounds. Food substances generated by nanoscience, although they may not be tasty, would satisfy soldiers' nutritional requirements." National Security: Revolutionizing Logistics Support by Thinking Small

Phillip Bond, under secretary of Commerce for Technology Administration, was even more certain that good will triumph, arguing that deliberately slowing the pace of nanotechnology's advance until all the societal issues are chewed over would be the unethical thing to do.

"Given the promise of nanotech, how can our attempt to harness its power at the earliest opportunity be anything other than ethical?" he asked. "And the converse, how can a choice not to pursue those things be considered anything but unethical?"

However, other issues, such as the potential for loss of privacy, are likely to surface as scales continue to diminish. Harvard University Prof. George Whitesides projected that by 2010, $250,000 will buy 15 petabits (1,000 trillion bits) worth of data storage. Since a single human genome totals 10 Gb (billion bits), a company that could obtain the data would be able to catalogue the individual genetic codes of every person in the United States for just a few million dollars, he calculated. Nanotechnology Bill Mandates Big Role for Ethical Reviews

Defense applications include:

  1. continued information dominance through advanced nanoelectronics, identified as an important capability for the military
  2. more sophisticated virtual reality systems based on nanostructured electronics that enable more affordable, effective training
  3. increased use of enhanced automation and robotics to offset reductions in military manpower, reduce risks to troops, and improve vehicle performance
  4. achievement of the higher performance (lighter weight, higher strength) needed in military platforms while providing diminished failure rates and lower life-cycle costs
  5. needed improvements in chemical/biological/nuclear sensing and in casualty care
  6. design improvements in systems used for nuclear non-proliferation monitoring and management
  7. combined nanomechanical and micromechanical devices for control of nuclear defense systems.
In many cases economic and military opportunities are considered to be complementary. Strong applications of nanotechnology in other areas would provide support for national security in the long term, and vice versa. Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (PDF)

National security, both economic and military, represents one vital aspect of governmental concerns that will be impacted by the anticipated discoveries and developments in this field. Competition for economic security represents an important aspect of nanotechnology while augmenting military security and defense capabilities. The development of nanotechnology offers much enhanced capabilities to the Department of Defense (DOD) in the performance of its mission.

Contributions of nanotechnology to traditional defense systems will be many. It takes little imagination to elucidate developments that will lead to advanced materials, sensing and signal processing, information technology, battle management, casualty care, or medical procedures and medicines. These science and engineering fields will advance through the use of tools and new knowledge uncovered by research in nanotechnology. Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (PDF)

In Nanotechnology and Homeland Security: New Weapons for New Wars, Mark A. Ratner, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University and a noted expert in molecular electronics, and his son Daniel Ratner, a high-tech entrepreneur, claim that current research in nanotechnology will lead to intelligent sensors, smart materials, and other methods for thwarting biological and chemical attacks.

"The number-one thing," says Daniel Ratner, "is going to be smart sensors. These could be immensely useful in finding weapons of mass destruction, for example. Today, you need a lab, and it takes days to analyze samples. In the future, a lab on a chip with nano-based sensors could give you a result in seconds."

Such devices could also protect seaports by scanning all incoming shipping containers. Like reusable litmus paper, nanodot particles could instantly change color upon detecting the presence of anthrax DNA strands. Homeland Security Gets Small

DuPont researchers are developing revolutionary nanotechnology-based materials that can be used in field-ready products, including innovative and protective lightweight uniforms and "smart" gear.

Examples of "smart" functionality include:

  • change colors on command to camouflage in changing environments -- even manipulate light to make soldiers invisible in the field.
  • change a shirtsleeve into a splint or a pant leg into a rigid cast in the field if a soldier is injured.
  • possess built-in sensors so that each soldier's physical conditions and location in battlefields can be monitored at distant command posts.
  • weave radio communications materials directly into the uniform's fabric ˝ providing soldiers flexibility and lighter loads.
  • automatically administer medicines and transmit vital signs to distant medics ˝ who could then potentially perform medical triage on soldiers in the field.
  • provide impact protection materials and systems including ballistic and shrapnel.
  • provide chemical and biological protection materials and systems.
Dupont Joins Effort To Use Nanotech To Enhance Safety Of Soldiers

From Our Molecular Future, by Douglas Mulhall:

  • What happens to the monetary system when everyone is able to satisfy his own basic material needs at very low cost?
  • How would we use cash when digital manufacturing makes it impossible to differentiate a counterfeit bill or coin from the real thing?
  • What happens to fiscal policy when digital information, moving at light speed, is the major commodity?
  • How fast will monetary cycles move compared to, say, the ten- or twenty-year cycles of the late twentieth century, when products and patents go out of date in a matter of months instead of years?
  • What happens when we don't have to worry about trade or social services for our basic needs, because most of what we need is provided locally with digital manufacturing, and the biggest trade is in information?
  • How do we control the excesses of the ultrarich, the overabundance of the molecular assembler economy, and the challenge to intellectual property laws created by intelligent, inventive machines?
  • What happens if half of all jobs are made redundant every decade?
  • What happens to the War on Drugs when there's no import, export, or transport of contraband because drugs can be manufactured in a desktop machine using pirated software downloaded from the Internet?
  • What happens to democratic controls when individuals can get as rich as small governments in a year or so?
  • What's the relevance of insurance if many things are replaceable at very low capital cost, but liabilities from software are potentially unlimited?
  • How should organized labor react when molecular assemblers and intelligent robots eliminate most manufacturing jobs?
  • What is the nature of work going to be?
  • What happens to land prices when an individual can build a tropical farm under a bubble in North Dakota, and get there from New York in an hour?
  • What happens when everyone can go everywhere, whenever they want, and work from wherever they want?

Foresight Institute President Christine Peterson has extended an offer to NanoNews-Now readers, in the form of a discount of $200 off the standard fee if they join Foresight and register for their Senior Associates conference in May. "In financial terms, this comes close to waiving the membership requirement -- we want Nanotechnology Now folks at this conference!" she said. Just Foresight Institute Nanotechnology Now offer, and register at the (long-expired) "Super Early" rate and put "NANOTECHNOLOGY NOW" in the comments field. Join us at the conference, and be part of the future!

Foresight Vision2004

"The challenges brought by advanced nanotechnology will have to be addressed by a diverse collection of people and organizations. No single approach will solve all problems or address all needs. The only answer is a collective answer, and that will demand an unprecedented collaboration of leaders in science, technology, business, government, and NGOs. It will require participation from people of many nations, cultures, languages, and belief systems. Never before has the world faced such a tremendous opportunityand never before have the risks been so great. We must begin now to develop common understanding, create lines of communication, and build a stable structure that will enable humankind to pass safely through the transition into the nano era."
—Mike Treder, Executive Director CRN, in an upcoming speech for this event.

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For further research, here are pages we found valuable:

Nanotechnology Bill Mandates Big Role for Ethical Reviews

Nanotechnology and International Security —Mark Avrum Gubrud, Center for Superconductivity Research

Nanotechnology and Global Security —Admiral David E. Heremiah, USN (Ret), Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology: the potential for new WMD

Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (PDF)

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Issue #11 will cover Nanotubes and Buckyballs. It will land in your mailbox May 3rd, 2004.

Infamous Quotes:

"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." (Ken Olsen, Digital Equipment Corp, 1977)
"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." (Popular Mechanics, 1949)
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (IBM's Thomas Watson, 1943)
"This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." (Western Union internal memo, 1876)

And the lesson is? It's a tough game to call.

Need advice? Check out NanoStrategies

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