Re: will the government allow the public direct access to nanotech??

From: Robert Bradbury (
Date: Tue Jan 18 2000 - 12:51:32 MST

On Tue, 18 Jan 2000, john grigg wrote:

> To have a world of mature nanotech with nanoassemblers in every home is a
> dream of mine. But I wonder if the government would allow the public direct
> access to nano assemblers?

John, as I've stated before, since the are unlikely to be able to stop it
(unless we have a police state), the question is how to allow it (usefully)
without allowing it (dangerously).

> In the cause of preventing terrorism as well as
> accidents I could see the governments of the world only allowing direct
> access to nano to government and corporate entities. The ulterior motive
> would be to maintain their strong control over society.

The ulterior motive is you don't want people to steal or destroy what
you've got. We don't spend all that money on defense to be annoyingly
agressive, we do it to protect our lives and property (and perhaps
recently in very *debatable* (though its a *different* thread)
actions where we claim to be protecting others lives and rights).
Control isn't so much a part of it, though sometimes it looks that
way (the Internet Pharmacy debate may open up a whole discussion of
who the "gatekeepers" of society should be -- looks to me like the
AMA has paid off the Clinton administration).

Now the problem is *not* having an assembler in your home. The
problem is in using it dangerously or incorrectly (sounds like
the radio-transmitter/wiretapping debate). So really the problem
comes down to how do you prevent general purpose assemblers from
being used incorrectly. Well it sounds like we are back not to
regulating the assemblers but regulating the *designs*!

I think the general direction will be "non-tamperable" assembler
boxes (i.e. if you open it, it turns into smelly sticky gloop)
and encrypted (and verified) designs. So while the design
itself is open source, it has to be verified, check-summed,
encrypted and transmitted to the assembler by "approved"
organizations. This is similar to the way that DVD's were
supposed to work (until someone messed up and forgot to encrypt
the decoding keys in one vendor's product...). The assemblers
(similar to the DVD players) will only assemble designs that is
approved and untampered with.

So, you get most of the benefits plus the reliability and safety
checks that most sane citizens would want. Sure, there will
be those "you can have my unlicensed assembler over my dead
body" types of folks, but I suspect most people would view
them with the same appeal as they view someone with a couple
of kg of plutonium sitting unguarded in their back yard.

IMO, you can be as stupid as you want until your stupidity
starts making me look stupid. (many :-))

Now, the real trick will be creating some separation of power
between organizations, such as "governments" (who might want to
control behaviors) or industry "monopolists" (such as the DVD
consortium) and the "verification/approval/encryption" organizations.
Presumably you would want something like this done by some kind
of non-profit foundation whose primary interest is in verifying
that the designs are safe, not in regulating what people do with
them. You do not want to get into a situation where someone like
Natasha designs something but since it doesn't fit the paradigm
of how the "powers" want the society to look, she can't get the
approvals required to get it assembled. I suspect this will
end up looking a lot like the current drug approval processes
(with a lot more engineering science).

In the long run, I would imagine the lawyers will be quite busy
fighting some interesting battles over what you do or do not have
the right to assemble. However these will be at the forefront
or edges of the phase-space. Most people will take the tried
and true and improve on it a bit, submit it and get it approved
rapidly. This would be the lowest risk approach.

> And even if so, would these be close to the "anything boxes"
> we hope for?

I believe in the long run (20-30 years), if we get Minting and we
get some reasonable IA for design, you will get just about "anything"
boxes. The tough part may be getting some rare element (e.g.
gandolinium(?) for magnetic refrigerators) so there may still
be some interesting supply constraints. But as always there
will be alternate approaches and substitutions so these may
not be strongly constraining.

> I would like to think that in the world we are brought back into
> (cryonic reanimation) there will be home models that can build houses
> and vehicles.
Without a doubt, but it raises the whole issue of being reanimated
"virtually" when the house and vehicles are all bits in the simulation
but you don't know the difference.

Thanks for the question, it got me to clarify a loose jumble of
thoughts in my mind.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:02:21 MDT