SCI and ECON Nanotech

John K Clark (
Mon, 30 Sep 1996 20:36:04 -0700 (PDT)


On Mon, 30 Sep 1996 Damien Broderick <> Wrote:

>the only way to stop some demented or feckless brat from
>reprogramming his genie to emit meteorological quantities
>Aum Supreme Truth happy gas, or pick plutonoium out of the
>sea and stockpile it for later fun times, is to maintain
>strong regulatory authorities which licence users of genies
>able to produce dangerous outputs only if these are
>restricted to sealed assembler labs or factories.

When the prospect of Nanotechnology finely starts to show up on even the
thickest politician's Radar screen (in other words when it's almost here)
I have no doubt they will pass a gaggle of laws to try to regulate it. I also
have no doubt that those laws will be about as effective as our current
anti drug laws. All it would take is for somebody to smuggle out something
smaller than a grain of sand and the ball game would be over. You could do
even less, just encrypt the information, use Steganography to hide the message
in the video of the 3D version of Rocky 17 or Rambo 14 and send it off into
the internet. There is no way Big Brother could even tell there was a message
hidden there, much less know what it said.

Restricting research on Nanotechnology would not work either. Unlike nuclear
Physics you don't need huge machines to study it, you don't need enormous
factories that easily show up on satellite photos to manufacture the critical
ingredients for it, you could do it all in your kitchen, or a matchbox for
that matter. Also, governments would be afraid to ignore Nanotechnology for
fear that somebody else will find it first.

>I find it hard to see any other way to forestall the Fermi

If by some miracle a government was able to control Nanotechnology it would
only make things worse. Sooner or later any government will come under the
control of somebody who is insane, if History is any judge it will be sooner
rather than later, but it will certainly not be long by a Cosmological
standard, and when that happens it will be all over. If things are spread out
and decentralized with is no central authority, then even if most become
suicidal there will always be a few who are not and they can carry on.

All this is not to say you haven't put your finger on a significant danger,
you most certainly have. If a central government will not ensure a smooth
transition to the age of Nanotechnology what will? Damned if I know.

John K Clark

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