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

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Tue Jan 18 2000 - 07:42:27 MST

On Tue, Jan 18, 2000 at 01:09:33AM -0800, 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? 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.
You seem to be assuming that governments have motives and are, indeed,
rational actors. They aren't; they're coalitions, the behaviour of
which is an emergent phenomenon resulting from the interaction of
bureaucratic self-interest, elected officials trying to be re-elected,
furious external lobbying (almost all of which is motivated by the most
shallow, short-term desires of the lobbying organisations), and a vague
perception of "what the public want" as filtered through the eyes of a
bunch of mostly white, male, middle-aged-to-elderly, rich men.

The result is a mess. The current emphasis on terrorism and security,
for example, isn't a deliberate conspiracy of control freaks; it's the
result of a collision of interests -- journalists giving preferential
coverage to "shock" news items (because of the audience figures it gets
them), politicians reaping publicity by banging the "something must
be done" drum, bureaucrats in institutions like the FBI or NSA looking
for a reason to justify their salaries in the post-cold-war age, and a
panicked public. (In reality, many more people die of lightning in the
USA than of terrorist attacks. So why no multi- billion dollar agencies
with huge budgets declaring a "war on lighting"?)

Don't expect a rational response to mature nanotech. Given the way
earlier developments have been treated, the first time it hits the public
awareness will likely be when some sad person figures out how to use an
assembler to manufacture sex toys or dildos or the like -- which will
suddenly be the target of a moral panic. Politicians will be demanding
that nanoassemblers be policed so that they can't manufacture handcuffs
or condoms or french ticklers without a police warrant. They'll be
demanding a "V-chip" to stop under-18's manufacturing contraceptives.

Remember -- the first sign of impending success for a new technology is
a pornography/sex scare. And we all know how successful nanotech is going
to be, right?

-- Charlie

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