[Fwd: [>Htech] FC: Dangers of Bill Joy's nanotech-thinking, from National Review]

From: Brian Atkins (brian@posthuman.com)
Date: Fri Jul 07 2000 - 13:03:03 MDT

I thought this was interesting enough to repost here for people not on
the >Htech list(s).

eugene.leitl@lrz.uni-muenchen.de wrote:
> From: Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
> ********
> Date: Thu, 06 Jul 2000 13:28:08 -0400
> From: Glenn Reynolds <gharlanr@bellsouth.net>
> To: declan@wired.com
> Subject: Nat'l Review Online on Nanotech
> FYI, a piece on the dangers of Bill Joy's "relinquishment" approach,
> inspired by Ed Regis' book on biowar.
> http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment070500c.html
> Wait a Nano-Second
> Crushing nanotechnology would be a terrible thing.
> By Glenn H. Reynolds, professor of law, U. of Tennessee, & Dave Kopel,
> Independence Institute
> Richard Nixon was re-elected to the Presidency twenty-eight
> years ago. That's 112 years in Internet Time, for which three months
> equal one year of ordinary time. Does the Nixon era have any lessons
> to teach us about high technology in the twenty-first century? In
> particular, nanotechnology, an emerging hot-button issue?
> Absolutely -- if you read Ed Regis's excellent history of biological
> warfare, The Biology of Doom. Regis's account of the British and
> American biological warfare program, from 1940 to its abandonment in
> 1972 when the Biological Weapons Convention was signed, is a
> fascinating and chilling one. Though Regis manages to give a readers
> an understanding of why scientists and military leaders thought the
> biowar program was important, the story is so disturbing that the
> program's eventual abandonment at the orders of President Nixon comes
> as no small relief.
> But not for long. Because it turns out that the treaty outlawing
> biological warfare had exactly the opposite result that its sponsors
> intended. Before the United States, the Soviet Union, and other
> nations agreed to a ban on biological warfare, both the U.S. and
> Soviet programs proceeded more or less in tandem, with both giving
> biowar a low priority. But after the ban, the Soviet Union drastically
> increased its efforts. (So did quite a few smaller countries, most of
> them signatories of the Convention.)
> With biological warfare outlawed, and the Americans likely to abide by
> the agreement, the stakes were much higher: now it was possible for
> the Soviets to obtain a decisive advantage. As a result, the USSR
> created a new research organization, called Biopreparat, and
> drastically increased deadly disease research. The Russians not only
> expanded their stocks of traditional biological warfare agents -- like
> anthrax, tularemia, and such -- but also "weaponized" smallpox,
> accumulating huge stockpiles of the virus, specially bred for
> virulence and lethality. (Those stockpiles still exist, making the
> "triumph" of smallpox eradication a rather contingent accomplishment).
> This example is relevant today, because we are beginning to see calls
> for relinquishment of another technology. In this case, it is
> nanotechnology, a technology that so far exists only in computer
> models and some very early practical work. Bill Joy of Sun
> Microsystems, of course, has famously argued that we should consider
> abandoning this technology before its birth, to spare the world the
> potential consequences of its misuse. (Perhaps that will save Joy's
> boss Scott McNealy from having to hector the Department of Justice to
> bring a frivolous antitrust lawsuit against the first company to
> outcompete Sun in nanotechnology.)
> Though Joy's argument has so far met with a fairly cool reception --
> not only from techno-commentators, but even from techno musicians --
> it is worth considering what might happen if his ideas start to take
> hold. That is not so farfetched a scenario, despite today's
> high-flying technology sector. Europe is already facing a growth of
> neo-Luddite sentiment -- visible in things like opposition to genetic
> engineering. In California and the rest of the nation, Ralph Nader's
> Green Party is doing pretty well by offering Luddites a genuine
> anti-technology choice, rather than an echo of pro-business
> Republicrats.
> More generally, Luddite intellectuals are successfully propagating
> "the precautionary principle," which states that we should never try
> anything new unless we are certain that it is absolutely safe. Look
> for the precautionary principle to start showing up in EPA regulations
> around 2002 if there's a Democratic President, or around 2007 in case
> of a Republican one that follows in the footsteps of George Bush III's
> EPA head William Reilly.
> Crushing nanotechnology would be a terrible thing. In fact, the
> example of biological warfare offers the depressing possibility that
> adopting Joy's "relinquishment" approach to nanotechnology might
> actually make things worse. First of all, relinquishment would deprive
> us of the potential benefits of benign nanotechnology, such as cheap
> space travel, cancer cures, bodies that stay younger and healthier for
> longer. Even worse, "relinquishment" would probably accelerate the
> progress of destructive nanotechnology. In a world where
> nanotechnology is outlawed, outlaws would have an additional incentive
> to develop nanotechnology. And given that research into nanotechnology
> -- like the cruder forms of biological and chemical warfare -- can be
> conducted clandestinely on small budgets and in difficult-to-spot
> facilities, the likelihood of such research going on is rather high.
> Terrorists would have the greatest incentive possible to develop
> nanotechnologies far more deadly than old-fashioned biological
> warfare. This makes Joy's relinquishment argument hard to swallow. At
> the very least, it suggests that Joy and those who agree with him need
> to step up to the plate and make some more sophisticated arguments. No
> one doubts that Joy and the rest have good intentions. But as the
> example of biological warfare illustrates, good intentions, even when
> embodied in popular agreements to abandon a technology, don't
> necessarily have good consequences.
> There is, however, a bright side. As Ed Regis also notes, the story of
> biological warfare research is a sinister one in many ways. But, in
> fact, all those dreadful weapons were never used. Why that is the case
> has puzzled many people, but the best argument seems to be one set
> forth by Regis: political and cultural factors that militated against
> the use of biological weapons trumped the technological factors that
> made them possible.
> [...]
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