Re: Hanson antiproliferation method?

Anders Sandberg (
Tue, 19 Aug 1997 15:43:36 +0200 (MET DST)

On Mon, 18 Aug 1997, Dan Clemmensen wrote:

> Nicholas Bostrom wrote:
> >
> > How do we best deal with the danger of nuclear proliferation and
> > the spread of other weapons of mass destruction?
> - - -
> Nuclear proliferation may be amenable to government control in the
> pre-nanotech era because nuclear technology generally needs a large
> and difficult-to-conceal technical base. Nanotech-based mass
> destruction (nuclear or otherwise) is a much more difficult
> proposition. In what way will world government, or any government,
> be able to prevent nanotech-based mass destruction? The only
> way I can think of would be nanotech-based invasive survailence
> of the entire populace on an unprecedented scale, and I'm not sure
> that even that will help.

I discussed this with Erik Möller a year back. The conclusion (at
least from my point of view, I think Erik disagrees) was that even a
government with nanotech trying to keep the technology under control
would be at a severe disadvantage to disgruntled nanotechnologists,
industrial spies, nerds in basements reading Nanosystems and current
research journals etc; the measures needed to keep everybody in line
would simply turn into a balooning police state with no certainty
that it ever would work (see _The Bohr Maker_ by Nagata for a good
illustration of this scenario).

The main problem isn't nuclear weapons and other stuff that needs big
technological bases or controllable ingredients, like (say)
antimatter (a lot of energy is needed, and likely a big accelerator),
but the mass destruction weapons that can be made in secret, using
hard-to-trace ingredients. I can easily get enough ammonium nitrate
to become very dangerous, but I doubt it would be as simple for me to
get the ingredients for nerve gas - the latter chemicals are watched,
while ammonium nitrate is commonly used. The same goes for nanotech
weapons, bioweapons and other stuff we fortunately haven't thought of
yet. It is likely it will be extremely hard to avoid proliferation of

The problem is that most systems of control can only decrease the
likeliehood that mass destruction weapons are used, and as world
population and technological abilities increase the risk of somebody
somewhere using them. If you hunt the weapons maker, they will become
more secret. Making people less inclined to use them is a better
idea; but unless 100% of humanity becomes very nice and sane (or
brainwashed) there will always be some kooks somewhere. The other way
to motivate people not to use weapons of mass destruction is of
course the threat of being annihilated. If a weapon can be traced
back, then this threat may work. Even MAD has a certain power
(*everybody* has nukes, and if you use one they will start to fly),
but in a sufficiently large population there will be people deranged
enough to ignore that too. So we are back at square one: we can make
mass destruction weapons less likely, but we cannot be sure there are
no nutcases who will not care about the consequences.

I think the best way to deal with this is to try to minimize the
risks, while making sure that if something awful happens you can deal
with it: in a nanotech world, I would invest in active shields
(several of them, and tweak them to be slightly different frome
everybdoy else's), in a world with plenty of biotech I would make
sure I had connections to people with good medical knowledge (CDC?)
and so on. Not ideal, but perhaps the best we can get.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y