Re: Fears of Nanotech

Edwin Evans (
Wed, 1 Sep 1999 10:19:27 -0700

I think there is a lot of risk of government abuse of nanotechnology, but I think there is a bigger danger. You can say a *lot* of bad things about governments. However, one good thing you can say is that even though some governments have had the capability to destroy the world for many years, they haven't done so yet.

My biggest fear related to nanotechnology is misuse by individuals (and then small organizations and then large ones, since I think the biggest danger is numbers/diversity).

  1. People and organizations
    (economic/political/religious/other) will want strong
    nanotechnology. They will want nanoboxes that have a lot of flexibility and power rather than nanoboxes that are very heavily restricted. People will want the nanotech equivalent of PCs, not special purpose devices like calculators or game consoles.
  2. As far as I know, the theory of how Active Shields could possibly be successful hasn't been worked out at all yet. An Active Shield (as I understand it) is like a complex piece of software that is highly distributed. I know enough about this topic to be fairly confident that we don't have any clue how to make something like that robust. If there is one P1
    (lingo for priority 1 which for software generally
    means data loss, system corruption, or security) bug and it is exploited or accidentally run into, everybody dies. ("Everybody dies" is how I'd define P1 for active shield bugs). I think our best theory so far for solving the complexity problem is, "develop AI". We should steer away from nanotech and towards AI.
  3. If there is a nanobox that downloads input data from the Internet as in the recent Business Week scenario, probably someone will try to make something that is extinction level dangerous. If they succeed, there probably won't be any time to spend discussing the many ways in which this person's motivations differ from various other killers or mischief makers.

If governments did start taking nanotechnology threats seriously and decided to ban selling/developing assemblers or even the sale of AFMs, I wouldn't rail against it (would you?). If Japan and a few other countries did do this, it seems they may be able to postpone the possible future event of nanotechnology obliteration. Since it does take a lot of money and organization to develop, making it illegal could conceivably be quite effective. Are you sure it's too late? Regulation will get more difficult and dangerous the later it comes.

I sincerely hope I'm not part of the problem.

"He felt that Man was not yet ready for this kind of power. He finally realized the political implications of his favorite reasearch projects ... Almost reluctantly, he turned in other directions." - Dr. John Lilly speaking about his younger self in "The Scientist".

A monk asked Zhaozhoe, "Does even a dog have Buddha-nature?"

Zhaozhoe said, "No."

Edwin Evans