Re: NANO: Institutional Safety

Robert J. Bradbury (
Mon, 15 Nov 1999 10:53 EST

Greg Burch wrote:

> Actually, we looked into the history of the P1-4 containment regime pretty
> closely before our meeting - both how the original Asilomar Conference came
> to be and its aftermath. The P 1-4 regime is a matter of regulatory law in
> that it is now known as the "NIH Guidelines" and have been adopted by the US
> military and the equivalent agencies of a number of other countries.

I'm more familiar with the debates that raged through Cambridge, MA and NYC and they weren't as calm or rational as some of the West Coast discussions.

I did some research last night and it turns out the language & policies has been adopted by the WHO and is creeping into the Bio-Weapons treaty ammendments.

> However, you're right that reputation tends to be the strongest factor in
> spreading and maintaining the bio-containment guidelines' force and effect.

Yep, at ASG we never once had a city or state official show up and want to review our lab techniques (though we were at P2 level or less).

> Actually, I've been convinced that weapons far short of smart Grey Goo
> can be made with first-generation assemblers. In fact, the "smart dust"
> that's being played with now that has minimal MEMS capabilities may be
> able to do some of the nasty things I've seen explained. I'll give you a
> hint: All it has to do is be made (or replicate) in VERY large numbers,
> be light enough to be airborne and CHANGE COLORS.

The large numbers part will be tricky since that really requires a very big factory or self replication. MEMS could go in the self-replication direction but it would require a lot of engineering. Obviously a flying cloud of MEMS-bots could make visual surveillance from space pretty worthless. You would have to fly in insect-bots (that are being worked on), and radio or fly out the information. Well have that type of surveillance anyway because it works much better in places where there are forrests or caves. As you have pointed out there is a big difference between a military action in the Person Gulf and one in Vietnam or Yugoslavia or Afganastan. The needs will drive the development. So we will have to cross these bridges anyway since defense budgets are large enough to support factories with high production rates in lieu of actual self-replication.

What will be interesting is to see how quickly the rest of the world picks up on this, since IMO, the U.S. has a very big MEMS lead (much greater than say biotech) over most other countries. What most people do not see is the probability for the big leap in MEMS I think will come -- it is much easier to retrofit old semiconductor fabs for MEMS production than it is to retrofit them for the next generation semiconductor production. Now the interesting thing is that that means that it will be mostly the U.S. and Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea and perhaps Japan that will be the MEMS production leaders.

> BTW -- when will you be back in the States?
Around the 22nd.