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IEET > Security > SciTech > Contributors > Michael Anissimov

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Nanofactory Regulation Revisited

Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Accelerating Future

Posted: May 8, 2009

I noticed that a post of mine was linked via the Wikipedia article on post-scarcity — my post about nanofactory regulation.  In it, I proposed a DRM-like system to prevent any old nanofactory from manufacturing things like bombs.  Radical and Luddite, I know.

The link to my page read, “ideas on preventing post-scarcity through extensive DRM-like legal restrictions on nanofactories”.  This is completely false.  I don’t want to prevent post-scarcity with my ideas, but rather, manage it in a sensible way.  Thus I changed the text to “ideas on managing post-scarcity through extensive DRM-like legal restrictions on nanofactories”.  I consider this an interesting turning point, though, because I’ve spent over a decade advocating the ushering in of post-scarcity via nanotechnology or whatever other means are available, and here is someone saying I am trying to prevent post-scarcity.

At the post itself, there’s a recent couple comments that illustrate a common response to my ideas on nanofactory regulation — they wouldn’t work due to hackers busting everything open, and we shouldn’t want them to work anyway.  Hackers may break restrictions, it’s true, but I’d prefer to have common desktop nanofactories be fundamentally incapable of manufacturing certain dangerous products, like bazookas and millipede robots with enough poison to kill 50 people in their sleep.  That way, even if you hacked the nanfactory, it still couldn’t build dangerous products, or at least it would be a big hassle to do so.  (Though still way easier than it would be to buy them on the black market today.)

I don’t doubt that hackers may break restrictions, but where I disagree with the commenter is when he/she says that there is no risk from anyone being able to manufacture anything:

Why are they going to grenade their neighbor when whatever they want could just as easily be manufactured on their desktop.

Because your neighbor slept with your wife.  Or harassed your daughter after school.  Or told their associate that your business was selling a bad product.  Humans find a huge number of reasons to tangle.  The primary thing that prevents people from going hog wild on people right now is the fear of being arrested or getting a bad reputation.  People need to spend some time in ignorant rural areas and then come back and tell me that anyone on the globe should be able to manufacture nanoweapons.

Then the commenter says:

Eventually, wouldn’t advanced technology make it possible to create habitats in space? Industrial scale nanofactories building you your own torus shaped world with a tropical archipelago on it? And if you could do it with just a few parameters entered in, and a push of the button, wouldn’t that be easier than invading and conquering people living on the original archipelago?

That’s the funny thing.  Since human nature evolved in a highly limited world, we have the desire to conquer no matter how much abundance exists.  Sure, that desire might be neuroengineered out, but people would have to figure out how to do that and then willingly choose it.

As I’ve said before, sharing music and movie files is one thing, but sharing physical structures for manufacturing weapons and addictive drugs like methamphetamines (and worse) is another.  It’s perfectly possible to embrace the former but not the latter.  There are things I can imagine (that can be built with nanofactories but not current manufacturing technology) that are so awful, it would take a gun held to my head for me to even care to share them.

As of now, my current position on nanofactories is that they’d be extremely dangerous because open source and peer-to-peer advocates will triumph in their desire that the millions of nanofactories available to everyone around the world be able to manufacture practically everything.  Once we’re in that situation, how could order be restored?  Through some warlord, most likely and unfortunately.  I fear that could lead to an Aristoi scenario.  (I haven’t read Aristoi but I hear it’s about a bunch of nano-aristocrats that control the entire planet.)  In Global Catastrophic Risks, Bryan Caplan outlined some of the unique threats from global totalitarianism in his excellent paper of the same name.

My position on the regulation of nanofactories is quite different than that of the two big names in molecular nanotechnology (MNT) policy, the Foresight Institute and the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology.  It can be compared to the position of Mark Gubrud as laid out in his paper “Nanotechnology and International Security” or Jürgen Altmann in “Military Uses of Nanotechnology: Perspectives and Concerns” and his book Military Nanotechnology.  In fact, I’m actually more liberal than Altmann in my regulation proposals.

Contrary to what folks like Dr. Richard Jones say, that MNT-oriented thinking on nanotechnology only consists of a small in-group citing each other endlessly, Altmann’s paper has 28 citations, according to Google Scholar.  Gubrud and Altmann’s co-authored paper, “Anticipating Military Nanotechnology”, published in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, has 22 citations.  My last post on nanotechnology policy was linked from Instapundit, which is always nice publicity.

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> “I disagree with the commenter is when he/she says that there is NO risk from anyone being able to manufacture anything:”> (Capitalized letters added by me)

I disagree with the general what-me-worry? tone of this commenter, too, but to be fair, he did say, “I don’t see MUCH evil becoming of the P2P movement and I think human beings are GENERALLY apt to take the path of least resistance. “

I generally agree with your point, but this just seems to be a gratuitous bias sneaking out,“People need to spend some time in ignorant rural areas and then come back and tell me that anyone on the globe should be able to manufacture nanoweapons.”

I assure you, Urban areas are just as ignorant, backward, uncivil, etc. as any other. It is people not locations that beget barbarism. It is human nature not smug superiority nor presumed intellectual inferiority that will bring our downfall.

If we are to manage our new tools we must first manage ourselves, wherever we live.

The nanofactory effectively kills gun control and all other weapons control movements for good. Kaput. No more gun bans. It eventually means the total end of the bureaucratic nation state due to the ease at which the police enforcers can be slaughtered by any individual. That means no more regulations on individual behavior over a large area. The nation state shall be replaced by a flurry of tiny microstates. The fragmentation of governance will eventually reach the point in which the largest communities are no more than 150 individuals, Dunbar’s Number. Also known in slang as the “monkey sphere”.

As for “ignorant rural areas” most of the violence in the U.S. is in certain urban areas due to culture.

I think the obvious, indeed usual, objection to the DRM scheme, (Aside from the fact that there are legitimate uses of weapons, and that, at least in the US, being able to have them is a constitutional right.) is that once you’ve got one in place, there’s no particular reason to believe the people in control of it will only restrict access to unreasonably dangerous items. At least one nano-factory DRM scheme I’ve heard described would include a backdoor to the nanonfactory which enabled them to force it to manufacture dangerous items, if they so desired, even if you punched up a toaster as your desired product.

So, unless you assume that the DRM agency is staffed by angels, they end up ruling the world with an iron fist. You’re just skipping straight to the global totalitarian system without trying anything else first.

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