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Draconian measures for molecular manufacturing?

If molecular manufacturing has to be controlled, how much of society needs to be controlled to accomplish that?

A few days ago, I wrote an article implying that liberty in the U.S. may be at risk due to an ongoing state of near-war. I quoted Aldous Huxley: “Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government.”

A commenter asked: “I wonder, however. Considering the rather draconian measures you believe would be required to control nanotechnology, do you think this is a bad thing?”

First, let me clarify (for any new readers) that “nanotechnology” here is used to mean molecular manufacturing—its original meaning—not all the newer stuff that has been grafted onto the word, such as nanoparticles. No one is suggesting that nanoparticles might need draconian control measures—though some kinds of nanoparticles might need a bit more control than they’re currently getting.

So, molecular manufacturing: tiny nanotech machines, made out of precisely designed molecules, that can rapidly build more machines of equivalent precision and complexity. A manufacturing revolution: general-purpose manufacturing, using non-scarce equipment, of inexpensive and highly advanced products. And the manufacturing systems could be small, easily concealed, easily duplicated—very difficult to control, if an unrestricted system was ever in civilian hands.

Pretty revolutionary—which means disruptive—which means potentially destructive. So, does it require draconian control measures?

There is some argument that it should simply be allowed to be developed with minimal controls, in the expectation that the good will outweigh the bad, and problems will be outweighed by solutions. In my more optimistic moments, I have a lot of sympathy for this viewpoint. Computers have developed pretty much that way, and we—and our infrastructure and society—have so far managed to survive computer viruses, spam, and data-mining. On the other hand, if a computer virus could kill a person instead of just erasing their data, we might be a lot less sanguine.

If molecular manufacturing has to be controlled, how much of society needs to be controlled to accomplish that? The good news is that not much broad-based control may be required. In other words, it may be sufficient to keep control of a few key technological capabilities, to make it difficult or impossible for a private effort to develop molecular manufacturing until technology has advanced to the point that molecular manufacturing is no longer a big deal.

There may, of course, be paths to molecular manufacturing that, once conceptualized, turn out to be fairly simple recipes, accessible with technologies that are already widespread. That would be problematic. But without sophisticated tools and lots of R&D money, such recipes couldn’t be developed and tested.

I’m not yet ready to say that broad-based control of society to avoid technological evils is definitely unnecessary and will always continue to be unnecessary. But I do think (at this moment, at least) that in terms of potential harm to humans from private development of high tech, there are other technologies that loom a lot larger. And I think this will continue to be the case until the first advanced molecular manufacturing system is not only developed, but released to the public in unrestricted form.

If it turns out to be necessary to restrict molecular manufacturing, then either limits on its development or technological limits on its implementation may well be sufficient. I don’t see the need to restructure or oppress society to keep us safe from this technology.

My ideal future would have most of the limits be technological, and applied to limit the use of publicly available manufacturing systems. Technological limits would have to be carefully designed, because almost anything can be cracked given enough effort. But molecular manufacturing has enough potential for good that I’d like to see it available in some form that’s appropriately restricted but still broadly useful.


The very nature of Molecular Manufacturing makes it almost impossible to control.If we agree on this point we can move ahead to the next
phase of limiting its dangers by other means.The option available is to reduce the events that would lead to war and individuals making
weapons with Nanotechnology.The way to achieve this is when a technology so disruptive and with so much potential to reduce or even eliminate poverty is realised,It simply should be shared as soon as possible so as to eliminate the reasons for war.

There are many reasons for war, isam; poverty is probably not even in the top five.

Hi Frank,

All of the other reasons for war converge on one single thing : Fight for resources.When people are comfortable and have a lot to loose they seldom go to war.Let’s take some example for historical and current ongoing wars.There is a phrase that is often used by the US to justify its engagement in different wars ” To protect our interest”.Then there is what some see as religious wars, which in fact due to lack of resources that lead to irrationality .Take the cold war, it was a war of ideas based on different ways of sharing resources.The capitalist see it from a view from the communists and the list goes on and on but always converges on the problem of sharing the available resources.Even religions came as a response to the age old problem of sharing resources.

Hi Isam, Do the reasons for /theft/ converge on the same thing? Is the thief, even the rich white collar thief, “fighting for resources?” If not, why not?

o Frank,

thieves are children of an economy of scarcity. What I mean is that an economy of scarcity predisposes the majority to try to accumulate as much wealth as possible. If Molecular Manufacturing becomes a reality, a new paradigm will be established where competition will be perhaps in intellectual accumulation of new ideas.This change in direction will have to be a concious endeavour pursued by society, but is not an impossible goal. As to the answer to your question, yes thieves are just following what all of society is following : More resources. We have to understand one thing in the current status quo:L We are all poor -Rich and poor- With the new paradigm shift we will all be rich.Human nature is not to go to war but to seek peace. This is the latest finding of science. I can direct you to a scientific research where it has been almost proven that warmongering is not an innate human feature but an acquired one.

If you’re referring to /this/ article, then I think the conclusion of the research is little more than speculation: Nowhere near “almost proven.”

“With the new paradigm shift we will all be rich.”

How is that different from saying “In my dreams, we will all be rich.”?

Billions of people already live in peace. War is the exception rather than the norm. We just have to look around us to notice that. An economy of abundance will render war a rare phenomena because of the following factors:
*No need to quarrel over basic necessities of life such as food, water,clothing and energy.this will already have the effect of eliminating most of the reasons for war.
*Abundance of resources will mean that all people would have access to quality education which raises the awareness level and minimises sectarian irrational violence.
*Access to molecular manufacturing will open up new lands for enjoyment and living without impacting the environment greatly, this will have the effect of reducing tensions and wars over land ownership.
*Molecular manufacturing will render human life even more sacred as it would allow medical science to increase longevity and quality of life.Very few would want to throw their lives away because of futile wars.
*Molecular manufacturing will allow us to build more powerful computers and communications system. This would have the effect of mixing all human cultures thus creating a global culture of understanding and tolerance and minimising cultural misunderstandings that could lead to war.

Yes the posited technoabundance will limit (though not remove*) resource as a cause for war, but do not kid yourself - Homo Sapiens Sapiens is at heart just a monkey with car keys, and remember Dr. Seuss and his star-bellied sneetches? 

The Hutu and Tutsi have been at war since there has been both Hutu and Tutsis, and one or more brands of Islam is still pissed about some slight suffered by somebody in the Seventh Century C.E.

Similarly, and closer to (my) home: It will be a VERY long time before “Sherman” is the most popular Given Name at Atlanta General Hospital (assuming there IS an Atlanta General Hospital).

In sum:  Humans are warlike; it’s what we DO.  The most rapacious among us have for millennia sought political power, and once they achieve it, they have with VERY few exceptions sought MORE political power, not just for resources, but because seeking power is what those people do.  Did Ganghis Khan really *HAVE* to conquer all of Asia?

I submit that yes, in fact he did have to:  Conquering people is what he was born to do, and it’s all he knew how to do.

*Even if we “perfect” molecular fab, it won’t do anything about the fact that almost all of the world’s Lithium is in China and Peru, for one example

Creative post, Randall. And I agree with it. I just hope you were taking creative license when you wrote that Genghis Khan HAD to conquer all of Asia because he was BORN to do it.
After all, just like any other human, he had a choice.

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