Printed: 2020-07-08

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Mike Treder

Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

December 22, 2004
No, this entry is not about nanotechnology’s ability to turn a person invisible, although it has been reported that researchers are working on that.

I’m more interested today in thinking and writing about hidden or invisible destruction, as opposed to visible destruction. For example, take the fear of nuclear war, which is understandably (and properly!)  widespread. It would be impossible to hide the effects of a nuclear attack. We all know basically what it would look like and how devastating it would be. So it’s easy to find consensus that nuclear war is bad and should be avoided at almost any cost.

By contrast, take something like ozone layer depletion, global warming, or species loss through deforestation. Each of these, it can be argued, is a serious problem. But their effects are, for now at least, largely hidden. It's not easy for most of us to envision the ozone layer being depleted or polar ice caps slowly melting. As a result, it's much harder to find consensus that steps should be taken to address those concerns.

We face the same conundrum in trying to visualize, analyze, quantify, describe, prevent, or prepare for the possibility of warfare conducted with nanotechnology-built weapons. By its nature, molecular manufacturing is small-scale, would be easy to conceal, and might be developed in secret without great difficulty. If put to use for destructive purposes, the direct impacts and indirect effects of nano-built weapons could be hidden, or nearly invisible, until it's too late to forestall a horrendous attack.

This essay is not intended as a scare tactic, but only as a thought starter. Not nearly enough effort has been put into understanding the range of dangers presented by advanced nanotechnology. Yes, it's important to balance the discussion with appreciation for the benefits, but first, we must apply all the intellectual capital we can muster to ensure that humankind will survive the transition into the nano era.

Just a little something to ponder as you sip your eggnog...

Mike Treder


Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837