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Results of Our Ongoing Research

These pages, marked with GREEN headings, are published for comment and criticism. These are not our final findings; some of these opinions will probably change.   LOG OF UPDATES 

CRN Research: Overview of Current Findings

bullet Timeline for Molecular Manufacturing   
bulletProducts of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletBenefits of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletDangers of Molecular Manufacturing  
bulletNo Simple Solutions
bulletAdministration Options   YOU ARE HERE
bullet Possible Technical Restrictions
bulletThe Need for International Control
bulletThe Need for Immediate Action
bulletA Solution that Balances Many Interests
bulletThe Need for Early Development   
bulletThe Need for International Development
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies

Administration Options for Molecular Manufacturing

This page is more preliminary than the others. CRN is not recommending these solutions yet; we need to do more research before we will know what can work in the real world. However, we do think that each of the problems addressed by these solutions must be dealt with somehow.

Overview:  Once molecular manufacturing is developed, it will have to be administered. There are several approaches that might help. CRN is not advocating any of these approaches at this point; we don't know enough about how the technology will be developed or in what context. We also have to point out that we don't think any one approach will be enough. Any effective program will require a balance of several different kinds of administration. Some possibilities include built-in technical restrictions in personal nanofactories; intellectual property reform; and international cooperation, monitoring, or regulation of various kinds. Despite the difficulties and complexities, we believe that a solution can be found to preserve most of the potential benefits while avoiding the most severe risks.

Administration of MNT will need several approaches. Administration of molecular nanotechnology (MNT) will require several cooperating approaches. As discussed on our No Simple Solutions page, any single approach can reduce only a few of the risks—while greatly increasing other risks. This page lists a few options for administrative approaches. The list is not complete, of course, and some of these may turn out to be unnecessary or even counterproductive. CRN will be working to develop more options and evaluate the ones already proposed. We strongly encourage other groups to do the same.
Technical restrictions can help. (MORE) Because unleashed molecular manufacturing is so dangerous, the best solution appears to be careful administration of the technology, including some mandatory restrictions. Fortunately, the same features that make MNT dangerous also allow the implementation of several kinds of technological restriction that may form useful components of an overall administration program. Products that might be adapted for unauthorized molecular manufacturing pose a serious threat to MNT security. Other products pose other kinds of threats, and additional restriction will probably be desirable. Still, many products, once approved, can be built freely—and for some classes of products, approval can be a rapid and automated process. MNT-built functionality will be amazingly compact: a supercomputer could fit inside a grain of sand. This allows a human-scale product, such as a personal nanofactory, to include dedicated security or monitoring hardware. Massive computer power can help with several other problems, including privacy-safe surveillance and patent reform.
An international program is probably necessary. (MORE) International administration appears to be necessary for several reasons. Some of the risks of molecular nanotechnology are potentially global in scope. At least one of the sources of risk, the possibility of a nanotech arms race, is explicitly international. Even well-intentioned and well-policed nations cannot always prevent internal terrorism, and companies with strong financial incentive do not always design secure products. Each additional MNT program increases the risk that unrestricted molecular manufacturing will fall into the wrong hands. For all these reasons, it seems best to have a single, trustworthy, international administration imposing tight controls on the technology. However, unless the technology is made widely available for a wide variety of applications and purposes, there will be strong incentive for independent MNT programs. Any successful administration program must satisfy many competing interests.
We need to start working now; this will take a lot of planning. (MORE) Molecular nanotechnology will emerge suddenly, perhaps within the next ten years, and probably within the next twenty. If it takes the world by surprise, we will not have systems in place that can deal with it. No single organization or mindset can create a full and appropriate policy—and inappropriate policy will only make things worse. A combination of separate policy efforts will get in each other's way, and the risks will slip through the cracks. By the time MNT arrives, we must have accomplished several things that each take significant time. First, we must understand the risks. Second, make policy. Third, design institutions. Fourth, create the institutions—at all levels including international levels, where things move slowly. This could easily take twenty years. If advanced nanotechnology could arrive in ten or fifteen years, then we'd better get to work.
CRN's proposal: something for everybody. (MORE) The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology has developed a tentative outline for the international administration of molecular nanotechnology. Under this proposal, a self-contained, secure molecular manufacturing system—a nanofactory—would be developed in a closely guarded crash program. The nanofactory would be released for widespread use. A personal nanofactory would only be able to make approved products, or approved classes of products, and the approval process could be quite flexible without giving up too much control. Very few products, even military products, require a built-in molecular manufacturing capability. Families of products could be classified according to increasing product safety and MNT containment. Only unusually dangerous products would require any human approval. At the same time, the built-in restriction infrastructure would allow military, commercial, and societal interests to be protected. Intellectual property could be protected without discouraging innovation or preventing humanitarian aid. 


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