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The C-R-Newsletter

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Newsletter Archives:  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003


Our Latest Newsletter

C-R-Newsletter #65:  October 4, 2008
Permalink

Global Catastrophic Risks
Convergence 08
Scenarios Becoming Real
The End of Capitalism?
CRN Goes to Spain
Funding for Independent Researchers
CRN Goes to Greece
Feature Essay: The Human Extinction Scenario
 

To keep up with all the latest CRN and nanotech activity on a daily basis, be sure to check our Responsible Nanotechnology weblog.

 

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Global Catastrophic Risks

CRN is proud to join with the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies to present an exciting and informative one-day seminar -- Friday, November 14, 2008 -- on “Global Catastrophic Risks” at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Learn about threats to the future of humanity, natural and man-made, and the pro-active steps we can take to reduce these risks and build a more resilient civilization.

SEMINAR FACULTY
 

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Nick Bostrom Ph.D., Director, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University

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Jamais Cascio, research affiliate, Institute for the Future

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James J. Hughes Ph.D., Exec. Director, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Mike Treder, Executive Director, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

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Eliezer Yudkowsky, Research Associate. Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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William Potter Ph.D., Director, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
 

This event comes just ahead of the futurist mega-gathering Convergence 08 at the same venue (see below). Please join us for this essential seminar!

 
Convergence 08

On November 15-16, 2008, the world’s most dangerous ideas will collide in Mountain View, California. Convergence08 will examine the world-changing possibilities of nanotech and the life-changing promises of biotech. It is the premier forum for debate and exploration of cogtech ethics, and ground zero of the past and future infotech revolution. Convergence 08 is an innovative, lively unconference, the first and only forum dedicated to NBIC (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno) technologies.

CRN will be there, and we hope you will be too. Discounted early bird registration is available until October 20.

 
Scenarios Becoming Real

Although we're quick to point out that the nanotechnology scenarios developed by the CRN Task Force are not predictions, it's interesting to follow the news and see how some early elements we hypothesized are starting to take place.

We’ve compiled a few examples:

 

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RepRap Release & Scenario #2

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IDEAS Factory Funding & Scenario #3

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Water Treatment Breakthroughs & Scenario #5

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Accelerated Warming & Scenario #8
 

And here’s another one:
 

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Banning Chinese Products & Scenario #3


Again, the scenarios should not be viewed as predictions, nor do they represent outcomes desired by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. CRN intends the scenarios to provide a springboard for discussion of molecular manufacturing policies and societal responses. While each scenario can be understood individually, the real value of the process comes from the comparison of multiple scenarios.

 
The End of Capitalism?

Does the present financial crisis signal the end of capitalism, as we know it? We don’t think so, but we do believe it could signal a fundamental systemic shift.

During the last comparable upheaval, back in the 1930s, most of Europe began moving toward a system of democratic socialism, which is still in place today. The US never went as far, of course, and in fact retreated from that direction in the 1980s and 1990s in a move toward laissez faire economics that many people blame in part for our present troubles.

At the same time, China has, since the 1980s, combined one-party politics with robust capitalist economics and achieved astonishing financial growth. Russia's present leadership seems eager to follow that example, while the US may lean more toward Europe and others in adopting socialist management of health care and various major financial institutions.

If that happens, we would end up with something like the old Cold War alignment, but with the economic systems flipped around. It’s possible we may see, over the next decade or so, a clear realignment that puts communist capitalism -- China and Russia -- on one side, with democratic socialism -- the United States, Europe, Japan, Australia, and Canada on the other side. India, Africa, and South America would remain in the middle, to be wooed and/or fought over by both sides.

 
CRN Goes to Spain

Last month, CRN Executive Director Mike Treder traveled to Spain to make a presentation to a group of faculty and students about the effects of nanotechnology on globalization.

In addition to speaking about economic, military, and humanitarian implications, a major point he made was the projected continuum between global warming, climate chaos, geoengineering, and planet-scale engineering.

You can read more about those remarks in CRN’s latest monthly column for Nanotechnology Now.

 
Funding for Independent Researchers

The European Research Council has good news for "early career independent researchers" working in "any field of science, engineering, and scholarship." They are offering grants totaling almost half a billion US dollars for qualified researchers from any country who have an innovative idea and need funding to explore or develop it.

Proposals can be submitted in three broad areas:
 

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Physical Sciences and Engineering (by 29 Oct)

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Social Sciences and Humanities (by 19 Nov)

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Life Sciences (by 10 Dec)


Read more here.


CRN Goes to Greece

Later this month, CRN’s Mike Treder will make a presentation at the World Public Forum’s “Dialogue of Civilizations” in Rhodes, Greece. Mike will report to the group on this subject: “From ‘top down’ to ‘bottom up’ -- In technology, economics, and geopolitics.”

World Public Forum is “a deliberative-consultative body that unites various public organizations, members of organs of government, representatives of intellectual, cultural, spiritual, business and political elite from different countries, representatives of various cultural traditions, people that strive for contribution in dialogue among civilizations.” Their mission includes “the creation of effective and democratic instruments of solving of global problems and realization of evolutionary changes in the structure of modern society.”

Mike looks forward to meeting and exchanging ideas with the event’s esteemed participants.

 
Feature Essay: The Human Extinction Scenario
By Jamais Cascio, CRN Director of Impacts Analysis

It's 2019. A major pandemic has swept the planet, with upwards of 25 million people infected. Global food networks have collapsed, and riots over food supplies are in daily headlines around the world. The transition away from fossil fuels is underway, but a lack of standards, failing infrastructure, and catastrophic mistakes have made the shift far more painful than expected.

Pirates fill the seas, hackers attack key networks, and "griefing" has moved from the world of online games to our information-laden real lives. War, drought, and climate disruption have pushed millions out of their homes throughout the world, a global diaspora that grows daily.

And into this set of interwoven crises, an announcement: According to the most sophisticated global computer simulations ever run, the human species is likely to go functionally extinct by 2042.

What do you do?

This is the premise behind Superstruct, a new project organized by the Palo Alto, California-based Institute for the Future (IFTF). The Institute has been around for 40 years, a non-profit think tank offering structured forecasts to a variety of global clients. For 30 years, it has produced an annual "Ten-Year Forecast," highlighting trends and topics that the combined work of the various IFTF associates deem likely to be important over the coming decade. This year, for the 2009 forecast, IFTF decided to do something different: Rather than rely on its internal experts, they would "crowd-source the future," opening up the foresight process to thousands (or more) of participants.

IFTF is doing this crowd-sourcing in the form of a game -- Superstruct.

Superstruct (meaning to build upon) is a "massively-multiplayer forecasting game" designed by Ten-Year Forecast director Kathi Vian, noted game specialist Jane McGonigal, and me, environmental futurist (and the Director of Impacts Analysis at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology) Jamais Cascio. I have worked as a part-time Research Affiliate with IFTF for a few years now. For Superstruct, Kathi makes sure that the work fits in with Ten-Year Forecast goals, Jane has organized the game structure, and I've been in charge of building the game world.

Unlike World of Warcraft or other massively-multiplayer online worlds, Superstruct is not played as a traditional computer game. Rather, it's perhaps better thought of as a collaborative storytelling exercise, but with rules. Participants will be asked to describe in detail how they themselves will be living in 2019, and how they would respond to the crises presented -- and to the announcement of the likely extinction of humankind. Moreover, the participants will be asked to work together to come up with new forms of organizations -- superstructs -- that could offer novel ways to deal with the crises at hand, and help push out the extinction horizon for the human species.

Participation takes the form of videos, blog posts, twitter feeds, and active contributions on the Superstruct discussion boards. Already, creative early participants have produced novel materials, even entire websites, based in this fictional world of 2019. Twitter chat has been underway for at least a week; Superstruct-related posts either have the #2019 tag, or come from a Twitter account with 2019 in its name (e.g., my game-related Twitter feed is at cascio2019).


So where does advanced nanotechnology fit into this?

The five "superthreats" described at the beginning of this essay (given the catchy titles of "Quarantine," "Ravenous," "Power Struggle," "Outlaw Planet," and "Generation Exile") may at first seem like a cacophony of catastrophe, as if we've overloaded the world of 2019 with more than its fair share of disasters.

In truth, while the conditions may in some cases be exaggerated, the number and complexity of the problems on the planet strongly parallel what we see today: global economic meltdown; peak oil; struggles against violent extremism; multiple simultaneous wars; and environmental crises galore. These problems haven't gone away by 2019, but they serve as the background conditions that made the superthreats possible.

But we're not just offering an eschatological laundry list for participants to deal with; we're also talking about the various tools and ideas that could be available to us to deal with these crises. The design team decided early on that full-blown molecular manufacturing, while certainly a possibility within this time-frame, would not be available -- we didn't want fixing the world to be too easy. But that research is underway, and has started to bear early fruit -- much more precise microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), even borderline nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS). Moreover, the fabber revolution is well underway, and many of the nanotech-related issues surrounding intellectual property, open source design, and access to materials have already begun to emerge.

Moreover, if you look back at the eight scenarios produced by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology last year, you'll note that deep crises can serve as a catalyst for accelerated development of advanced technologies. While the scenario behind Superstruct doesn't map precisely to any single CRN scenario, it has elements that reflect nearly all of them.

Nanotechnology-aware participants in Superstruct should look for ways in which the early precursor technologies likely to be available by 2019 can help to enhance other kinds of projects. The heart of Superstruct can be found in the combinations of ideas and organizations created by the players -- the goal isn't to be the one person who can save the world, but to be the one who sees the right kind of collaborative structures needed. To that end, we have a small number of judges (including science fiction writer Bruce Sterling, graphic novelist Warren Ellis, and Heroes producer Tim Kring) who will offer their own, unique awards at the end of the project. Players will also be able to earn badges and other smaller awards along the way.

When this is done, not only will Superstruct participants have access to the entire body of material created by the other participants, in 2009 they'll also receive IFTF forecast work produced as a result.

Superstruct play officially begins October 6, and the project will run through November 17.

Help create the future -- and maybe avert human extinction -- by playing Superstruct.
 


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