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How Might Nanotech Affect Privacy?

Brad Templeton (described below) just finished his talk about privacy in the age of nanotech. The official title of his talk was "Preserving Privacy as Nanosurveillance Arrives" (as you can see from his abstract, here), but on his PowerPoint slide, he called the talk "The Automation of Good and Evil." I'm not going to recount his whole argument here, except to say that most of it was an attempt to respond to the arguments put forward in David Brin's provocative book The Transparent Society, in which Brin argues, essentially, that the only way we can maintain our freedom is to willingly and thoroughly give up our privacy to one another.

Now, Templeton's 30-minute talk is being followed by a 45-minute debate on the subject, in which he is facing off against Mr. Robin Hanson, a professor at George Mason University (homepage here). The debate isn't great, frankly, but there've been a few interesting points made. Prof. Hanson, an economist, says that he is best known as "the guy behind terrorism futures" (indeed, he is: see the Wired article here), but that he's not worried about nanoterrorism, or even non-nano terrorism. (His exact words: "I'm not very worried about terrorism.") Professor Hanson argues that privacy serves to protect lazy employees (who don't want their laziness known) or treacherous spouses (who don't want their secrets known).

UPDATE: The questions from the audience helped enliven the debate somewhat, with questions about nanobots in the brain, and about the reliability of the information obtained through surveillance.

UPDATE: A picture from after the debate. Brad Templeton is on the left, Robin Hanson is on the right.

October 23, 2004 in Ethical / Social Implications | Permalink


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