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The "Top Ten Impacts" of Nano

I didn't blog about an earlier presentation, from Bryan Bruns of the Foresight Institute, because I wanted to go encode some of the videos I'll be putting up in the next few hours. His talk was called Applying Nanotechnology to the Challenges of Global Poverty, and you can read the abstract here.

Now speaking is Chris Phoenix, who spoke earlier today, this time talking on the top ten impacts of molecular manufacturing (abstract here).

Here are the top ten impacts Phoenix describes, retyped as I read his PowerPoint slides. (Anything in quotes comes from his mouth.) [UPDATE: To clarify, Phoenix did not say that this list was in any special order. They aren't necessarily in order of increasing -- or decreasing -- importance. In fact, Phoenix didn't even number them; the numbers below are just an artifact of my note-blogging. So don't read anything into the order in which they appear.] Keep in mind, these are all very theoretical:

1) INFRASTRUCTURES: Within months, molecular manufacturing (MM) could become the dominant manufacturing system. We'd have cheap solar power, including storage. We'd have inconceivably cheap computers. We'd have high-performance avionics, making it easier to put people (or weapons) in space.

2) ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES: Very efficient manufacturing and products, less pollution. With good management, we could have 100 billion people living on Earth sustainably. (But with bad management, that many people could "despoil the planet rather quickly." You don't say.)

3) BUSINESS AND TRADE: Extraction, transportation, manufacturing, and warehousing decrease. Intellectual property becomes increasingly important. Tensions between consumers and corporations -- "Napster squared." Tension between new and old businesses.

4) MICRO-ECONOMICS: We could all be self-sufficient, make our own things. "Black market? Ooooh yeah." Cost of living may go way own. Productivity may go way up. Wealth will concentrate: How much? We will be in a post-manufacturing society. Will it be a post-job society, too?

5) HUMAN RIGHTS, CIVIL LIBERTIES, HUMANITARIAN ISSUES: Cheap sensors and supercomputers. Communications (accountability). Surveillance (oppression). Rapid modernization, poverty alleviation. Powerful tech will inspire restrictions (crime, terror, war: freedom vs. security).

6) MEDICAL ETHICS AND RESEARCH: Massively parallel sensors. Cell-sized probes and surgical robots. "Actually cutting someone [for surgery] and making them bleed will soon look as primitive as, well, as bleeding them." Cheap supercomputers for very rapid medical R&D. (No more clinical trials?) Neural connections: "This is speculative, because we don't know how neurons work in detail." Genome manipulation. Physical "augmentation, for some of us, a source of much hope."

7) NEW-TECHNOLOGY ISSUES: Space -- for resources, and as a place to expand into; may raise military and security concerns. Artificial intelligence (AI). Intelligence augmentation, which some people think of "a preferable alternative to AI." And "transhumanism." "There's no technical reason why we could not become far more capable than we are today. Whether there are social reasons against it, and whether those reasons are powerful enough to win out, remains to be seen." Rapid medical research. Runaway or uncontrollable systems?

8) POLICING AND CRIMINOLOGY: Any unrestricted nanofactory "can become a weapons of mass destruction factory. This could be a problem. We don't know how to deal with it." Commercial (software, entertainment) security is not nearly good enough. Small and high-performance products could aid crime (spying and attack). Standoff weapons: lack of accountability. Cross-border effects/attacks. Humans are fragile. [Heckler in audience interrupts after Phoenix offhandedly -- and with casual thoughtlessness, if you ask me -- refers to Iraq. Heckler continues. Heckler stops. Heckler, btw, is same guy who confronted Kurzweil last night on humans being "sub-optimal."]

9) POLICY AND GOVERNANCE: Many vicious cycles to avoid. Bad policies won't cancel out. Must balance three kinds of issue: security, commerce, abundance. "It's likely that we're not, at the moment, finding the right mix" between control and free dissemination of intellectual property. The Internet is a sneak preview: spam, worms, spyware.

10) GEOPOLITICS AND PEACE: Less need for foreign resources: better self-sufficiency, less economic pressure, less interdependence and trade. Rapid development and deployment of weapons: unstable arms race? (In such an unstable arms race, it would be "very hard to tell who has what.") These technologies can proliferate rapidly. Is there a need for global administration? "It seems likely." It will take time to invent such a global agency, and implement it -- and "we may not have that much time."

CONCLUSION: "CALL TO ACTION" -- "Recognizing the impact of molecular manufacturing on each of these interconnected areas will be necessary for well-informed scenario planning or policymaking on any of them. The alternative is to accept drastic change that we can neither predict nor control."

During the Q&A, Phoenix is asked what we should do if someone makes a major nanotech breakthrough right away -- like, say, tomorrow. Phoenix: "If someone developed this tomorrow, the best recommendation I could make would be, 'Try to get off-planet.'"

October 23, 2004 in Applications | Permalink

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