The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology has developed a tentative outline for the international administration of molecular nanotechnology manufacturing. Under our proposal, a self-contained, secure manufacturing system—a nanofactory—would be developed in a closely guarded crash program. The nanofactory would then be released for widespread use.
A nanofactory would only be able to make approved products or approved classes of products. This approval process could be quite flexible without giving up too much control and it could be mostly automated. Families of products could be classified according to increasing product safety; 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.
Without our proposal, or something like it, there are two very bad possibilities. One is that the technology is completely unrestricted—everyone manages molecular manufacturing by themselves. That just looks too risky, especially in the first few years when we don't fully understand what the technology can do or how to defend against misuses of it. The other possibility is that whoever gets molecular manufacturing first tries to set themselves up as world rulers; this is worse than what we're proposing. But if we plan ahead and design an administration system in advance, we can build in checks and balances between diverse interests, and try to avoid a single "ruling class".