"The molecular age may let us connect our actions more directly with consequences arising from them. As manufacturing becomes compressed in time and space, many of its consequences, beneficial or otherwise, are going to be right in front of us."
— Douglas Mulhall
We believe an important function of CRN is to find and ask the right questions. Until we have uncovered the crucial ethical issues, societal implications and potential risks, we can't expect to design effective solutions.
For that purpose, we are indebted to many esteemed colleagues who share our concern and have assisted by directing us to the areas of greatest import. A special thank-you is offered to Douglas Mulhall, author of Our Molecular Future (and a member of CRN's Board of Advisors), for articulating some of the vital questions to be addressed. Here are some of the momentous topics he expects we may confront in the coming years:
- What happens to the monetary system when everyone is able to satisfy his own basic material needs at very low cost?
- How would we use cash when digital manufacturing makes it impossible to differentiate a counterfeit bill or coin from the real thing?
- What happens to fiscal policy when digital information, moving at light speed, is the major commodity?
- How fast will monetary cycles move compared to, say, the ten- or twenty-year cycles of the late twentieth century, when products and patents go out of date in a matter of months instead of years?
- What happens when we don't have to worry about trade or social services for our basic needs, because most of what we need is provided locally with digital manufacturing, and the biggest trade is in information?
- How do we control the excesses of the ultrarich, the overabundance of the molecular assembler economy, and the challenge to intellectual property laws created by intelligent, inventive machines?
- What happens if half of all jobs are made redundant every decade?
- What happens to the War on Drugs when there's no import, export, or transport of contraband because drugs can be manufactured in a desktop machine using pirated software downloaded from the Internet?
- What happens to democratic controls when individuals can get as rich as small governments in a year or so?
- What's the relevance of insurance if many things are replaceable at very low capital cost, but liabilities from software are potentially unlimited?
- How should organized labor react when molecular assemblers and intelligent robots eliminate most manufacturing jobs?
- What is the nature of work going to be?
- What happens to land prices when an individual can build a tropical farm under a bubble in North Dakota, and get there from New York in an hour?
- What happens when everyone can go everywhere, whenever they want, and work from wherever they want?
Thanks, Doug. It looks like we've got our work cut out for us! To these questions we will add a few more of our own:
- Who will own the technology for molecular manufacturing?
- Will it be heavily restricted, or widely available?
- What will it do to the gap between rich and poor?
- How can dangerous weapons be controlled, and perilous arms races be prevented?
- What happens to privacy when powerful surveillance devices are smaller than a mosquito, just as mobile, and so cheap that they are virtually everywhere?
The purpose of CRN is to investigate the societal implications, long-range risks, and effective use of nanotechnology, and to educate those who will influence its use, or be affected by it. In order to provide well-grounded and complete information, clear explanation, and workable proposals, CRN studies, clarifies, and researches all the issues involved—political, economic, military, humanitarian, and technological—then presents the results for both technical and popular audiences.
On our main website, you can can view the Current Results of Our Research to answer some of these questions.