Molecular nanotechnology manufacturing potentially offers almost unimaginable abundance to everyone who has access to it. But everything comes at a cost -- even the dream of universal abundance.
Handing out free nanofactories to everyone sounds like a great idea. CRN thinks something like that should be arranged. However, the nation, corporation or consortium that spends billions of dollars to develop the first nanofactory might disagree. How will their investment be recouped? If we don't set up an international development program in advance, the initial developer could be in a position to name their own price.
But let's say we figure out a way to pay back the nanofactory inventors, and then all agree that nanofactories should be distributed worldwide at no or very low cost. The next question is, what should those factories be able to produce?
We have suggested a system in which each nanofactory has a limited menu of products, and no capability for producing unapproved new designs. Does this mean the abundance we all dream of will never be realized? No, it doesn't. Does it mean that people will not be allowed to create their own new product designs? Certainly not.
To begin with, the CAD programs for designing new product variations will be separate from the factories. Only after new designs have passed through an online approval process (almost entirely automated) will they be released for actual production by a nanofactory. This approval process will require a carefully written, robust series of algorithms to function smoothly, quickly, and effectively. It won't be easy to build such a system, but this may be our best choice. Someone should start working on it very soon.
We've described this system, which we call Embedded Security Management, in much greater detail on this web page. I'd encourage you to read that page before responding to this blog entry.
But won't these restrictions put an unacceptable limit on the potential benefit that people could reap from nanofactories? Actually, no. The very factors that make molecular manufacturing so dangerous -- the rapid prototyping and unlimited manufacturing, and the immense complexity and power of the products -- also provide unprecedented opportunities for positive outcomes. Even a small fraction of the raw capability would be sufficient to satisfy the world's humanitarian needs for generations to come. Another fraction could multiply the economy and enrich every owner of the technology. And only a small fraction of nanotech-built products are unacceptably dangerous.
An amazing opportunity is coming our way very soon. But we must do it right. The price for safe introduction of the miracles of nanofactory technology is thorough, conscientious preparation.