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« Interdisciplinary Triumph | Main | e-Parliament »

May 05, 2004


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Janessa Ravenwood

Mind-blowing. I was stunned at what we had achieved in 2003, and here 2004's not even over yet. Not all of my friends take me seriously when I tell them just how close all of this is.

Now if only we can avoid all this transnational regulation nonsense and keep US dominance in bio/nanotech then things will be going very well indeed. (Admittedly the idiotic calls to ban cloning are NOT helpful but I don't give them the longest lifespan.) As for the tranzi angle, the continued (at least nominal) ferver of nationalism in the US coupled with a profound distase for Europe and the UNSCAM scandal are factors to be thankful for here.

Mr. Farlops

[rant]Sigh--very well, I'm game.

Look, I think we have to harbor a universal skepticism when it comes to the social effects of mature nanotechnology.

Emergent solutions won't be enough, regulation won't be enough. Individual responsibility won't be enough and organizational responsibility won't be enough. We'll need a little bit of everything. Dreaming of stateless, free-market miracles and perfect command economies and totalitarian states and making blanket criticism on one approach versus another is obviously a waste time.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle and is gritty, complicated and rather ugly to look at but it's the only way forward.

Nanotechnology tends to shatter a lot of scales on peoples eyes and makes people of one ideological stripe or another change their mind on a lot things. Being doctrinare is a hinderance.[/rant]

Anyway these advances are very, very impressive. It will be interesting to see how they play out in the year to come.

Janessa Ravenwood

I quite agree, both ends of that spectrum are extreme. It will have to be somewhere in the middle. But everyone's personal bias tends to tilt them (at least to some degree) toward one or the other. I'm coming from the Right and CRN is (despite their not wanting to admit it) coming from the Left. Hence I tend to shy away from bigger government and CRN favors a de-facto world government (though again they don't want to admit it).

I recognize that a pure unfettered capitalistic free-for-all with no rules would be a disaster, but I would like to see CRN abandon this pie-in-the-sky mythical monopoly and 24/7 global technical administration dream they have for something more realistic as well. As it stands right now they’re hopeless dreamers advocating something so unrealistic that it stands no chance in hell of ever coming about. There’s a good chance that in 20 or so years I’ll be sitting here with a nanofac on my desktop and they’ll still be talking about getting their ideas off the ground and wondering about how to establish a transnational monopoly on MNT when the genie is LONG out of the bottle. I mean it – technology continues to outpace legislation at an ever-increasing rate and by the time any politician gets around to taking MNT seriously it’ll already have arrived.

To pull of this global monopoly would require a facility at with at LEAST the size and budget of Microsoft’s Redmond campus. As I’ve said before, until I see a bill in Congress sponsoring this AND specs on where it would be built, who would pay for it, and who would run it, it cannot be taken seriously. I once worried that they might find one of the more socialist countries of Europe or somewhere that might like this approach, but the more the idea is examined the more it falls apart as completely unworkable, especially in the current global political climate. Hence I’m not really worried about it anymore. My new concern is on finding some sort of approach that actually COULD work in the real world.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

I've finally figured out how to describe what we want. It's not a world government. It's a police force, or collection of police forces, that has global legitimacy and global scope.

I say police because it's the closest term we have today--closer than military, anyway. The force would have to interact directly with civilian populations. It would have to have sufficient power to prevent the worst abuses. It would need sufficient finesse and respect, as well as a sufficiently well-designed structure, not to trample on civil rights and liberties.

I say global because the globe is shrinking, by which I mean that individuals will be able to hurt people on other continents. A solution where we try to contain unstable populations doesn't look workable. Someone will have to actually go in and maintain some semblance of law and order. Of course, this is part of a much bigger effort, and nanotech is not the only reason to do it.

And I don't specify whether it's a unified force or a collection of forces working together. Just that it/they have to have universal jurisdiction. That means the U.S., Iraq, Somalia, North Korea, Nigeria, China...

If we ever get to the point where you can relax with a nanofac on your (and everyone else's) desktop, then CRN will be unnecessary--and we'll happily admit it, and close up shop. But I can't see any way to achieve that with (for example) the lack of security we have in home computers today. How could you relax, knowing that even if you've got your nanofac firewalled, your neighbor doesn't, and some terrorist is likely to hack in and program it to build and set off ten pounds of fuel-air explosive--or something far more nasty?

The one thing you said that I agree with is that you're concerned with finding an approach that could work in the real world. Please, please find one, and tell us what it is! We do not claim to have the final answer. In fact, it may have been a mistake to propose anything at all. Perhaps we should have just said, "Here are the constraints. The situation looks hopeless." And waited to see if someone would prove us wrong.


Janessa Ravenwood

Ah...well that's a different beast entirely. You might want to very explicitly note that on your website (if it’s there I’ve missed it and apologize for doing so). Done correctly, this kind of approach might have some sort of a chance. It would have to have more teeth than the feeble IAEA, but that does bring us back to the issue of sovereignty.

This “Interpol” (“Nanopol”?) agency would need international jurisdiction but if it’s a stand-alone agency beholden to no government then a WHOLE lot of governments will quite resent these “super-feds” who are able to bounce around their countries at will despite not being members of a government agency of that country. The voters of these countries would also likely have problems with it.

What might be an interesting idea would be a treaty of protocols that each country must agree to enforce, but the enforcement would be done at the state/local level. Standards of enforcement and inspections could go hand in hand with this, but the local enforcement would negate the “foreign masters” resentment (at least to some degree).

The only problem is what about countries that don’t want to play ball. You said you’d want to inspect North Korea (a good idea, by the way) but assuming they say no, well, the question must be asked: “What’cha gonna do about it, punk?” (with apologies to Clint Eastwood). :-)

Chris Phoenix, CRN

No, it's not noted on our website. In fact, our proposal has been sufficiently general and open-ended to encompass either military or police. You may have made an unwarranted assumption...? I'm still not sure what aspect of our proposal you were objecting to so strenuously. Why is a world police institution better than a world administration?

The difference between military and police is subtle and problematic. And not even one-dimensional. What do you call an enforcer at a checkpoint? (And how do you keep them from getting checkpoint syndrome?) Is a sustained benevolent occupation possible at all? (Was it ever? The British told themselves they were benevolent back in colonial times, and it took the colonies a while to work up the gumption to break away.)

It might be best to get away from the military mode entirely. There are other models. For example, a service technician, or even a government inspector, can sometimes enter your home to deal with conditions that might in theory be unsafe or undesirable for you. The service tech enters when invited; the inspector enters as part of e.g. a permit process for remodeling. I don't know if there's a way to inspect for dangerous nano under a home-inspector or house-call-service model; I suggest it only as a stimulus to creativity.

Again, our proposal does not specify the flavor or degree of inspection vs. surveillance vs. technical restriction vs. deterrence vs. product tracking vs. active shield vs. post-event cleanup. How can it, when we don't even know what type of threat (hackable nanofactories? independent projects? etc...) will pose the greatest danger?

I'm encouraged that I managed to suggest something that you didn't hate on sight. But I want you to realize that this possibility has been inherent in our proposal all along. Don't blame us for not making it explicit. It's still not explicit. It's still a possibility. Spend more time looking for the good options, rather than settling on the bad ones and then accusing us of specifying them when we haven't.


Karl Gallagher

Having a world police force doesn't get you away from the military when it may be required to arrest a government.

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