The final segment (studies 17-30) of CRN's thirty essential studies focuses on "Policies and Policymaking". Recommended studies in this section assume the existence of a general-purpose molecular manufacturing system; all preliminary answers are based on diamondoid nanofactory technology.
Today we'll consider a set of significant wrapup questions in study #28: "What policies toward development of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?"
There are several policy options for the development of molecular manufacturing (MM). Which ones might work as planned, and what would be their effects on post-development courses of action?
Subquestion A: Relinquishment: prevent development worldwide?
Preliminary answer: This is highly unlikely to work. It'll be too easy to develop, and the basic theory has been published for more than a decade.
The effect of attempted relinquishment would be to ensure that MM was developed by random outlaws. The delay would allow time for the development of more enabling technologies, probably increasing the abruptness of development and deployment.
Subquestion B: Asymmetric development: one nation develops in advance of the others?
Preliminary answer: This appears possible, depending on which nation. If a nation other than the U.S. tries it and does not conceal their effort successfully, the U.S. will likely be able to catch up, leading to parallel development or possibly to U.S.-led asymmetric development. A U.S. program would have to be well designed, avoiding a variety of problems common to U.S. government-funded programs.
The likely follow-up to asymmetric development would be an attempt at worldwide control. The effects of this would depend heavily on the policies adopted by the government in question.
Subquestion C: Parallel development: several nations develop at around the same time?
Preliminary answer: This seems quite likely, either from an arms race or from development by multinational corporations.
The result would depend heavily on policy. If an arms race can be avoided, and effective administration/policing can be implemented, it could turn out well. But an arms race looks pretty likely, and would probably be disastrous. Also, parallel development would make it harder to restrict proliferation.
Subquestion D: International development: explicit cooperation between nations?
Preliminary answer: Seems unlikely to be tried. If it is tried, it's likely to fail due to politics, mistrust, and inefficiency that allows a national crash/secret program to finish first.
International development would reduce the pressure for an arms race and give multiple nations a stake in setting the policy for use of MM. Paradoxically, it could reduce proliferation, since joint ownership would encourage the widespread availability of controlled versions and blunt the desire for uncontrolled versions.
Corporate development by a large, international corporation may also be an interesting possibility to study. It may even be worth trying to make it happen that way. Corporate development is likely to be a lot more efficient and less vulnerable to politics than a project that's shared between governments. But it would still promote the benefits listed in the previous paragraph, assuming the corporation has (and follows!) really good policy advice.
Subquestion E: Non-proliferation: restrict availability of the core technology?
Preliminary answer: Will probably be tried. Will probably help to some extent. Will be ineffective in the long run unless combined with two other policies: 1) reduce desire for unrestricted technology by providing easy access to restricted but useful technology; 2) develop the ability to deal with eventual proliferation.
The alternative -- allowing everyone access to the unrestricted technology -- appears extremely dangerous; perhaps comparable to leaving the post-Soviet nuclear infrastructure unguarded.
Subquestion F: Slow development: don't make special efforts?
Preliminary answer: Likely to lead to random development, rapid bootstrapping due to other nanotech advances, and lack of ability to implement policy.
If development is delayed long enough for other technologies to catch up (perhaps two or three decades) then this could give us time to adjust gradually. But that much delay appears unlikely, and we'd lose the benefits for those decades (see study #30).
Subquestion G: Accelerated development: put limited effort toward it?
Preliminary answer: Would likely inspire other efforts, leading to parallel development.
Subquestion H: Crash development: put maximum effort toward it?
Preliminary answer: Could lead to either parallel or asymmetric development. Could smooth the transition by requiring more creativity to design products.
Provisional conclusion: Early development combined with anti-proliferation policy appears preferable, but more study is needed, and the outcome depends heavily on the actions of the developer(s).
Our initial basic findings (preliminary answers and provisional conclusions) for all thirty studies should be verified as rapidly as possible. Because our understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting these studies is strongly preferred.
We are actively looking for researchers who have an interest in performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on the proposed studies.