Because of the largely unexpected transformational power of molecular manufacturing, it is urgent to understand the issues raised. To date, there has not been anything approaching an adequate study of these issues.
CRN believes that at least thirty essential studies should be conducted immediately. Today we will examine study #22: "How can proliferation and use of nanofactories and their products be limited?"
Note: This is part of the third segment of studies, 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.
This study will explore the challenge of preventing black markets, independent development, etc.
Subquestion A: How easy will it be to detect a development program?
Preliminary answer: Probably quite difficult. Development does not require exotic materials or massive industrial activity. It may require mainly off-the-shelf technology. Researchers will be from diverse and common fields like software engineering and computational chemistry, not concentrated in one exotic field. Depending on the bootstrapping 'recipe', the design effort might be dispersed (networked/teleconferenced), and the entire physical operation might be carried out in one moderate-sized laboratory. And most of the research would not require world-class talent, though a successful program today might well require world-class leadership.
Subquestion B: How much easier will it be to develop a second nanofactory, compared with developing the first one?
Preliminary answer: Reverse engineering will give hints as to which path to take. The definite knowledge that it can be done at all will reduce institutional friction. General technology advances will give a second program more to work with. Any leaks of know-how or software will further reduce the difficulty. It seems likely that the second nanofactory will be an order of magnitude less costly.
Subquestion C: How can nanoscale products be detected?
Preliminary answer: Unknown. Nanoporous filters can trap them. Non-proximal sub-wavelength optics, if they work as claimed, may be able to scan for them at a distance—but there are lots of natural nanoparticles, so recognition is also a problem. MRI may be able to detect at a distance, though resolution is a problem and there may be a theoretical limit.
Subquestion D: How easy will it be to smuggle nanofactories?
Preliminary answer: A fully functional nanofactory, able (given a supply of feedstock, energy, and blueprint software) to make one twice as big (and so on) and thus recreate a full manufacturing capacity, could be just a few microns on a side—small enough to hide inside a human cell. Or any convenient size in between. We don't know of any way to detect something like that without total intrusion of the volume being searched, which probably implies destruction.
Subquestion E: How easy will it be to detect proliferation-related activity?
Preliminary answer: Quite difficult. Especially once the 'recipe' is known, it will be very hard to spot a project—R&D for a nanofactory project may require only a single small lab and a few computers. (For comparison, consider Zyvex.)
Subquestion F: How effective will deterrence be?
Preliminary answer: To someone lacking a comparable capability, a nanofactory would be incredibly valuable. This implies that deterrence will not be successful.
Provisional conclusion: It will be very difficult to limit proliferation of nanofactory technology and possession of bootleg nanofactories.
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.