Let's assume, for the sake of argument and to increase our understanding, that unregulated and unrestricted nanofactories are widely available. Then we can ask the question posed by our recommended study #23: "What effect will this have on policing?"
This topic is part of the third segment of CRN's thirty essential 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.
In this study, determine how difficult it would be to make and enforce laws if novel products are readily available through molecular manufacturing.
Subquestion A: Could a 'home appliance' version of the manufacturing technology be used to produce undesirable products?
Preliminary answer: Yes. Just download the blueprint from the Internet. It could be as easy as printing a picture from a Web browser today.
Subquestion B: Could medical advances lead to new and controversial pleasure devices/drugs?
Preliminary answer: Yes. Although the chemistry may not be able to make medical chemical compounds, it could make very sophisticated surgical robots. For example, 'acupuncture needle' type probes (with antibiotic surfaces) that can be used for direct brain stimulation ('wireheading') with relatively low medical risk. Or new kinds of sexual appliances.
Subquestion C: How easily could a black market in these technologies be maintained?
Preliminary answer: For some, more easily than today's drug market.
Subquestion D: How well could lawmaking keep up with newly invented products?
Preliminary answer: Whole new classes of pleasure device? It'll be hard even to decide what's socially acceptable and what's not.
Subquestion E: How much would new weaponry endanger police?
Preliminary answer: See study #20, on military implications. There won't be parity between police and criminals. If criminals have access to advanced weapons, any flesh-and-blood policeman will be in the position of a civilian and police would have to depend on systemic incentives not to kill them. The next likely alternative is that police become paramilitary -- SWAT team or "Robocop" -- or use remote sensor nets and telepresence.
Subquestion F: How would the 'arms race' between invention and detection/defense affect crime? Terrorism?
Preliminary answer: Criminals and terrorists tend to be stupid and unimaginative, but so do bureaucracies. A smart bad guy would find a large range of new opportunities. Again, it'll be difficult to 'harden' civilian targets against crime as well as destructive attack.
Law enforcement expert Tom Cowper suggests that "the biggest unknown is how effective the public police can become -- effectively stopping criminals while effectively preserving civil liberties. This is where concepts such as Net-Centric Policing/Government come into play." In previous conversations with us, he's argued that a key factor is whether we or the terrorists become better at using networks, "augmented reality", and other tech tools.
More from Tom Cowper on this topic: "The issue of molecular manufacturing (MM) mandates dramatic improvements in the way we do policing in the free world. If we are to maintain a free society in an MM world we will have to become very effective at identifying, stopping and incapacitating criminals and terrorists of the future, and do so in a way that does not violate civil liberties. Admittedly a tall order. But as CRN has pointed out, a police state is one definite possibility for the future if government and law enforcement doesn't get its act together and find ways to provide both safety and security, which includes regulating MM to some extent. We don't have to become entirely paramilitary to accomplish this but we will have to employ advanced technologies, including MM created weapons and IT capabilities like TIA. One of the things that we have to keep in mind is the understanding that MM won't exist in a vacuum. The future world within which MM will exist will also be a world where MM will facilitate and be facilitated by advanced AI, macro-robots, intelligent environments, cybernetics, etc. Within that world, our notions of privacy and liberty, derived exclusively from Agricultural and Industrial Age circumstances will have to change. David Brin's Transparent Society is one future concept within which effective policing might be capable of providing both safety and liberty. There may be others."
CRN thinks Tom's emphasis on police (as opposed to military) as a counter to terrorism is worth further attention. Most counterterrorism involves interaction with civilian populations, and police will do that more sustainably than military (both at home and abroad).
Provisional conclusion: Distributed manufacturing of advanced products will pose several substantial challenges to traditional police operations.
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.