- Who will own the technology?
- Will it be heavily restricted, or widely available?
- What will it do to the gap between rich and poor?
- How can dangerous weapons be controlled, and perilous arms races be prevented?
First, there are no simple solutions.
The power of molecular manufacturing (MM) creates several severe risks, and each risk tempts a simple and extreme solution. However, a patchwork of extreme solutions will be both destructive and ineffective. For example, Bill Joy and others have proposed halting nanotechnology research entirely. This would not actually work; instead, it would relocate the research to less responsible venues. The risks might be delayed by a few years, but would be far worse when they appeared because the technology would be even less controllable. To take another example, economic upheaval might be prevented by strict commercial licensing of all uses of the technology. This has two problems. First, digital protection schemes for commercial products have often proved quite easy to crack. Second, if the technology is so restricted that it cannot disrupt existing economic systems, continuing poverty will kill millions of people each year, fueling backlash, social unrest, espionage, and independent development. Each risk must be reduced by some means that does not exacerbate others. This will not be easy, and will require creative and sensitive solutions.
Second, if these and other questions are not answered with deliberation, answers will evolve independently and will take us by surprise; the surprise is likely to be unpleasant.
Third, because almost everyone on earth stands to be affected by advanced nanotechnology, numerous organizations, governmental bodies, and groups of stakeholders should be involved in determining effective solutions. This will not be easy to accomplish, and it will take a long time. We'd better get started.