Over 30 years ago, Vice President Spiro Agnew famously referred to the press corps as "nattering nabobs of negativity". Today CRN is sometimes criticized for emphasizing the negative aspects of nanotechnology’s potential instead of focusing more on the benefits.
There should be no doubt that we highly value the almost incalculable beneficial possibilities of molecular manufacturing technology. Cleaning up the environment, curing many diseases, eliminating poverty, opening up outer space for human habitation, and vastly improving standards of living are just a few that can be mentioned.
For nearly two decades, nanotechnology enthusiasts have touted these seemingly miraculous benefits. Now it appears that the accelerating pace of scientific and technological advancement, especially in computers and in sensing instruments, has brought the necessary breakthroughs much closer. The limiting factor seems not to be technical, but perceptual. When a party with sufficient funding and will makes the commitment, success should not be far away.
As usual, however, the devil is in the details. Once exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing has been developed, who will control it? Will there be any restrictions on its use, technical or otherwise? Who will reap the benefits? Who will guard against abuses? Can we allow these problems to work themselves out independently, or should we try to design and implement systems of administration?
Without coming across as too negative, CRN must admit that we don’t know what the answers are. We see tremendous potential benefits, and we also see severe risks. What we don’t see is a clear path that gets to the former while avoiding the latter.