For those seeking an overview of current thinking about advanced nanotechnology -- where the technology might be going, how soon, and what can be done to manage it responsibly -- a reading of some or all of CRN's published papers is recommended.
The key papers to read first are "Safe Utilization of Advanced Nanotechnology" and "Three Systems of Action: A Proposed Application for Effective Administration of Molecular Nanotechnology", but all are important and informative.
Of course, we'll be adding more. Chris is making three significant talks in the next month or so, and Mike is making at least two; we'll post the associated papers after they are completed and presented.
Most of CRN's papers and articles are available in PDF format (no charge) for downloading and easier reading, and many also are available in a bound, hardcopy format (for a fee). Here is a complete listing:
Safe Utilization of Advanced Nanotechnology - published January 2003, revised December 2003
ABSTRACT: Many words have been written about the dangers of advanced nanotechnology. Most of the threatening scenarios involve tiny manufacturing systems that run amok, or are used to create destructive products. A manufacturing infrastructure built around a centrally controlled, relatively large, self-contained manufacturing system would avoid these problems. A controlled nanofactory would pose no inherent danger, and it could be deployed and used widely. Cheap, clean, convenient, on-site manufacturing would be possible without the risks associated with uncontrolled nanotech fabrication or excessive regulation. Control of the products could be administered by a central authority; intellectual property rights could be respected. In addition, restricted design software could allow unrestricted innovation while limiting the capabilities of the final products. The proposed solution appears to preserve the benefits of advanced nanotechnology while minimizing the most serious risks.
Applying the Precautionary Principle to Nanotechnology - published January 2003, revised December 2003
ABSTRACT: The development of general-purpose molecular manufacturing through nanotechnology carries numerous risks, including the production of potentially unhealthy nanoparticles, the possible creation of tiny, destructive, self-replicating robots, and many others. The Precautionary Principle is often invoked when dealing with situations that might be hazardous; however, the label "Precautionary Principle" is attached to at least two different ideas, which must be analyzed separately. This paper discusses two forms of the Precautionary Principle, which we will call the "strict form" and the "active form", and relates them to the purpose of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, and to CRN's policy recommendations.
Molecular Manufacturing: Start Planning - published August 2003 in the Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
ABSTRACT: Despite claims to the contrary, molecular nanotechnology manufacturing is coming soon. Because it will be so useful, there will be strong pressure to develop it as soon as possible, and past a certain point it could happen quite rapidly. Macro-scale integrated nanotech manufacturing systems will improve product functionality, product design time and manufacturing speed and cost by orders of magnitude. This advance may profoundly affect economics and geopolitics, creating enormous benefits and risks. It will be difficult to prepare adequately for such a powerful technology. For all these reasons, molecular nanotechnology should be a current topic in high-level policy and planning.
Technical Commentary on Greenpeace Nanotechnology Report - published September 2003
ABSTRACT: The purpose of this document is to augment a portion of the August 2003 Greenpeace report on nanotechnology and artificial intelligence and to comment on a few specific statements in it. That report's treatment of molecular nanotechnology (MNT) was necessarily brief and did not cover several key areas. The present document supplements Greenpeace's work, explores further some of the misconceptions of MNT, and describes one area within MNT, limited molecular nanotechnology (LMNT), which is currently being pursued by most MNT researchers. LMNT can produce most of the desired medical devices, advanced materials, and product innovation goals sought after today and will be significantly easier to achieve. CRN believes that recent advances in LMNT research should underscore to policy makers the urgent need for discussion of possible consequences, both positive and negative.
Three Systems of Action: A Proposed Application for Effective Administration of Molecular Nanotechnology - presented at the October 2003 "Discovering the Nanoscale" conference in Darmstadt, Germany
ABSTRACT: Within the next few decades, and perhaps sooner, a new type of manufacturing will be made possible by molecular nanotechnology (MNT). Considering its enormous potential for profound economic, environmental, social, and military impacts, MNT has received insufficient attention in ethical and policy discussions. The first section of this paper provides a brief introduction to MNT, in order to establish the need for increased policy attention. The second section describes three different approaches to policymaking, each based on a different system of action, or set of principles, used for solving various kinds of problems. The third section demonstrates that MNT, as a flexible “general purpose technology”, will require a flexible approach to policymaking that encompasses all three systems of action. The fourth section presents specific recommendations and possibilities for accomplishing this difficult balance between incompatible policy styles.
Design of a Primitive Nanofactory - published October 2003 in the Journal of Evolution and Technology
ABSTRACT: Some theorists expect that molecular manufacturing will cause a sudden, rapid advance in our ability to design and build nanotech products. Others argue that each product will require significant debugging, so that products will arrive in a stream rather than a flood, even after the first self-duplicating assembler is built. This paper will describe the mechanisms and processes required to bootstrap a macro-scale, programmable nanofactory from a single self-contained assembler. Nanofactory structure, power requirements and thermodynamic efficiency, control of mechanochemistry, reliability in the face of radiation damage, convergent assembly processes including joint mechanisms, product design, and bootstrapping steps are discussed in detail. Bridging the gap between the first assembler and the flood of nanotech products can probably be accomplished in a matter of weeks.
Of Chemistry, Nanobots, and Policy - published December 2003
ABSTRACT: The ability to build products by molecular manufacturing would create a radical improvement in the manufacture of technologically advanced products. Everything from computers to weapons to consumer goods, and even desktop factories, would become incredibly cheap and easy to build. If this is possible, the policy implications are enormous. Richard Smalley, a prominent nanotechnologist, has tried for several years to debunk this possibility. Most recently, he participated in a published exchange with Eric Drexler, another prominent nanotechnologist, who has been the primary proponent and theorist of molecular manufacturing. This paper examines the arguments presented by each side and concludes that Smalley has failed to support his opinion that MNT cannot work as Drexler asserts.
Invited Commentary on Royal Society Nanotechnology Workshop - published December 2003
ABSTRACT: CRN is encouraged by many of the opinions expressed in the report, especially the interest in issues of nanomaterial safety. However, we believe that the report pays insufficient attention to a significant expected application of nanotechnology: molecular manufacturing. Direct chemical manufacturing of complex nanosystems surely will be extremely difficult to develop. However, recent work has produced well-grounded and limited proposals that retain high value and utility. Sufficient effort might develop such systems in as little as a decade, and large incentives may motivate such early development. This possibility can be addressed within the current framework of your studies.
Projected Environmental Impacts of Molecular Manufacturing - published December 2003
SUMMARY: Nanotechnology may lead to a breakthrough manufacturing technology. Some projected implications have been extreme enough to inspire disbelief and fear. The resulting lack of attention and active opposition are unfortunate, because limited versions may be developed in the next decade, and may require proactive environmental policy attention. If the stated theory is correct, mechanical chemistry can form the basis of a general-purpose fully automated manufacturing system capable of directly fabricating additional manufacturing systems, and also capable of manufacturing large products with nanoscale features and atomic precision. Such a system would be cheap to operate, and manufacturing capability could be increased exponentially at low cost. These pages provide supplemental information to the presentation made by CRN before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board on December 11, 2003.
Accurately Describing a Technology That Does Not Yet Exist - published March 2004
ABSTRACT: This paper explains CRN’s ongoing process of defining and describing our work. By carefully and repeatedly examining our terminology, we hope to succeed in walking the narrow middle line between dispassionate observation and zealous activism; between being boosters for nanotechnology and being sentinels. We aim to avoid being marginalized as irrelevant fanatics, and instead fulfill our chosen function as informed, principled, interested analysts and effective advocates for responsible use of nanotechnology.
Thirty Essential Studies - published May 2004
ABSTRACT: These 30 studies are organized in several sections. The first section covers the fundamental theory: insights that may be counterintuitive or unobvious and need explanation, but that can be double-checked by simple thought. The second section addresses technological capabilities of possible molecular manufacturing technologies. The third section addresses 'bootstrapping'—the development of the first self-contained molecular manufacturing system (which will then be able to produce duplicates at an exponential rate), including schedule considerations. The fourth section explores the capabilities of products, building toward the fifth section, which raises urgent questions about policies and policymaking. The overall objective is to acquire a preliminary but comprehensive understanding of all significant issues related to molecular manufacturing, in preparation for its possible development within the next ten years.
Safe Exponential Manufacturing - published in the August 2004 issue of the Institute of Physics journal Nanotechnology
ABSTRACT: In 1959, Richard Feynman pointed out that nanometer-scale machines could be built and operated, and that the precision inherent in molecular construction would make it easy to build multiple identical copies. This raised the possibility of exponential manufacturing, in which production systems could rapidly and cheaply increase their productive capacity, which in turn suggested the possibility of destructive runaway self-replication. Early proposals for artificial nanomachinery focused on small self-replicating machines, discussing their potential productivity and their potential destructiveness if abused. In the light of controversy regarding scenarios based on runaway replication (so-called ‘grey goo’), a review of current thinking regarding nanotechnology-based manufacturing is in order. Nanotechnology-based fabrication can be thoroughly non-biological and inherently safe: such systems need have no ability to move about, use natural resources, or undergo incremental mutation. Moreover, self-replication is unnecessary: the development and use of highly productive systems of nanomachinery (nanofactories) need not involve the construction of autonomous self-replicating nanomachines. Accordingly, the construction of anything resembling a dangerous self-replicating nanomachine can and should be prohibited. Although advanced nanotechnologies could (with great difficulty and little incentive) be used to build such devices, other concerns present greater problems. Since weapon systems will be both easier to build and more likely to draw investment, the potential for dangerous systems is best considered in the context of military competition and arms control.
You can access all of the papers here.