How can we predict the effects of general-purpose manufacturing fifteen years out? The answer is that we really can't, at least not in detail. But we can predict that molecular manufacturing will make it easier for people and societies to do the things they're already doing.
What are people doing today, around the world? We're inventing stuff. We're making daily life more convenient, comfortable, and networked. We're killing each other en masse for remarkably small reasons. We're living beyond our ecological resources. We're getting increasingly good at propaganda. We're shrinking the globe. We're concentrating wealth. We're learning to work with computers.
A couple of days ago, in response to the "Hope for Human Nature" post, Jake Blande suggested that CRN should call ourselves the "Center for Responsible Humans" because we seem to care more about human nature than about technology. He said that we "use nanotechnology as just another 'plot device' to emphasize human deficiencies." (He softened this in a later comment.) He's partly right, but nanotechnology is not just a plot device to be used by us. Nanotechnology will exacerbate human deficiencies regardless of whether we talk about it.
A nanofactory without a human is inert. With a human in control, it can make weapons or water filters or whatever that human's nature decides. Molecular manufacturing will require humans, and humanity, to be responsible. "Center for Responsible Humans" isn't such a bad name.
CRN's purpose is to mitigate the bad stuff, and to maximize molecular manufacturing's parallel capability of enhancing human virtues. The good news is that there are a lot more ways to be creative than to be destructive; the bad news is that they are harder to invent.
(It should be noted that this discussion does not cover the possibility of changing human nature. There could be a society where people are biologically predisposed to be more altruistic, and communism works as well for them as it does in beehives. Or a society programmed to be xenophobic and expansionist--the societal equivalent of taking PCP. Provided we escape the initial vicious cycles, things will get even more complex than just trying to make the best of human nature.)