We've received information from our friend Martine Rothblatt, CEO of Unither, about an exciting conference her firm is sponsoring...
Come and join us for the 2nd Annual Unither Nanomedical & Telemedical Technology Conference. Expand your mind with our exploration of wireless, nano-sized, in vivo machines and their future implementation in the medical field. With intuitive Keynote speakers such as Babak Parviz, Ph.D, and the brilliant inventor Ray Kurzweil, the 2nd Annual Unither Nanomedical & Telemedical Technology Conference will be an event to remember—so don’t miss it!
Some say that once exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing (MM) is achieved, our worries about global warming and climate change will be over. A relatively simple solution like tiny balloons fitted with adjustable mirrors could give us all the control we need to moderate warming and create preferred climate conditions.
CRN and those with whom we share a similar technological outlook expect that MM is likely no further than twenty years away at most, and perhaps could be here within ten years or even less. If it does arrive within that time frame, and if it can be applied to our growing climate problems as suggested above, then indeed at least some of our fears will be assuaged.
Of course, there are many other risks of MM that will still have to be faced, including severe economic disruption and the prospect of a new arms race.
But let's leave those aside for now and stay with the issue of global warming.
Assume for the moment that there are unforeseen technological challenges that prevent MM from being achieved as we and others envision; or that some variety of political and social objections disallow its development within the next twenty years; or that even if it is achieved, all attempts to install simple solutions for climate change fail -- they don't work as hoped, because the problem is too complex and too big.
If any of these plausible conditions come to pass, the looming disasters associated with global warming will not be so easy to avert. And those disasters could be very disastrous indeed. In this extended post, we'll do two things: 1) review the magnitude of the danger; and 2) propose an appropriate way forward from here.
A hot topic of conversation at last week's CRN/IEET seminar on Global Catastrophic Risks was the whole issue of privacy, surveillance, security, and anonymity.
In honor of that probably endless and always fascinating debate, I'm going to repost an entry we made here in 2006 that garnered a lot of discussion. The title was Privacy and Accountability:
"You need not be paranoid to fear RFID," says an op-ed piece this week in the Boston Globe.
A new book called Spychips by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre is what prompted the fear. What are "spychips"?
That's Albrecht's preferred name for a technology called radio frequency identification technology, or RFID. If you use a Mobil Speedpass to pay for gasoline, you're already using RFID. Your Speedpass contains a microchip and a small antenna that allows it to broadcast information to a receiver. The chip has no power source of its own. Instead, it picks up radio signals from an RFID chip reader, turns these radio waves into electricity, and uses the power to broadcast data to the reader.
Somebody needs to sit down and think this through. Dozens of companies and government agencies are planning to use RFID to track nearly every move we make. And although many of the individual applications make sense, what would happen if they were all implemented, without oversight or restraint? We'd then live in a world in which everything we own gossips about us behind our backs.
Should we be panicking about RFID tags? Is it wrong for merchants and manufacturers to know our shopping habits?
Back in the good ol' small towns of yesteryear, everyone knew everyone and it was virtually impossible to keep any secrets about how you lived. Was that so bad?
Think of a futuristic war scenario where soldiers are firing
smart weapons from the confines of their command centres. Weapons that
are capable of intercepting and destroying virtually all enemy attack
weapons and yet, they are fired from unmanned vehicles thereby
minimising all possibilities of human casualties.
This is the promise that nanotechnology has in
store for the global defence industry, which is pumping billions of
dollars in nanotech research, examining how nano science can improve
defence capabilities. Potential benefits of nanotechnology in the
defence industry include stronger, lighter and less-expensive materials
and enhanced protection for military personnel.
Large quantities of smart weapons — especially miniaturized, robotic
weapons and intelligent, target-seeking ammunition without reliable
remote off-switches could lead to unexpected injury to combatants and
civilians, destruction to infrastructure, and environmental pollution.
Thanks to our friend and colleague Richard Jones for pointing out that although the article we complained about in The Independent was indeed lacking, the study on which the article was based had many redeeming qualities.
Among the most relevant portions of the study to CRN's interests were these:
From section 3.110, "Nanomaterials in the Future" --
While primarily gathering evidence on first and second generation nanomaterials we have been alerted to the likely development of third and fourth generation nanoproducts. These materials might involve self-assembly capabilities, self-replication and artificial intelligence. There are suggestions that the newly-emerging discipline of synthetic biology might utilise nanotechnologies and nanomaterials in the pursuit of novel products, some of which may have military and space applications where enhanced performance may outweigh cost factors. Much of the discussion of these products is considered to fall well outside conventional regulation of chemicals; their properties raise wider ethical issues as well as health and environmental ones.
The chart below illustrates the four generations of nanotechnology to which they refer. Molecular manufacturing is generally agreed to fall within the fourth generation ("Molecular nanosystems"), although whether it will be achieved through top-down or bottom-up approaches, and whether it will comprise strictly "dry" nano or will incorporate "wet" nano is still far from certain.
In today's catastrophic risks and resilience seminar, perhaps the most disturbing presentation was by J. Storrs (Josh) Hall, who gave a talk on “The Weather Machine: Nano-enabled Climate Control for the Earth.”
Josh offered a simple proposition: once molecular manufacturing is achieved, it should not be difficult to create a design so a nanofactory can produce a tiny transparent balloon fitted with GPS and radio (for sending data and receiving instructions) and a simple set of thrusters to maintain location and to control altitude.
So far, so good. But there are a few additions to this balloon that make its impacts pretty wild: first, it includes a mirror to be used either for reflecting sunlight back into space or directing it to a solar energy collector on earth; second, the mirror can be turned as instructed; and third, because the balloon is made by a nanofactory, as many of them as desired can produced and put into operation in a very short time.
Basic calculations suggest that, in maybe a week or less, ten million tons of raw materials could produce enough balloons to cover the entire earth at twenty miles altitude. That may sound like a lot of material, but in fact it's about the same amount that goes into building 100 miles of a modern highway -- so it's well within reach of even a small nation to acquire the materials if they have the hardware and software and a desire to control the weather of the earth.
Shifting mirrors inside balloons to make some areas warmer and others colder, to make some wetter and some drier gives at least rudimentary power for Josh's "Nano-enabled Climate Control for the Earth." These balloons may well be helpful in slowing, stopping, or even reversing the trend of global warming, as long as we recognize the very real danger of unforeseen, unintended, and possibly irreversible consequence.
Of course, having the means to control weather also allows controlling agricultural production, by improving or degrading climate conditions in growing areas. That implies using the balloons as a form of friendship or for hostile intent -- not to mention that aiming a set of mirrors at a city could instantly annihilate it.
However the capability is used, if the simple manufacture and deployment of a basically low-tech thing like a bunch of balloons can provide enough power to totally dominate the earth, then it seems we're only beginning to understand the implications of advanced nanotechnology.
The forecast here says: "Abundant sunshine. Near record high temperatures. High 82F. WSW winds shifting to N at 10 to 20 mph."
Inside the building, though, the forecast is not nearly so sunny. We're listening to experts in various fields tell us whether human civilization should prepare to experience existential outcomes in this century, or merely catastrophic outcomes -- or, perhaps, enough resiliency building that neither will occur.
So far, Anders Sandberg and Jamais Cascio have made presentations, and now Eliezer Yudkowsky has the floor. Because I'm a co-host of the event, and also a presenter this afternoon, I won't be able to live-blog the seminar; however, the whole thing is being videotaped and eventually will be posted online for free viewing.
The last several years have seen significant progress in getting the public, the press, and even governments to take seriously the true potential of nanotechnology. It's not that we think issues such as nanoparticle toxicity aren't important, but to suggest that they "put the world at risk" is to miss the far more significant dangers -- and opportunities -- of nanotechnology that are now on the horizon.
Limiting the discussion of both risks and benefits only to nanoparticle
applications prevents readers from making an informed judgment of
nanotechnology's much broader implications. When molecular manufacturing is achieved (as seems more certain and more imminent all the time), our societies will be faced with making fundamental decisions about economic disruption, environmental effects, military balances of power, humanitarian interventions, and more.
The US National Science Foundation suggests that we are already in the second generation of nanotech (which they call "Active nanostructures"), that we are not far from third generation nanotech ("Systems of nanosystems"), and that fourth generation nanotech ("Molecular nanosystems") may be less than ten years away.
Again, we don't discount the need for understanding and dealing with the genuine problems of today's nanoscale technologies, but we must not allow near-term concerns to distract us from the much larger challenges that may soon be upon us. Moreover, if we don't start paying attention to those issues now, we could find ourselves unprepared and overmatched by the monumental impacts of this powerful technology.