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« The Art of Communication | Main | Exponential Assembly »

January 19, 2004

Comments

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Brett Bellmore

Frankly, I don't see how this regulatory regime is going to suppress underground "nanarchic" research, short of a system of survailance and repression that would make any dictator green with envy. Even assuming that the final steps to develop working nanotechnology were proprietary, the work leading up to it will be public enough that small groups could make the breakthrough themselves. And even a passing aquaintance with regulators indicates that such a regulatory regime would leave more than enough pent up demand to motivate such underground research.

Honestly, how are these regulations going to be ENFORCED?

Janessa Ravenwood

Brett: that's what's I've been trying to tell them! Good luck getting through, they appear to be pretty solidly tranzis...

Mike Treder, CRN

Thanks for your question, Brett. This is not the place for a lengthy dissertation on enforcement options. I'd suggest that you read our paper on "Safe Utilization of Advanced Nanotechnology". But I will say that enforcement will be much less of an issue if the incentive for unauthorized development can be minimized through widespread distribution of low-cost nanofactories. That's a key element of our comprehensive proposals.

Dale Carrico

The great majority of people are law abiding. Few people past adolescence find the underground alluring in the first place.

It is only from the standpoint of the profound social alienation typical among libertarians that you find people arguing as if rogue research would be so widespread that only totalitarian rigor could police it.

The truth is that if there is an avenue for research to be legitimated through safety regulation, oversight, and funding, then the very few criminal researchers who nevertheless stray from lawfulness would leave conspicuous trails that would in fact be relatively easy to trace.

Consider the analogy to the cypherpunks who imagined strong encryption would through routine use overthrow governments and install a Friedmanite libertopian paradise. The truth is, nobody was interested their crypto-anarchy.

People want to be law abiding. They want technological development to be regulated to ensure that costs, risks, and benefits are all fairly distributed.

No, I would say that the lesson of Mike's excellent article is one that should be *generalized*, if anything. I am tired of a state of affairs where the most conspicuous voices in the discourse of radical technology are either luddite technophobes demanding outright bans (which in fact *would* drive research underground, just like drug prohibition does, and to the least scrupulous imaginable practitioners), or libertopian technophiles who look to scientist-heroes to deliver a technological escape hatch from the strictures of the society they abhor.

Regulation between Resignation and Relinquishment is a principle that applies to the reasonable support for any number of technological arenas in this extraordinary moment, not just the emergence of molecular nanotechnology, but genetic medicine and longevity treatments, prosthetic modification, cognitive liberty, digital networked media and communication technologies, and automation.

Excellent article, Mike. I think it is forceful, wise, and a profoundly promising approach.

Best, Dale Carrico

George Dvorsky

I like Mike's phrase "nano-anarchy," a policy that would surely lead to some of the grim scenarios described in the article.

When Treder described the type of social disintegration that could occur, I was reminded of the Mongol Hordes who swept through Asia and Europe hundreds of years ago. While they didn't have radically advanced technology per se, they did have the advantage of possessing superior and novel military tactics, an advantage of information technology. They were untouchable, and their Empire was one of the most formidable in all of human history. Similarly, I worry sometimes that a small band of fanatics could take the world hostage with nanotechnology.

Interestingly, it can be argued that our civil liberties would likely disappear in a world of nano-anarchy. As 9/11 so blatantly showed, when disaster strikes, the knee-jerks with similar force. It's only through tight and accountable regulatory regimes that we can have the confidence to maintain civil freedoms.

Brett Bellmore

The vast majority of people ARE law abiding. And illegal drugs are still a multi-trillion dollar industry.

The fundamental problem I see is that there are definately going to be nanotech products regulators will refuse to authorize, but which there will still be a market for.

Medical applications which won't be approved because they're not deemed "necessary", for instance. Ranging from human enhancement to counterparts of today's recreational drugs.

Or products which are just too darned versatile to limit to "licit" uses, such as smart materials along the line of the "T-2 Terminator".

And there ARE going to be researchers who will recoil in horror at the proposed regulatory regime. Heck, you don't have to be a "nanarchist" to be frightened at the thought of Leon Kass getting to decide what nanotechnology can be used for!

There WILL be a black market, in both unapproved products, and nano-factories without safeguards. To assume otherwise is painfully naive.

Janessa Ravenwood

Brett: What I see is a lot off-shoring in the future - the U.S. declares it illegal here, people will set up shop in the Caribbean or whatnot and their customers will go there for their services and take in a vacation to boot (it'll likely be offered as a package deal!). The feds will go nuts, but won't be able to do anything about it. Heck, they can't even manage to effectively ban off-shore sports betting now.

Dale Carrico

Prohibitions and bans drive conduct underground, but regulation encourages positive conduct while discouraging negative conduct. This is realism, not naivete. If you want to keep Leon Kass from screwing around with your life -- and here we are in strong agreement -- your better bet is to vote for the Democratic candidate for president, rather than pouting and stamping about regulation with fellow libertopians on the internet. Your points about the difficulties of the sensible regulation of nanotechnology are all well taken, btw -- thank heavens serious people like Mike and Chris are thinking about these things now, so that legislators can avail themselves of sensible position papers in the near future when they're going to need them. --Dale Carrico

Brett Bellmore

I'd like to know how this proposed regulatory regime comes about, and is maintained. I consider it highly unlikely that "the" breakthrough into molecular nanotechnology will happen in one place, at one time, conveniently allowing whoever does make it to impose such a regime by fiat. I think it equally unlikely that sufficient details about how the breakthrough was achieved can be kept secret, so that intelligent and motivated groups, or even individuals, can't replicate it, and in short order. Or that everyone who's capable of such will actually think the regime a good idea.

So how do we get from a world where a half dozen institutions have functioning replicators, and maybe a hundred thousand people could follow their trail if they wanted, to a world where every nano-factory is in constant communication with big brother, and nobody has enough privacy to kluge one of their own together?

And dare such a regime, once implemented, allow space colonization? Will nanofactories out in the Oort cloud sit idle for days, waiting for permission to be secured to churn out a big Mac?
Will dissident groups actually be allowed to leave in peace? When one of them might, out of political philosophy or malice, shower the Earth with a few megatons of nanofactory seeds?

It makes a great tale, (So did Orwell's 1984.) but I don't see it happening. Or rather, if it happens, it's going to be born in blood, and survive by the utter death of privacy and liberty. I don't see how it could be otherwise.

Robin Green

Brett has raised some very good questions. I find them all equally challenging.

We must be clear that, if one state sought to unilaterally classify the details of the technology, there would be an enormous military incentive for other states to find out the classified information about how to build an assembler.

And could we expect that the information would stay out of the hands of "evil-doers", to use Mr. Bush's language, for ever? Of course not.

This is why there seems to be a big privacy risk here. In order to catch bootstrappers (people who are trying to create assemblers from scratch) before they could do too much damage, what might be proposed? Big Brother surveillance of every citizen in the world?

We have to come up with better alternatives that are realistic and that people will actually buy into.

Janessa Ravenwood

Prohibitions and bans drive conduct underground, but regulation encourages positive conduct while discouraging negative conduct.
-----
See Brett’s previous comment about drug use. I’ll add music and movie file-sharing, off-shore gambling, off-shore prostitution, off-shore pornography sites, and off-shore banking. It doesn’t stop it, just moves it around a bit. These are cases of regulation DIRECTLY CREATING a black market due to lawmaker stupidity.


This is realism, not naivete. If you want to keep Leon Kass from screwing around with your life -- and here we are in strong agreement
------
Well, we’re all agreed Leon Kass sucks, anyway.


your better bet is to vote for the Democratic candidate for president, rather than pouting and stamping about regulation with fellow libertopians on the internet.
-----
So Republicans will be the death of nanotech and the Dems are our saviors? Spare me the partisan politics. Be afraid of both of them.


Your points about the difficulties of the sensible regulation of nanotechnology are all well taken, btw -- thank heavens serious people like Mike and Chris are thinking about these things now, so that legislators can avail themselves of sensible position papers in the near future when they're going to need them. --Dale Carrico
-----
That’s what scares me – that lawmakers might take their ideas as serious proposals instead of idealism that’s unworkable in the real world. Fortunately, enough people in Congress will see through creating or endorsing an organization that has de facto sovereignty over the U.S. Think otherwise? See the Kyoto treaty – MUCH less impact, shot down in flames near-unanimously, now dead as a doornail.

Greg Trocchia

In addition to the (very convincing) arguments that Janessa has set forth concerning the infeasibility of developing a hack-proof nanofactory and the folly of depending upon hardwired safeguards to keep your nanofactory restricted, there is another reason why counting on hardwired safeguards is unworkable. If someone has produced a nanofactory with such safeguards, it is because the precursors for this were in place already. Specifically, that probably means that there are at least what could be considered proto-fabricators that are available. In such circumstances your own paper on "Bootstrapping a Nanofactory" shows that re-implementing an unrestricted nanofactory is not that difficult a feat to accomplish. Given that there are people who would be interested in building one (I, for one, would be happy to join Janessa in making sure this happens), it doesn't seem that your system of hardwired restrictions will last too long- particularly since once an unrestricted factory is built it can be used to replicate itself and that's the end of hardwired safeguards.

I am not a nihilist, I suspect that Janessa is not one either. What I am is inherently suspicious of a "supreme global administration" potentially as a step down the "road to serfdom" (if I may be permitted a little Hayek-ian hyperbole). At the very least, I am absolutely unwilling to cede decisions about what I can and cannot make in my own nanofactory to such an authority.

What do I propose as an alternative?

1) Keep the list of nanofactory products that you don't want people making as short as possible- replicant goos, SmartPlagues (medical nanobots with a malevolent, rather than a beneficent, purpose meant for use against large populations) and nukes. The important thing to realize here is that if you try to make illegal something that has a substantial demand, the effort is doomed from the start and that once people start ignoring your prohibitions they might just get into the habit.

2) Convince the technical community to foreswear the development of things on your list because releasing such things to the public at large is self-evidently a bad idea. The Foresight guidelines are a good example about how to go about doing this. Note that following suggestion 1 makes this a whole lot easier. In real life, as opposed to TV and the movies, evil geniuses are a very rare item so getting the technical community to buy into the idea of avoiding certain really nasty applications should be a fairly effective way of keeping them from proliferating rapidly.

3) Set up libraries for the download of executables that do not include any of the stuff on the short list. Don't try to insist that the executable remain in the library and don't try to make using it mandatory. Such efforts will, I believe, be self defeating. Instead, play up the fact that these libraries are trustable. This effort can be enhanced if "sting" libraries are also set up, these libraries would include executables ostensibly of items are on the short list which actually contain Trojan horse programs to seize control of the nanofactory onto which they are downloaded and then do various kinds of nastiness (you think having a virus in your computer is bad!).

4) Start developing countermeasures ASAP. Develop and stockpile non-replicating anti-goo as Freitas suggested in his global ecophagy paper and start a sampling protocol as outlined in the same paper to detect slow replicating goo. Develop an augmented immune personal system using bots like Freitas' microbiovore and extend the range of pathogens it can handle to include nano-pathogens. With the kind of nanomedical hardening that appears to be possible some of the traditional sources of concern as far as WMD's go seem a good deal less threatening (eg. most chemical and pretty much any biological weapon) in a post-nanomedicine contex

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Greg suggests that once fabricators are developed, proto-fabricators will be available and can be used to bootstrap unconstrained factories. We know this. Paradoxically, that's one reason we think it's probably better to develop this sooner: it'll raise the barrier to entry. If it can be done in a garage, then we really will have nano-anarchy. If it takes a few million to do the bootstrapping and a few months to learn to use it, then there's some chance of catching people who really shouldn't have the technology but are trying to get it.

"...particularly since once an unrestricted factory is built it can be used to replicate itself and that's the end of hardwired safeguards."

Yes, we know. Again, we're not counting on this lasting forever. I don't think we can hope to plan more than five years post-breakthrough: the technology will evolve too quickly. But even a temporary reprieve will make it a lot easer to lay a good policy and administration foundation.

Chris

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