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« Science Fiction & Science | Main | The Essential Question »

March 13, 2004


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Janessa Ravenwood

I’m been so busy at work I could barely think for the last 2 weeks. So I’m going to compact several responses I was going to do into this one now that I finally have a Saturday where I’m not working for 12+ hours. I’ve moved it to a reasonably similar topic up the list due to the elapsed time since my last post. This post is addressed primary to Chris Phoenix, but of course anyone else can feel free to chime in.

All right, I got this information for my arguments from here: http://www.crnano.org/restrictions.htm

Yes – STRAIGHT from the CRN website.

Points Summary from that page:

* Nanofacs will include dedicated security and/or monitoring hardware (likely both).
* This security would enforce patents (and presumably copyrights if you’re going to do that).
* Security and restrictive devices will be integrated into many MNT products.
* Nanofactories must check with a central computer before building ANY product.
* This central authority would have the authority to revoke operational ability of the nanofactory.
* Any nanofactory that loses contact with the central authority would self-destruct.
* The nanofactory would have the ability to check the identity of the person operating it.
* Each product built would be trackable back to it’s original builder (person who owned the originating nanofactory).

What this means (my analysis):
You’ve said before that you’re not advocating Big Brother control of nanofacs. If the above does NOT qualify as Big Brother, could you please tell me what WOULD? I can only think that we must have radically different definitions of the term “Big Brother control” because the above list certainly meets mine.

In a mature nanotechnological society, a household nanofac is probably that household’s sole source of food, tools, and material goods. When some central agency can reach out and take that away from them at will with the flick of a switch, how can you possibly define their status as other than “slaves”? What government could actually claim sovereignty when an outside agency could, with the flick of that switch, shut down all of the nanofacs in that country? That agency OWNS the economy of their country. What practical definition of soveriengnty could exist in that scenario? This is not hyperbole – as you’ve accused me of – you’ve stated that that agency would have the power to shut them down. Instead of dismissing my concerns as unfounded, take a closer look – I founded them on data from your website and I provided the URL where I got the data. If you don’t like my concerns, change the wording of your proposals. Seems quite clear to me at present that in fact you ARE proposing Big Brother. You keep saying it’s not. Fine then. Please describe what WOULD be Big Brother regulation in your opinion. This, I’ve got to hear. I mean, how can such an agency AVOID becoming the de facto government of the world? They hold the ultimate power on the planet. You keep not answering these questions. Launching into a discussion of something else is not an answer. Nor is saying that I’m misrepresenting your proposals when I got my information on them straight from your website.

Another point – you’re not going to develop some miracle software package that does all of the above in your 5-year crash development timeline. You may be a molecular engineer, but I’m a programmer. Not gonna happen that quick. You’d better be prepared to spend more money than Microsoft’s annual budget (and not hire Microsoft Windows developers if you want it to not crash constantly) for several years. And that can start in earnest AFTER the developers have some hardware to work with.

Now, you asked me what restrictions I would be willing to live with. I’ll give both – those I would NOT tolerate and those I could.

OK Restrictions:
* No creation of Grey Goo.
* No creation of super-plagues while we’re prohibiting # 1.
* No creation of self-replicating devices at all really, or free-roaming disassemblers.

BAD Restrictions:
* Embedding any nano-constructed items with unique identifiers, tracking devices, or built-in controls on their use.
* Spying on the items I create and reporting this information back to some central agency.
* The ability to shut down my nanofac from afar.

If I were to encounter ANY of these bad restrictions on my nanofac, I would immediately…look into pursuing other options that did not infringe upon my freedom and privacy, as I define the terms. Others here have stated that they would, too. Examples in the real world abound – try to restrict DVD’s playability by platform or region? A legion of devoted hackers cracked them. Try to restrict music availability – geez, do I even NEED to detail how well that’s gone? The mere presence of restrictions inspires rebellion. I’ve met actual hackers in the real world. They’d look on your device as a fun hobby project to collaborate on cracking. Then they’d sent out the crack to all the hacking sites and make fun of your security measures. I’ve seen this happen more than once for different pieces of technology, especially since security software designed by committee tends to suck (see SDMI, the “ultimate security” for the music industry, cracked like an egg in a heartbeat and now defunct before implementation).

Other dodges on your part:
* Re the AMA’s control of the medical field – what you’re proposing is equivalent to proposing that the AMA have real-time monitoring and control capability over all pieces of medical technology in the U.S. I certainly WOULD be complaining about that.
* You really think governments will let their citizens own nanofacs at ALL, restricted or not?
* Still no specifics on this mega-agency of yours. Any word on WHEN specifics will be available? You say my reaction to it is inaccurate. I’m doing my best with the vague and general proposals you’ve floated about.
* No response from you on whether our personal computers should be monitored in a fashion like you want for nanofacs in order to stop virus writers and music traders.

Yet another point I’ve raised before. Your whole is system is about stopping non-regulated nanofacs from being built – what happens WHEN one is? No security system is perfect and yours (as described on your site) seems almost custom-designed to inspire the maximum amount of rebellion in hackers. (It certainly is having that effect on me – instant antipathy every time I read that page.)

You say: “Could it be that our underlying goals are the same as yours? We'll never know until you can talk about our actual goals, rather than your incorrect projections of them.” If your goals are not to constrain freedom and privacy, then you’ve picked a brutal strategy for pursuing them. The strategy I’m seeing is: “We had to burn the village in order to save it.” I’m intensely frustrated that I cannot get you to state explicit and detailed descriptions of WHY you think my characterizations of your proposals are wrong. I didn’t make up my claims about your positions – I just read your website (and again, even provided the exact URL I got them from). If you think I’m getting the wrong impression, then maybe you should do some serious re-writes of your site. Because I CANNOT see any other impression than the one that is stated there quite clearly to me. You want me to be brutally honest? You scare me. I see someone who’s cheerfully proposing totalitarianism. I see someone who actually thinks they’re doing it for my own good. And altruists cannot be argued with – they KNOW they’re doing the right thing for you, regardless of any wishes you might have to the contrary. For some reason, you seem UNABLE to understand that I’m not really interested in living my life being completely at the mercy of your transnational agency. I guess this sounds like a good idea to you, or perhaps you think you won’t be subject to the same rules as the rest of us. I have no idea.

Fortunately, a very real comfort I have is that the U.S. government is currently less inclined than ever to listen your proposal to internationalize nanotechnology. We’ve already told the UN and EU to go to hell, what’s one more international agency? And this one doesn’t even exist yet. Still, one never knows if some country more inclined toward socialism might like your idea more.

Once again, just because you want to change the entire world does NOT automatically imply that the entire world wants to be changed by you. I for one do not, and neither do some of the others here.

P.S. I’m starting a page for my personal website entitled: “Questions CRN Refuses to Answer” as I keep raising them again and again and you keep dodging them. I’m starting to think I’m seriously wasting my time here. You say you want debate but in reality it looks more to me like you want a fan club whose members don’t raise any serious objections to your goals or proposals. Why you think you have a snowball’s chance of hell of getting ratification of such an agreement through Congress when Kyoto (a proposal with FAR less impact than what you’re proposing) was shot down in flames is beyond me. Another question to put on my page, I suppose.


I am a neophite, but I have a question in reference to the below:
BAD Restrictions:
* Embedding any nano-constructed items with unique identifiers, tracking devices, or built-in controls on their use.
* Spying on the items I create and reporting this information back to some central agency.
* The ability to shut down my nanofac from afar.

OK Restrictions:
* No creation of Grey Goo.
* No creation of super-plagues while we’re prohibiting # 1.
* No creation of self-replicating devices at all really, or free-roaming disassemblers.

Without the "bad restrictions", how could the "ok restrictions" be enforced?

Janessa Ravenwood

A good question, nonetheless I am unwilling to tolerate their presence on any nanofac I would ever possess. It should also be noted that their presence would also not totally guarantee this, possibly giving us Big Brother without concrete results other than surveillance and control for the sake of surveillance and control. Do you have any specific suggestions for foolproof control of a nanofac?

As a programmer, I know that no electronic security is foolproof. My primary solution is having a whole lot of nano-countermeasures around in case of a malicious nanobot designer, much like we have anti-virus software for our computers. CRN's solution is akin to bugging and restricting everyone's PC's (and subjecting them to real-time external control by persons at some international agency that the "owner" of the PC has no power to stop) in order to stop virus writers and music traders. If this sounds like a good solution to you, would you like to be the first person to sign up for this to happen to your PC? If not, then recognize their proposals for what they are - a transnational power grab cloaked under a banner that reads "The Sky Is About To Fall!" They are hyping-up a potential problem to try to secure support for their proposed solution. Pretty much standard bureaucratic tactics, really. The scenario of “this coming problem will doom society…unless of course our agency is given lots of funding and broad legal powers” is nothing new in the history of politics. This is just one of the latest incarnations.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Janessa, in contrast to your claim that we are calling for "Each product built would be trackable back to it’s original builder," let me quote two sections from that page.

"This page describes the extremes to which control can easily be taken. Some of these measures are undesirable for a variety of reasons and will probably not be necessary in practice to maintain security."

"For products carrying some kind of risk, the person requesting the product could also be verified. .... Since most MNT products could be made by anonymous users..."

In short, your "instant antipathy" is an overreaction.

You seem to have two main questions. First, how can we prevent any nano administration from becoming Big Brother? Second, what do we do when--not if--someone cracks the restrictions? I'll try to answer those questions in the response I'm writing over at "The Essential Question" http://crnano.typepad.com/crnblog/2004/03/the_essential_q.html




Well, I believe you are correct it is impossible to make software or hardware impossible to duplicate.
And because any one "cracked" nanofac could produce unlimited numbers of "cracked" nanofacs, it'd be a waste of time to even follow that path.

My suggestions:
1) Treat nanofacs like nuclear arms with international controls on their use and distribution. This would essentially make the world a socialist economy, democratically elected I would hope. You get free goods from Gov't, and nanofacs are tightly, and centrally, controlled.

2) Don't try to control it, and let "nature" take it's course.

I think #2 is more likely, because living under #1 soem "rogue group" or individual would get an uncontrolled nanofac and then they would spread like wildfire, and eventually everyone would have one.

While this might be good in terms of individual freedom from Gov't control, we would, however, depend on a central Government to create a constant flow of patches, or countermeasures, to terrorist attacks.
With ubiquitous nanofacs, each capable of producing literally anything imaginable, it seems to me that every year or so some crazed group or person would release a "grey goo" that would kill hundreds of thousands before said "grey goo" could be stopped.

We might all become pawns in a great chess game between competing computers dreaming up virus and anti-virus.

OR - we could somehow create a single "virus" that lives inside every person and kills or incapacitates them if try to commit some given crime.
As usual, people would be the wrench in the utopia of nanofacs. Either people or machines will have to be controlled.

Imagine if Timothy McVeigh had not had an explosives lab but a nanofac in his home.
The world will face nukes and super-viruses instead of car bombs and falling planes...

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