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« Globalization and Nanotechnology | Main | New research website: Wise-Nano »

September 26, 2004


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Karl Gallagher

Mike, you're right, that was badly phrased. I was trying to express the range of potential democracies from "a real democracy but do we want to get into bed with them?" (India) to "maybe technically a democracy but pretty damn iffy" (Russia). With India the trouble isn't so much lack of freedom as only 60% literacy, widespread poverty, and enough votes to take over any federation that includes it in a one-man-one-vote system. The latter is a trust issue--in a federation could we trust the Indian electorate to act in the interest of the federation as a whole or to use the power over the other members for their own benefit? A failure in solving that same problem led to the US civil war. "Free enough" is certainly not a good way of expressing the complexity of that.

Mike Treder, CRN

It seems likely that if some sort of global confederation is ever attempted, it would have to use a balanced approach to representation.

Perhaps it could modeled after the US House & Senate...where each nation got one (or two) votes in a representational chamber, and a number of votes proportional to (or weighted by) population in the other chamber. Laws, agreements, whatever, would have to be passed by both chambers, then any differences between them ironed out in a conference committee, before the bill is passed on to an executive body (the UN Security Council?) for final approval.

As I write this, I can imagine the tumultuous wrangling over adoption of any such worldwide legislative system, never mind the actual laws they try to pass. Problem is, nanotechnology is so powerful that some kind of administrative system may be required. Maybe we should start thinking about a workable plan now, since it's likely to take a really long time to accomplish.

Janessa Ravenwood

Mike: Stress on "MAY be required." And as we're going to hit these issues long before anyone in power in the real world ever seriously considers even entertaining that notion, wouldn't it make more sense to concentrate on what we can do WITHOUT a 1-world government or international agency with that power?

Tom Craver

You made a good attempt at avoiding conventional left-right political bias, but your (A) option - "Isolationism" - displays a "globalist" bias. A more acceptable alternative would be "Avoid entangling alliances". Avoid military alliances and interventions that can draw the US deep into expensive/deadly conflicts that don't reflect over-riding US interests. It certainly doesn't mean "cut off foreign trade". If trading partners attempt to use an economic dependence against us, the proper response is what happened with OPEC in the 70's - reduce that dependency. That worked so well that we eventually started buying SUVs (just in time for the global Hubbert peak, unfortunately). If an enemy attempted to block our trade, force of arms could be a reasonable response.

We now have troops in about 135 of 192 nations. If there's a simple answer to "Why do they hate us?", it's "How would you like having the troops of 135 nations based in the US, "protecting" their own national economic interests, influencing your government, and helping suppress (by force of arms if necessary) attempts to get rid of them?"


To the issue of world government and the specifics of said government. It is my opinion that whom ever develops MM first will hold all of the cards. The only conceivable exception to this rule would be 2-3 countries developing the technology within a few months of each other. This relatively short time frame might allow for open competition and although also could lead to open war. The more likely event is a single country the United States :) developing the technology first. So we will begin with as always the "what it's".

1. The United States develops molecular manufacturing.
2. No other country is within one year of developing the technology.
3. The United States immediately deploys the technology throughout its military and upgrades all equipment to Diamond.
4. The United States develops A.I. and deploys robotics throughout its military there by eliminating the need for individuals to stand in the front line.
5. The United States pacifies all countries under conflicts throughout the world that it is involved with.
6. 100 plus countries apply for technical assistance with internal problems pertaining to human rights i.e. food, infrastructure, energy, and the like.
7. The United States economy collapses post MM plus six months due to a lack of available jobs and replacement of individuals with robotics.
8. All peoples of United States enjoy unprecedented wealth and freedom the likes of which have never been known in anytime or anyplace.
9. Unheard-of pressure is applied to the U.S. borders as immigration skyrockets to levels never before seen in the past
10. The United States through humanitarian means begins distribution of technology to Allied countries post MM plus one year.
11. The United States is recognized as superpower and continues its influence throughout the world.
12. The United States request all countries hold democratic elections and elect leaders for continuing discussions and deployment/utilization of MM within their country.
13. All Allied countries as well as most Third World countries join with United States and except democratic rule with the exception of religious ruled countries.

This is one possible scenario not without merit. I would be interested in any comments or alternative scenarios given the current state and likely state of this technology.


Tom Craver

I think we need to put some bounds on what an effective "international cooperation" approach could be. When could it get started, how long could it be effective if it took various approaches, etc.

At a guess, no major international cooperation will be put in place much prior to molecular manufacturing becoming a reality. One can plan what will be useful and workable in advance, and perhaps get that widely accepted as the template to be followed when the cooperation is established. But until there is a wide perception of real risk, cooperation will not be a priority.

If a treaty attempted to suppress molecular manufacturing development in any way, it would be cheated on by the worst member nations, and ignored by nations that refuse to join. It would not merely fail in its purpose, but would actively make the situation worse by weakening cooperative member nations. Therefore this will not happen.

If a cooperative attempted to limit proliferation to certain types of nations, probably within 10 years it would have failed completely. Nanotech will be too easy to steal or recreate.

Tom Craver

One possibly viable approach might be a "research cooperative". All member nations would agree that all their nanotech R&D would be done under the cooperative and all results would be distributed continuously to all members nations. Doing nanotech R&D outside the cooperative would result in penalties ranging from delays in getting research results on up to eviction. Releasing results to non-members would be penalized.

No form of R&D would be banned by the cooperative, including nanoweapons or research that some members find morally offensive (e.g. as cloning or stem cell research were). Otherwise members might have incentive to cheat, or non-members might gain an edge over members. This would probably cause contention among member nations' citizens, but I don't see any viable alternative. But note that I have NOT proposed that the cooperative have any power to tax members to fund research. Member nations would decide what research they wish to fund and organize that work - the cooperative would only insure that the research is properly monitored and the results distributed to all members.

Since all members would get all nanoweapon designs, Mutually Assured Destruction deterrence should hold. After an initial surge of nanoweapon R&D to provide an edge over any non-members, the value of additional nanoweapon R&D should fall off, since all members - including nations seen as enemies - would get the results at the same time as the funding nation.

Likely the cooperative would also want to impose a few other rules. E.g. international terrorist organizations must not be tolerated by any member, due to the risk of them being undeterred from using WMDs. While it'd be nice if the cooperative could prevent nanowars, that simply doesn't seem likely.

Even if the research cooperative started out small, it would immediately be attractive to all nations with less R&D resources, so it would grow, and as it grew, larger and larger nations would find it attractive to become and remain members. The biggest danger would be creation of multiple, competing cooperatives. To avoid this, it would be important for the richest and most cooperative nations to form the first and only cooperative, and to include those nations most likely to attempt formation of a separate cooperative.

Mike Treder, CRN

One possibly viable approach might be a "research cooperative".

Good idea, Tom. Maybe you should create a page for it on the
Wise-Nano wiki site and see if others will work to develop the concept.

Janessa Ravenwood

Bets on a mature nanotechnology already coming around by the time such a "research collective" agreement was finally hammered out and signed by all parties?

Brett Bellmore

I'm not into sucker bets. LOL

Tom Craver

Janessa, Brett:

If you'll read the post prior to that one, you'll see where I stated that it is unlikely that any sort of international agreement could much precede arrival of molecular manufacturing as a real threat. That would include the cooperative R&D organization.

The idea of the R&D cooperative is aimed at post-development of molecular manufacturing. At best the template for such an organization might be worked out in advance, and a foundation of comprehension and support built among those likely to advise national leaders. I think that is the sort of thing CRN is aiming at, in a broad sense.

And by the way - I don't have to be married to an idea to be willing to work through its implications. I haven't made up my mind yet about the feasibility or desirability of this one. Intelligent commentary and objections would be welcome.


To the question of world government. I can find it difficult to see a situation where United States turns over power of government to another organization. But then the technology and questioned is so powerful that we should remain open-minded. One fundamental issue was addressed earlier and that is the idea of "one man one vote". In the United States we don't represent some six percent of world population is percentages falling as other groups are growing faster than we are. If in a situation where world democracy prevails and all developed countries and together we will be in the minority not the majority. Indeed it every man woman and child in United States where to vote if given about a mere 25 percent of India's population would have to vote against us and we would lose. Even less of a percentage can be said if China is included in this discussion.

I honestly have felt positively about world government and the inevitability of this. But equally honestly I had not considered one vote one man. I'm a say I had not thought through to its eventual conclusion that is to say we must be fair and equitable to all men everywhere. But the reality that they are more of them and less of us is the case. If implementation of the world government occurs and they opened democratic election takes place where all members receive a vote we will represent only perhaps a swing vote as we will likely end up with a Chinese or Indian president and cabinet. In the case of the Chinese a duplication of their current system would seem negative and counterproductive to the goal of freedom. In the case of a Indian president this eventuality would seem more acceptable but unacceptable nonetheless.

We're left with a situation where sacrifices will have to be made if we are to continue moving forward toward a general state of peace and stability worldwide. One point if we where to assoom a group outside of the United States where in our and governing all first world countrys. With this in some way restrict our freedom here. Or with this group wish only to assure freedom to everyone. With any change comes uncertainty and hesitation but we should embrace change and to all we can to ensure it is for the best. Any interpretation of what a future worldwide government would be is pure speculation. But we could at least ask, for a government, of the people,and for the people.

On another point yet perhaps the same as I move through my daily affairs here in Iowa. I do not feel directly influence by the United States government. Although it can be argued differently my point is I do not see military individuals on the streets. Nor do I fear these individuals knocking on my door and taking me away. Indeed if the government changes during the elections and a new government is put in place I will likely see no change in my day-to-day affairs. Looking ahead if a world government is put in place and this lack of change continues. Perhaps I would be prepared to accept a new order. As long as my life and those of my friends and family continues with the level of freedom we currently enjoy. I will give this some additional thought I do not want to appear anti American nor do I want to be adamant that the American way is the only way.


Karl Gallagher

Another thought about world government--the actual structure of the government isn't the most important thing. The US Constitution did a splendid job of handling the conflicting needs of different states to convince them to join the federation. But the underlying disagreements were too severe to be handled by the constitutional process and we had a bloody civil war. So I think establishing a consensus on the goals of government is more important than the actual structure of it.

(Structure's a lot more fun to talk about, of course. Where'd I put the notes for that essay . . . ;-) )


As favourable as some kind of (potent) world governance/organisation would be to control MNT, I strongly believe: Unless some drastic change in either the global circumstances or peoples´ mindsets occur, it´s not going to happen, rather the opposite.

Why is it not going to happen? Consider landmines. Despite clearly lacking any significant public acceptance, some faction leaders (military, political, etc.) find it acceptable to deploy anti-personal landmines, usually to terrorize (parts of) a neighboring or even their own civilian population; many states find manufacturing and exporting landmines to such groups acceptable, probably because of the money involved (destabilization might be another factor); none find either course of action objectable enough to put any kind of hard sanctions in place against such countries or groups.
Financially speaking, MNT will make landmines look like the toys they sometimes are physically disguised as, so when it comes to industrial lobbyism vs public opinion, prospects of even higher profits will drown a (relative to landmines) low public understanding of the dangers of the technology. That is in my view a major obstacle towards a form of good global MNT governance that is driven by the will to benefit all people rather than geopolitical and purely money-making agendas.

Without Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Cold War might well have gone hot, because the average person couldn´t have really known the true destructive potential of the nuclear bomb. I don´t know enough about the average soviet or US mentality and decision making policy during the height of Cold War to say that public opinion, shaped by Hiroshima, prevented the nuclear first strike by either block. But I´m convinced it did not go without positive effect, although the price was high.

If however it did have a decisive effect, then, as horrible as it was, the price was not too high, assuming it prevented a global nuclear war. Carried out by a small group of devoted lunatics to demonstrate the potentially destructive and easily accessible power of MNT, a similar demonstration might be required to create the same feeling for the power of MNT, although everything should be tried to make this event unnecessary. It might however impress enough people to let the idea of global government gain enough momentum to have it installed. On the other hand it is quite possible that MNT marks the point in history from when on the next Hiroshima will be the last, in the fatal sense. In this case it´s out of question that it must not happen.


Quite the opposite of a global government looks like a more realistic scenario, although one with more possible downsides. We have already discussed MNT´s possibilities for self-sustaining life styles. We were, IIRC, focusing on the extreme case, i.e. dropouts that go somewhere in the wild (or in space), unfold their solar panels and just live along by themselves. But it seems unlikely that human beings, being social beings (English is fun, sometimes), will broadly adopt such a life style, even if possible and to some, desirable. People will at least gather in concise communities, living with like-minded people (if they have the freedom to choose). Also, living in a less crowded area is a crude safety measure against WMDs.

So for the average person, there is reduced need for federal organisation of daily life, since a nanofactory and some people you are comfortable living with can provide everything you need for surviving and nearly everything you want for living.

Also, as Drexler already pointed out in "Engines", as the demand for government is reduced, at the same time governments will have less demand for people. They will have access to nanofactories, thus requiring less taxes and less manual labour.

So if the demand for government decreases, I can´t imagine it to be a useful policy to increase the supply of government and thus working squarely against the "market force" that drives down the value of government.


Of course the main goal of the world government was policing of and defending against harmful applications of MNT, so let´s address this:

As we have already discussed and I think agreed on, "policing" in the sense of treaties and mutual inspections is pretty much wishful thinking, at best. If a country really wants to hide a secret, MNT-related development program for as long as it takes, it will be able to do so, period. I think this point needs no further discussion. Thus, policing MNT is an almost 100% matter of trust, nothing any large government/political organisation was ever worthy of when it comes to such temptation.

And defending against MNT? This is hard to tell, since nobody knows exactly what kinds of attacks to expect. But infering from the example of computer virii and spam, it looks like MNT is going to bring a world of hurt to the average and the unlucky person, especially since one doesn´t have the real-life equivalent of just rebooting after a virus attack. I doubt, however, that I would trust a solution cooked up by an institution in which every single participant gets his say about what solution to apply, including all nationalistic maneuvers to influence which company from which country gets the contract. Also, no solution is perfect, they all have their small and big holes. Monolithic architectures have the additional disadvantage that "one virus fits them all", so to say. In questions of security, open source with its superior and dedicated man power might well beat a Microsoft-style security-by-obscurity approach, which usually also is employed by government solutions. Global distribution channels, mainly Internet, will allow (and require) anyone to keep him/herself up to date. I think in the long run that´s the way to go. A bureaucracy-laden government agency, their technically challenged decision makers lobbied by and selling themselves to the industry, is nothing I would like to trust when it comes to defending against such a threat. Granted, even governments will adapt, given enough time, fatal accidents, and public pressure. But in this case, while we will have a surplus of fatalities, I expect time to be breathtaking short.


An article I just found via slashdot:


Tom Craver

Matt: Regarded the potential for policing/inspection.

I don't think we can totally discount the value of monitoring for nanotech development programs.

If a nation agreed with other nations to mutual transparency - basically allowing them to freely and actively spy on each other, it would be difficult for one of those nations to keep secrets from the others.

Any nation that did not agree to mutual transparency would be assumed to be hiding development programs aimed at achieving nanoweapon superiority. It would be unfortunate if some nations take this path, but ultimately the only answer to that is to prepare to destroy them if necessary, and work diligently to get them to change their ways.

Note that transparency is not an absurd option that nations will never consider - The US and Russia have implemented several forms with regard to nuclear weapon inspections. Nations that refuse to allow some forms of openness are increasingly being labelled "rogue nations".


I think the comparison MNT - nuclear development fails at least in these critical points:

a) MNT does not require large facilities or covers thereof that are easily recognized by satelite surveillance.

b) MNT does not require exotic materials; trade with materials with which one requires to develop nukes is quite heavily regulated, for obvious reasons.

c) MNT does not require regulated tools to be developed. AFMs/STMs and other tools are available off the shelf on a free, diverse market already. No need for ultra-centrifuges etc.

d) I could do no more than guessing actual numbers, but infering from requirements of materials, tools, space, and infrastructure it seems that MNT should be a lot less costly than nuclear development. A Nanhattan-Project might be closer to its 1940s relative under this aspect, though, if going for the moonshot.

All these points make nuclear (non-)profileration a lot easier to check, but even then it is not trivial, as Iran and N-Korea show. MNT will be a lot harder to control and I still belive that a determined nation will have no problem agreeing to whatever treaty calms its competitors, opening up real labs for inspection and running a secret lab 5 doors down the hallway. Or in the basement, or the neighbor building, or at the other end of the town, or wherever they please. How can one control every possible site for a nano lab in a country larger than Vatican City, without total police state measures?

Note that transparency is not an absurd option that nations will never consider

Regarding MNT, for all practical purposes I do consider it absurd, especially when we talk about the USA.
Note: I assume the US presidente would sign and really adhere to a treaty that allowed "rogue nations", as you call them, to actually spy and inspect on US-American soil as some far-away piece of paper pleases. Even this premise looks so laughably unlikely the discussion might as well stop here, case closed.
Anyway, let´s take it for granted. Now look at your Patriot Act and tell me that openness is a major trait of the US or any other country´s politics. Yes, you do have the Freedom of Information Act, which I consider a wonderful thing which can only be recommended to every country. Then again I read articles about how a lot of agencies and bureaucrats can classify any document they want to, and do so, thus denying access to it, for issues of "national security". Do you agree that a covert MNT program might, just maybe, disappear in the "national security" locker as well?

What speaks against the possibilities I outlined above to be employed by any country, including the US? Their constant and repeated violations of numerous international agreements in recent years clearly indicate the way they think about (and deal with) treaties that don´t run exactly along their lines, no matter how established or useful they may be for everyone. Before the US learns again that treaties require at least two participants to work, that treaties are signed to keep, I wouldn´t give your president a leasing contract, let alone the possibility to catch up on a possible lag behind my MNT research. Why would I? If the US see any competitor racing off, they will probably do anything to catch up, invasion and war not even being the worst. Janessa Ravenwood is quite open and honest in expressing her opinion on these matters, and she´s in good company with the current Bush administration, which express the same views, only little more diplomatically. Unless GWB goes on record without script or PR watchdogs.

Any nation that did not agree to mutual transparency would be assumed to be hiding development programs aimed at achieving nanoweapon superiority.

Of course it would, because presumption of innocence tends to look a little out-fashioned to the "world´s best democracy" that already started passing secret laws. So since they don´t reveal anything means invariably they must be up to something. And no nation may under any circumstance supercede the US, not even regionally, which is semi-official policy since the end of the Cold War. After liberating the country, if despite "rock-solid evidence" no MNT program was found that would only prove they have hidden it too well. Sound familiar?

It would be unfortunate if some nations take this path, but ultimately the only answer to that is to prepare to destroy them if necessary, and work diligently to get them to change their ways.

The USA must decide whether they want to be a nation of civilization or one of permanent war on every possible frontline. Hopefully they have not already decided how they want to spend the rest of their meaningful history, because if they want to perceive and destroy threats then they can do so in an infinite loop, until they or the whole system goes down

Tom Craver

My only reference to nuclear was as an example of two highly suspicious nations allowing a degree of mutual transparency, illustrating that it is not absurd to believe that nations might accept such an approach. In another example, the US and Europe quietly allow each other to spy on each other's telecommunications.

It would be absurd to believe that it would be technically impossible to detect MNT R&D given extreme monitoring measures - so I presume your arguments amount to a statement that you don't believe any nation would allow other nations that much access. That may or may not be true - the only way to find out would be to attempt to establish treaties and see what is accepted. A totally separate issue is whether the citizens of a nation should accept such measures.

The rest of your post appears to be a polemic against the Bush administration, with little actual bearing on whether treaties can be effective in general. I'm not a Bush supporter, nor is this a current events discussion group, so I'll ignore that.


My only reference to nuclear was as an example of two highly suspicious nations allowing a degree of mutual transparency, illustrating that it is not absurd to believe that nations might accept such an approach.

I know, I stated that such an approach is highly unlikely _with MNT_ rather than nuclear programs; I didn´t say that it was absurd in any case, because it is not.

My point is, given current satellite/seismic/radiation surveillance and tool/material regulations it is a lot harder to conceal a nuclear program than it presumably will be to conceal an MNT program, which will present no problem in either of the above points.
So my reasoning was: A mutual agreement on transparency is a lot more acceptable if there de facto is not much to hide to begin with, and even then it´s not a trivial matter (see Iran, N-Korea). Which means, if an MNT program is in contrast a lot easier to hide, then the incentive for mutual transparency is reduced. It can even be abused if it serves as a legal way of spying the opponent´s progress to add it to the own.

Considering the low risk of detection (even under regular inspections) and potentially huge pay-off of running secret labs I consider such a program almost inevitable, reducing the usefulness of mutual limitation/surveillance agreements.

Don´t get me wrong, mutual transparancy would be a great deal if it worked out as intended. All that worries me is the potential to abuse, and if it is abused, THEN you can fully expect matters to get nasty. Additionally, consider this: Assuming MNT programs will be as easy to hide as I suspect they will, and thus neither side can be 100% sure the other(s) don´t attempt to abuse the agreement, then you could have a situation that is only slightly better than without the agreement. The side are suspicious of each other, with the probable consequence of setting up their own secret program, just in case. Factor in most nations´ unwillingness to open itself up to total surveillance, even if it would be the sensible thing to do, and I doubt such an agreement will come into existence anytime soon. Definitely not before the breakthrough.

It would be absurd to believe that it would be technically impossible to detect MNT R&D given extreme monitoring measures - so I presume your arguments amount to a statement that you don't believe any nation would allow other nations that much access.

That´s almost my position, but not quite. Of course it is technically possible, that´s not the problem. The problem is IMHO the possible decentralization of MNT research, down to "denizens of their mom´s basement" if you like, but with the euqipment to actually achieve something significant.
It´s not even so much the question of granting universal access to a whole country, like I wrote in the previous post: It´s unlikely, but for the sake of argument, let´s assume it. The problem still remains: You´re allowed to search every mom´s basement, but you won´t, because it is overkill.

So my point is: I´d prefer security by transparency over security by obscurity anytime, but I don´t believe it being sufficient by itself.
So policing MNT will involve a good deal of trust, more trust than is required today policing nuclear/biological/chemical programs.

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