Center for






Nanotech Scenario Series

Donate Now


 Join the  conversation at CRNtalk!


Results of Our Ongoing Research

These pages, marked with GREEN headings, are published for comment and criticism. These are not our final findings; some of these opinions will probably change.   LOG OF UPDATES 

CRN Research: Overview of Current Findings

bullet Timeline for Molecular Manufacturing   
bulletProducts of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletBenefits of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletDangers of Molecular Manufacturing  
bulletNo Simple Solutions
bulletAdministration Options
bullet Possible Technical Restrictions
bulletThe Need for International Control   YOU ARE HERE
bulletThe Need for Immediate Action
bulletA Solution that Balances Many Interests
bulletThe Need for Early Development   
bulletThe Need for International Development
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies

The Need for International Control

Overview:  International administration appears to be necessary for several reasons. Some of the risks of molecular nanotechnology (MNT) are potentially global in scope. At least one of the sources of risk, the possibility of a nanotech arms race, is explicitly international. Even well-intentioned and well-policed nations cannot always prevent internal terrorism, and companies with strong financial incentive do not always design secure products. Each additional MNT program increases the risk that unrestricted molecular manufacturing will fall into the wrong hands. For all these reasons, it seems best to have a single, trustworthy, international administration imposing tight controls on the technology. However, unless the technology is made widely available for a wide variety of applications and purposes, there will be strong incentive for independent MNT programs. Any successful administration program must satisfy many competing interests.

Nanotech problems and nanotech solutions are international. Both nanotech problems and nanotech solutions are international. If MNT goes wrong, some of its problems may be global in scope. Grey goo and military nanobots will not respect national borders. Economic collapse of any large nation will shake all the rest. Likewise, MNT risk prevention must also be global. Programs and policies for reducing poverty must be international. Administration to detect and prevent rogue MNT programs must have global jurisdiction. An accretion of national programs may be able to mitigate some problems and risks, but cannot address all of them. International policies, and international bodies, must be designed and created before molecular manufacturing arrives.
Nanotech arms races can only be prevented internationally. Conflict between nations killed millions in the last century. MNT-based conflict could be even worse. Nations attack when they feel threatened by others, or to satisfy internal political pressures including desperate domestic conditions. As discussed on our Dangers page, molecular manufacturing can easily lead to an unstable arms race—a very threatening situation. Even nations that are ostensibly allies may be uneasy about each other's ultimate intentions, and there are many combinations of powerful nations that maintain at best an uneasy truce. Unless nations can find some basis for trusting that MNT won't be used against them in unexpected ways, they will have no choice but to develop defensive, and probably offensive, nanotechnology. International MNT arms control, with strict and trustworthy verification, appears to be the best alternative.
  Internal politics may drive a nation to war even when this is not a wise course. A nation that is starving may go to war out of desperation, or a single war-minded leader can drag a nation into a pattern of conflict and conquest. MNT can help with one of these problems—the technology can be deployed far faster than humans reproduce, and can alleviate material shortages for at least a few generations. Bad leaders cannot be prevented by technology, but again, the best way of dealing with such situations appears to be an international institution that protects each nation from each other. It will require careful design to implement a system that nations can trust enough not to engage in ultimately suicidal arms races on a national level. But without such a system, arms races and eventual conflict are far too likely.
Preventing rogue nanotech requires international effort and cooperation. Unrestricted molecular manufacturing is far too risky, but useful restrictions will require international cooperation. With millions of criminals and thousands of terrorists in the world, immense damage could be done to people and to society. Hackers, even without intending harm, could create a self-replicating device that could do billions of dollars of damage—as software worms and viruses have done. Unfortunately, creating and maintaining useful restrictions is a huge job. Companies with strong incentive to protect their intellectual property have failed. The DVD standard, eBook format, audio watermarking, WAP, and at least one cell phone encryption system have been cracked. A multiplicity of security systems only multiplies the chance that one of them will be broken, removing all restrictions on the technology. The safest course appears to be a single security infrastructure, designed and implemented with a maximum of scrutiny from military, commercial, and private experts, applied to all nanotechnology that could be used to create unrestricted molecular manufacturing systems. A lot would be riding on this system: international arms control, commercial intellectual property control, and the continued ability to innovate without creating unacceptable risk. In the broader picture, independent or rogue nanotechnology programs would have to be discovered and prevented. This requires a body with global jurisdiction, perhaps analogous to the International Atomic Energy Agency. 
A single, international, MNT development program is safest. Multiple MNT programs multiply the risks. If multiple programs exist, nations cannot be nearly as secure about what their neighbors are doing. There are more chances for MNT restrictions to be broken. However, it will be quite hard to stop a determined program that has support from its government. The alternative is to reduce the desire for such programs to the point that legitimate governments do not want them. This requires making molecular manufacturing available internationally, on terms that all governments will accept, including:
bulletNo (or at least very low) royalty payments to foreign entities.
bulletProvision for each military to develop defensive capabilities with an appropriate degree of secrecy, while being able to track other nations' offensive capabilities.
bulletCommercial as well as military availability, even in countries that did not participate in development.

A national or commercial program is unlikely to be able to satisfy all these requirements. An international program might be able to.

Submit your criticism, please!

So you want to see Big Brother?

Let's talk specifics, not labels. We do want to see international monitoring of advanced nanotechnology—just as we have international monitoring of nuclear technology today. We do not want to see ubiquitous surveillance of every person. In fact, one of the risks we're trying to avoid is "personal or social risk from abusive restrictions". Bad restrictions are easy—and they're what we will have if people start to panic about uncontrolled molecular manufacturing.

Next Page: The Need for Immediate Action

Previous Page: Possible Technical Restrictions

Title Page: Overview of Current Findings

CRN was a non-profit research and advocacy organization, completely dependent on small grants and individual contributions.


Copyright © 2002-2008 Center for Responsible Nanotechnology TM        CRN was an affiliate of World Care®, an international, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization.