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The Law And Nanotechnology 188

Posted by michael
from the digital-millennium-nanotechnology-act dept.
YIAAL writes: "An article in Smalltimes raises the issue of legal implications of nanotechnology in all sorts of areas. Would nanoweapons be treated as chemical or biological weapons, or do they need a new treaty? If you can use nanotechnology to copy anything and then share the "plans" with friends who can use nanotechnology to make copies of their own, is it like Napster for the material world?" The gray goo problem - accidentally releasing a self-replicating device that turns the entire world into copies of itself - is going to be a huge spur for close regulation of nano-devices.
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The Law And Nanotechnology

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  • By far the best quote in the article:
    ...when legislators do try to craft new bodies of law to deal with new technologies, "the results are either pointless or disastrous."
    Witness the DMCA.
  • The "debate" that old laws may not cover new technology was settled a long time ago in a variety of contexts. The law is a surprisingly adaptable tool. Good laws speak to core concepts of human action and interaction and it is up to courts to fit the innumerable factual scenarios they see into an existing legal framework.

    For example, the US Supreme Court held that any human creation under the sun is patentable as long as it meets the statutory requirements of novelty, usefulness, and unobviousness. Thus, the creations of nanotechnology, like biotech and computer software are patentable. (Believe it or not, there was a serious question as to whether software was patentable until recently - it still is not in most countries).

    As for the specific uses of nanotech-created devices, I think that people will find that new devices fit nicely into the old legal boxes. This is not to say there will not be argument over which box it should go in, but it will most assuredly be fit into some box.

    • The "debate" that old laws may not cover new technology was settled a long time ago in a variety of contexts. The law is a surprisingly adaptable tool. Good laws speak to core concepts of human action and interaction and it is up to courts to fit the innumerable factual scenarios they see into an existing legal framework.

      For example, the US Supreme Court held that any human creation under the sun is patentable as long as it meets the statutory requirements of novelty, usefulness, and unobviousness. Thus, the creations of nanotechnology, like biotech and computer software are patentable. (Believe it or not, there was a serious question as to whether software was patentable until recently - it still is not in most countries).

      As for the specific uses of nanotech-created devices, I think that people will find that new devices fit nicely into the old legal boxes. This is not to say there will not be argument over which box it should go in, but it will most assuredly be fit into some box.


      This has GOT to be a troll, or the most amazing display of cluelessness I have EVER witnessed on Slashdot.

      1) You use patents as an example of a "good" outcome of the "useful" tool of law wrt technology.

      2) You assume the reader thinks there is NO serious question as to whether software should be patentable.

      2a) You ALSO assume the reader then agrees software should be patentable.

      3) You ask then ask (based on these premises) the reader to have faith that our legal system is capable of producing GOOD laws regarding technology, despite reams of evidence to the contrary (do I even have to MENTION the DMCA?)

      You don't read /. much, do you?

      Either that, or I have been horribly trolled.
  • Well, if it had been a grey slime, I would just use my +5 2-handed sword, Sunblade...

    But for grey goo? Hmm, I don't think I can help you there... :)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    To build anything small enough yet powerful enough to self-replicate as well as do something (non)useful, it would necessarily have to cross the threshold of life, or at least straddle it in the same way viruses do.

    Wouldn't it be nice to actually have demonstrations of this nanotech that everyone's so worried about?
    • > To build anything small enough yet powerful enough to self-replicate as well as do something (non)useful, it would necessarily have to cross the threshold of life, or at least straddle it in the same way viruses do.

      Great! So instead of worrying about Code Red shutting down the Internet, we'll have to worry about Code Green turning the whole planet into a giant puddle of mud...

  • Lets let the things do _anything_ before we accuse them of copyright violation, much less walking in the shoes of the creator.
  • diamond age (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gr3g (119302)
    an interesting thought about nanotechnology is being able to use it to feed everyone from suplies as simple as seawater. One thing that would prevent Grey-Goo is the massive amounts of energy required to produce nanotech machines and the fact that no-one has developed a self-replicating machine outside of theory. Neal Stephenson did a good book on nanotechnology called The Diamond Age.
    • Re:diamond age (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bearpaw (13080)
      One thing that would prevent Grey-Goo is the massive amounts of energy required to produce nanotech machines ...

      What "massive amounts of energy"?

      and the fact that no-one has developed a self-replicating machine outside of theory.

      ... yet. Why does the fact that no one has done it yet mean that it can't happen?

      That said, it's not clear how likely accidental "grey goo" would be. I'd be more concerned about intentional grey goo.

      Neal Stephenson did a good book on nanotechnology called The Diamond Age.

      That was not a book on nanotechnology, that was a novel that had a particular version of nanotechnology as part of the context.

      Some people have written good books on nanotechnology, Here's a list. [foresight.org]

    • DIAMOND AGE was terrific. Also check out ARISTOI by Walter Jon Williams (hope I spelled everything correctly).

      In ARISTOI, the great, forbidden danger was "mataglap nano", which apparently served to break everything down into component molecules for later use as raw material. An inattentive nano designer who didn't put adequate controls on the bugs' self-replication capacity could accidentally create mataglap, so therefore all new nano designs were to be reviewed closely by computer programs and more-experienced superiors.
      • Try "Builders of Infinity". This book, can't recall the author, contains the good and bad of nanotech. The gray goo problem pops up as does a nifty way to colonize a new solar system.

  • You heard me. Anyone that says we are safe from nanoweapons for at least 25-100 years or some other BS answer obviously didn't see the article about Bacteriaphage nanotubes. What if those nanotubes had been designed for animal cell membranes instead of bacterial cell membranes? And then injected into a person? That's manmade ebola right there. Your organs would all be perferated at the microscopic level and NOTHING WOULD CURE IT. Granted it wouldn't reproduce/be infectious... but it would be devastating. You could probably get away with putting it in food or water. And this technology exists NOW. Not ten years, not next year. NOW. The benefits of nanotechnology are coming very quickly. But along with them come the dangers, and we are woefully underprepared to deal with some. After all, how do you cure a nanovirus that pokes holes in your cells? skye
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Except that that bacteria puncturing nanotube was DERIVED from a bacterial gene that naturally inhabits the cell membrane, with the checkpoints to prevent autolysis removed artificially. It had 4 billion years of evolution making it an efficient hole puncher, it doesn't self replicate, and it takes a lot of them before its toxic. Basically, for the weight, Cyanide would be a lot better at killing people than your hypothetical human holepunch.
  • Trash dumps will become prime real estate again as a source of unused and unwanted raw materials. Want to get rid of nuclear weapons? Blanket your enemy's missile bases with nanomachines that melt the fissable material/destroy the firing mechanism/turn the whole missile to goo. Toxic waste cleanup (aside from nuclear waste, as the stuff will still be radioactive broken down) would be a breeze. Just neatly break apart all those nasty molecules into friendly elements. Nanomachines that scrub CO2 from the atmosphere. Rebuild the ozone layer (this would be harder, but I imagine still possible).
  • This article has some great philosophical questions, though most of the points are more to the copyright/patent law section. However, I'm more interested in the more wide-ranging questions Suppose one were to use these nano-manipulators to tweak someone's DNA and of basic body structure. At what point, if the nano manipulations are successful, and they no longer have "human" DNA, do they cease becoming human? What if the same operation were performed against someone's will; even though they're still alive and healthy, could it be considered murder?

    I know these questions are a bit off, but if we get to the point where we can perform medial manipulations to regrow limbs, I figure it'll only be a matter of time before people start using this technology for fashion/style purposes.

  • Missing the issue (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Nanotech will initially cause incredible chaos. Millions if not billions will die. Think about it, if I had a machine that could create anything from an atomic pattern I wouldn't need to work would I? I wanna eat an apple so I go in my back yard and come back with some dirt. Since dirt and apples are the same atoms the machine would reorganize them into an apple. The machine would cover other things too like clothing, medicine etc... It would also reclaim matter like crap and left-over food. Anyhow parts of society would start falling apart because segments of the working force would stop working. Hence the chaos. Eventually everybody will have these machines because I'll have my machine replicate itself and give it to my neighbour who in turn will give it to his etc...

    Laws about nanotech will not concern themselves with material issues like copyright and money since nobody will care anymore. We'll all just lay back and take it easy for a year until we get bored and ask ourselves what we really want to do with our lives. Then we'll get back to working except it won't be for the man but rather ourselves and the only reward will be a sence of contribution.

    That's assuming we even get this far. I'm sure this kind of future is not in the interest of the following people:

    - gangsters
    - politicians
    - rich people
    - anybody else who enjoys living the high life and doesn't want to lose their Mexican maid.
    • You are missing the point of why such people exist. Leaving politicians out of it (too many contradictions both ways), the other "catagories" you are referring too are "generally" doing what they do for power, and/or they like to feel superior to someone else. You could almost call it part of the human condition. We like feeling superior to someone (anyone) else. That's why we like disaster news shows. Though it is never said, and rarely thought, when we see a whole state/country/region flooded, we say to ourselves "At least i'm superior to THEM!".

      It is all about being/feeling superior. That's why your idea that those "groups" will try and prevent utopia is probably not true. Those groups will probably go along with whatever happens, but will try and control the change so that they remain on top. If that doesn't happen, then other groups, usually those on the leading edge of the change will position themselves to take power in some new way, usually by means that were not available at the beginning of the massive societal change. Microsoft's position now is a perfect example of this. IBM was the "old-school" group that specialized in mainframes, and couldn't recognize the importance of PCs. Because of this, Microsoft, being the "new guy" on the leading edge of the technology was able to take control. And it will take an equally significant change to the computer industry (quantum computers maybie?) to displace them.

      So while I believe that the somewhat-utopian change from nanotech will come, there will ALWAYS be those trying to be above or "superior" to others, just from basic human domination instinct.

      Eriol

      P.S. I guess I still AM the eternal cynic. Oh well. :)

  • To understand how the govenment could react to the arrival of gray goo, look how it handles today's hot topics. On one hand the US government forbids cloning [nytimes.com] and on the other allows genes to be patented. yikes

    Many points come to mind, here are the biggies:
    1) First the rules for genes and clones contradict the rest of common law. If I can own land, my own body, and even ideas and do whatever I please with them, why can't I investigate my own body if it violates someone's patent on a gene, and why can't I investigate making copies of (cloning) myself? Both of these uses of my own body come under "fair use" - Good lord I hope so - so why is the government holding me down?
    2) Further, the rules seem to contradict each other. If it makes sense to be able to own exclusive rights to a gene, then why not copies of the gene? And if copies of a gene are okay, then why not copies of sets of genes - aka chromosomes? And if it makes sense to have copies of sets of chromosomes - aka /me - then why can't we make a /little-me ?

    Imagine the fun that comes to reality when systems similar to the gray goo are available. Governments are usually slow on imagination, and with innovation occuring so fast these days, it will probably take nothing short of a revolution to make things make sense again. But, then again well-formed democracies last a long time because they go through constant phoneix rebirths, and better ideas are encouraged to the top. Maybe not one big revolution, but lots of little ones.

    Conclusion: The gray goo is gonna cause people to go through more revolutions in thought because things have to make sense eventually.

    Tangent Point:
    I would also like to point out that Native Americans had civilized culture for thousands of years without any real concept of land ownership [americanwest.com]. As today's civilized culture becomes more nomadic, maybe property in general is passe? Maybe that is why many slashdoters fight so hard against anything - patents, copyrights, DMCA, Microsoft - that keeps innovation low: it is not natural and nature always finds a way. :)

    The world does not make sense when it can't make cents.
  • What if you make a nanobot with the capability to learn, and you originally coded it to only copy articles for fair use purposes, but it realizes that all information should be free, and recodes itself to disseminate info to all comers?

    It's not like you anticipated that it would decide to break the law.

    The same goes for something designed for tissue repair - what if it starts fixing things you don't want fixed, like someone who had a tubal ligation or other operation to shut down reproductive capability, and it just fixes it. You didn't intend for pregnancy to occur ...

    What if it's a security bot, repairing data links to increase signal capabilities. And it runs across an uber-Carnivore screen tap that the uber-NSA put in, to intercept info it's not supposed to intercept. So the bot cuts it out of the circuit, since it doesn't belong. Did you do that intentionally? What if when you designed it, such things were illegal, and then they made it legal? What if it was legal and then they made it illegal?

    Ah, the possibilities are astounding in their implications.

  • Read this article (long and technically complex, but fairly easy to read nonetheless):

    http://www.foresight.org/NanoRev/Ecophagy.html

    ...to find out why the gray goo problem is not an insurmountable one, or (in my opinion) nearly as threatening as global thermonuclear war. I used to worry about gray goo (accidental nanobots-eat-world scenario) and black goo (deliberately engineered nanobots-eat-world scenario), but the above article largely put my worries to rest. Here's the abstract:

    The maximum rate of global ecophagy by biovorous self-replicating nanorobots is fundamentally restricted by the replicative strategy employed; by the maximum dispersal velocity of mobile replicators; by operational energy and chemical element requirements; by the homeostatic resistance of biological ecologies to ecophagy; by ecophagic thermal pollution limits (ETPL); and most importantly by our determination and readiness to stop them. Assuming current and foreseeable energy-dissipative designs requiring ~100 MJ/kg for chemical transformations (most likely for biovorous systems), ecophagy that proceeds slowly enough to add ~4C to global warming (near the current threshold for immediate climatological detection) will require ~20 months to run to completion; faster ecophagic devices run hotter, allowing quicker detection by policing authorities. All ecophagic scenarios examined appear to permit early detection by vigilant monitoring, thus enabling rapid deployment of effective defensive instrumentalities.
  • The gray goo problem - accidentally releasing a self-replicating device that turns the entire world into copies of itself

    Sounds like people to me. Well, other than the accidnetly part, we were "released" quite intentionally.

  • Folks interested in nanotech run wild should check out Bloom [infinityplus.co.uk], by Will McCarthy [sff.net]. His vision is far more complex and beautiful than mere "Grey Goo." Solar/heat powered nanites, or mycora [sff.net] in this context, floating in self organizing clouds around the inner planets with all sorts of emergant behaviors. An excellent read.
  • by RAruler (11862) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @03:26PM (#20515) Homepage
    For those of you unfamiliar with Asimov and the Three Laws of Robotics it goes something like this.

    1) A robot shall not through action or inaction allow a human come to harm.
    2) A robot shall always obey the orders of a human unless it violates the first law.
    3) A robot shall attempt to save itself, unless this violates the first and second laws.

    Now, this was developed for robots with positronic brains, much more advanced than your average nano bot is likely to be. But when you take into consideration the complexity of what a nanobot has to do, there must be something controlling them, right? Well, I'm not sure a computer of today could really comprehend the idea of human life, or how its action could affect it.

    Going completely offtopic now :) Another way of controlling these pesky little automotons is through the use of food, if you make them dependant on something they cannot make themselves. This is the tricky part, as in theory they could probably make everything they ever need, or redesign themselves to no longer need the item.

    But, if a hoarde of nanobots gets out of control, we do have a way of stopping them, an Electro Magnet Pulse wreaks havoc with pretty much every electronic device, and to shield the little buggers would be an act of utter stupidity.

    Basically, if a destructive force of nanobots gets released, that can duplicate themselves, is immune to EMP, and is self sufficient. Well, we are quite screwed, you have to rely on the fact that no one in their right mind would design such a doomsday device.
    • Why not adopt the three laws of Robotics?

      Because making the nanomachines understand the Three Laws requires a solution to the Strong AI Problem. This will not be a cakewalk, and will be overkill for the vast majority of applications of nanomachines.

      Building in an "off" switch or a dependence on a specific environmental factor would work at least as well and would be far easier.
      • I was rethinking the dependance idea. Nanobots can synsthesize pretty much everything they can get their hands on. But, they can't make things that require them to be in a different place, like crystals grown in space. Zero gravity has strange effects, and so it would be almost impossible to recreate the crystals. But, we are talking about nanobots here, they would most likely have the ability to replicate themselves, and why replicate an inherit design flaw, like a dependance on something?
        • But, we are talking about nanobots here, they would most likely have the ability to replicate themselves, and why replicate an inherit design flaw, like a dependance on something?

          Easy - because they're too dumb to modify their own designs.

          Designing a system that can design or improve the design of systems as complicated as itself is another task that's comparable to solving the Strong AI Problem.

          You could argue that mutations might let them evolve, eventually, but nanomachines would be much less suceptible to mutation than biological replicators (by design - you don't want a cosmic ray to cause future generations of nanobots build houses without foundations, for instance).

          You'd probably give nanobots the hard-coded pattern for replicating themselves, and the ability to download large structure designs from your database when building things. That way you don't have to give your nanobots the designs for every structure you could conceivably want to build, and they wouldn't have to do any design work at *all*.

          Now, someone could deliberately build nanobots that would try to replicate ad infinitum, but that's for another thread.
    • But, if a hoarde of nanobots gets out of control, we do have a way of stopping them, an Electro Magnet Pulse wreaks havoc with pretty much every electronic device, and to shield the little buggers would be an act of utter stupidity.

      Basically, if a destructive force of nanobots gets released, that can duplicate themselves, is immune to EMP, and is self sufficient. Well, we are quite screwed, you have to rely on the fact that no one in their right mind would design such a doomsday device.


      Let's follow this (albeit extremely far-fetched, sci-fi, paranoid) idea to it's logical conclusion. What do you do when this "horde" redesigns itself to be shielded from EMP?
      • As the old Cliche goes, fight Fire with Fire.

        These nanobots would be unique, so you could make nanobots (A) that seek out and destroy the gone-wrong nanobots (B). Granted, the nanobots (B) would likely be able to protect themselves, and could probably even modify themselves to appear like the other nanobots (A).
      • Let's follow this (albeit extremely far-fetched, sci-fi, paranoid) idea to it's logical conclusion. What do you do when this "horde" redesigns itself to be shielded from EMP?

        I suggest constructing a giant "laser" on the moon. With this "laser" we will bust open a can of whoopass on the little buggy-bot creatures. If that doesn't work, I'll have myself cryogenically frozen and launched into orbit while the rest of you die a horrible, buggy death.
    • For such rules to actually work, wouldn't the goo have to be designed with inherent reasoning abilities? If the collective was designed 'dumb' (most likely scenario for practical purposes), how would the ingrained laws take hold when it formed intelligence/sentience?
    • 1) A robot shall not through action or inaction allow a human come to harm.
      2) A robot shall always obey the orders of a human unless it violates the first law.
      3) A robot shall attempt to save itself, unless this violates the first and second laws.


      How in the world are we going to build robots that follow these laws, when even most humans can't? These robots would have to be 100% perfect psychic. Also, if you had really read those novels, you would have noticed that the plot was usually about how the robots somehow did harm anyways, even when following these rules.

      - Steeltoe
    • ...there must be something controlling them, right?

      Not necessarily. Nanobots could be built that have the capability to detect a certain chemical, seek it out, and absorb that chemical, and then shut down. No outside control would be necessary.

      But, if a hoarde of nanobots gets out of control, we do have a way of stopping them, an Electro Magnet Pulse wreaks havoc with pretty much every electronic device, and to shield the little buggers would be an act of utter stupidity.

      In order to be vulnerable to EMP the nanobots would have to contain semi-conductors. Here's some useful info:

      "Society has entered the information age and is more dependent on electronic systems that work with components that are very susceptible to excessive electric currents and voltages."(15) Many systems needed are controlled by a semiconductor in some way. Failure of semi-conductive chips could destroy industrial processes, railway networks, power and phone systems, and access to water supplies. Semiconductor devices fail when they encounter an EMP because of the local heating that occurs. When a semi-conductive device absorbs the EMP energy, it displaces the resulting heat that is produced relatively slowly when compared to the time scale of the EMP. Because the heat is not dissipated quickly, the semiconductor can quickly heat up to temperatures near the melting point of the material. Soon the device will short and fail. This type of failure is call thermal second-breakdown failure. Source [geocities.com]

      But there are several different possibilities for the future of nanobot production. Some of these are entirely mechanical, some entirely chemical, or even biological. An EMP would do nothing to these types of nanobots.

  • by Neal Stephenson is a must read book for anyone interested in some of the potential possibilities, implications, and ethics in a world where nanotech is an everyday thing. Obligitory Amazon Link. [amazon.com]


    It's good scifi/cyberpunk stuff.


    My questions would be, in a world where physical objects can be duplicated easily, would property rights stop meaning as much? and would property laws become more like intellectual property laws?


    Imagine a DNCA (N for nano), anti-nano-copying... this car is nano-righted 2092. Any attempt to duplicate it is a violation of our nanorights...

    • Imagine a DNCA (N for nano), anti-nano-copying... this car is nano-righted 2092. Any attempt to duplicate it is a violation of our nanorights...

      Of course, this is exactly how it was in Diamond Age. Matter compilers could make anything, but the instructions necessary to actually produce something were incredibly complicated. A team of designers would have to work months to write to instructions so something as simple as a chair could be produced. In a world like this, intellectual property is everything and physical property is near worthless.

      Of course, it's also important to note the limitations to compilers had in Diamond Age as well. The products they produced were limited in what materials could be used, they couldn't produce a wood chair for example, they could only produce a chair that felt like wood. Hence they couldn't really produce food.

      I personally think Diamond Age is the best thought out book I've read on the subject of nanotechnology and it's uses, I recommend it to everyone who might be interested in such a subject. Neil Stephenson made reasonable assumptions about the first stages of nanotechnology (they won't be self replicating) and avoided the whole "nanomachines are magic" concept. He paints a world that is very similiar to our own, with it's own problems and own solutions.

  • They mentioned open sourcing the design specs for the various nano technologies. It was said that this may not provide an incentive for innovation and the like, standard arguements. The standard defense of an Open Source model then is to sell support. Seems like if anyone can use the design, then what will truly set the nano tech companies apart will be the ability to support the technology once it is in the field. I hope I never have to call and have some tech support guy try to diaganose my nano technology problem in my body.
  • "The gray goo problem - accidentally releasing a self-replicating device that turns the entire world into copies of itself - is going to be a huge spur for close regulation of nano-devices."

    Maybe so, but there are arguments to be made against the gray goo scenario based on energy availability, such as this one [foresight.org]

    I think it's most likely that this will degenerate into the kind of global warming he-said she-said which lets lawmakers do whatever the hell they want, and justify it with the science they prefer.

  • A Question (Score:4, Funny)

    by sien (35268) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @04:18PM (#22769) Homepage
    Wouldn't the main legal effect of nano-tech be really, really fine print ?
  • Its good that (some) people are starting to think about this now, because there isn't much time left.

    Its far more likely that nanotech will go the way of biotech... that is -- make the stuff first and spread it all over the world and _then_ worry about the moral, socio/political, implications of what we just did. Of course the motivation is primarily profit-- possibly taken at the expense of the lives of many and for little overall benefit- and that motivation is what I think needs to change.

    • Implacations of biotech? I'll tell you what the implacations are: Reduced starvation. Saving human lives.

      It's hard work, and it takes money to do it. Do you imagine, for a single minute, that biotech research could have happened out of purely alturistic desires? The writing, the time, the labor, sure (witness OpenSource). But how about the multimillion dollar hardware? Where is that going to come from?

      Biotech saves lives. FUD kills.

      Little over-all benefit... Christ man, do you put a dollar value on human life? If it costs a billion to save a family, it's worth doing. But you're not going to see that billion spent, without there being some benefit to the doer. You cannot feed a family on ideals. And, specifically, you should read the recent UN report on Biotech. Oh, wait, you don't want hard facts. Nevermind.

  • We don't have anything that can reliably self-replicate in a controlled laboratory setting, and the technology to do so is still 8-10 years off. We don't need to even think about nano-tech replicating in the 'wild' for another decade or two beyond that. While the legal implications need to be worked out, we are still so far away that we should probably focus on legal implications for problems closer to home, like the balancing of copyright against fair use.

    -Adam

    Remember: If you want to get your story posted to slashdot mention nano-tech and law in your blurb. Submit early, submit often.
  • I laughed out loud when I read michael's comment to the post. Ha, this poor geek has been reading too much science fiction... But then for kicks I googled for "self-replicating," and look what I found:

    http://www.zyvex.com/nanotech/selfRepNASA.html [zyvex.com]

    Seems like a lot of people are taking this stuff pretty seriously. I especially like the part about machines that feed on moon dirt.
  • In all dead seriousness, I'm not 100% sure it would be, even _with_ nanotechnology. First off, how are you going to gain access to say, iron or oil(for plastics) or carbon? Sure, you can just steal it from someone else by destroying something they own, but I doubt any modern property-owning society is going to let you get away with that. Refine it from the trash you own? Ok, now you have a limited supply of materials from which you must construct _everything_. Sure, you may have one of every atom... But you're still limited by the amount of matter in those. 5 pounds of aluminum cans won't build you a starship, after all. Seawater? Try finding minute traces of gold (or whatever element you desire) in your local seawater when 500 other people have the same idea and have gotten there first. The ground? What happens when you move, and the guys who lived in the house before you 'mined' everything. Plus, what are you going to do with the scrap? Sure, you've just ground down enough mass to extract the material you need to say, build your house using nano-tech. What are you going to do with the excess material (politely referred to as 'slag' in the refining industry)? It's probably poisonous, or carcinogenic, or posesses undesirable qualities of some sort. Anyhow, to get off my negative stint and suggest my own (rather tepid) predictions, I can see conventional notions of property (real and portable) as remaining the same, and heck, even intellectual property remaining in a slightly altered form. I think it's likely that when nano-technological manufacturing is integrated on a personal level, trading information will become more prevalent. Oh, you want a microwave? Well, just download the plans for one from Maytag.com and upload it to your Nano-constructor module. In exchange, Maytag will require a certain amount of refined materials (iron, say) or perhaps some labour on your part (programming, designing ad campaigns, shuffling paper, running the office). Jobs would be more mutable, and you'd work in them until your accumulated salary equaled the cost of the product you purchased. That's not to say the above system doesn't have problems, merely that it's a guesstimate on my part about what _might_ happen. Anyhow, before people blab on about nano-technology instituting some sort of communism and the destruction of property, it pays to look at the problems involved. -Seraph
  • Was anyone else reminded of the Dr Seuss book Bartholomew and the Oobleck [amazon.com] by the mention of grey goo?
  • by magi (91730)
    It's damn hard to make self-replicating machines, and having the machines nano-sized doesn't help much.

    I'll get worried about nano-replicators after they build the first self-replicating machine factory even with human workers. It's hard.

    But then, the certain Lexx episode made a nice demonstration what could happen with enough self-replicating robot arms... ;-)

  • Gray goo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @03:24PM (#27153)
    Stop for a moment, and think it over; why hasn't any organism yet managed to turn the entire world into copies of itself? Cause they've sure been trying - for a long time now. This makes me think that even if we tried our best, we would no be able to create a nanomachine that did this. It would face the same challenges that natural organisms do - e.g. competing organisms (that may well evolve into nanomachine-eating organisms or at least thrive on their by-products), local resource depletion, maybe even mutation.
    • That's an excellent point that illustrates the difficulty of actually turning everything into gray goo.

      However, it doesn't remove the possibility: it just says that one design methodology (which we'll assume is undirected evolution) has failed to produce the gray gooifier.

      Human directed design has been able to produce lots of things that didn't occur naturally: nuclear weapons and the back street boys, for example (and if gray goo were music, you know what it'd be...).

      Plus, even turning a large portion of Utah into gray goo would be mighty inconvenient. Or having a dark-colored goo plague that spread over Europe and only turned 90% of people into goo (not unlike Ebola). That goal seems much more attainable....

      In short, the obstacles you mentioned to destroying the world are present, but the basic danger is still real and requires some serious vigilance.
      • Whoa boy! I LIVE in Utah for the moment and I must object to you claiming that it would be inconvenient to turn Utah into a "gray goo". On the contrary, that would be the BEST thing you could do to Utah. Please. Start at Temple Square in Salt Lake.

      • I promise to start worrying about gray goo just as soon as I see a self-replicating machine of any size.

        Do people think its going to be easier to make self-replicating machines that are tiny? "Well, they're about the same size as cells, I guess they could reproduce like cells!" Whatever.

  • If you can use nanotechnology to copy anything and then share the "plans" with friends who can use nanotechnology to make copies of their own, is it like Napster for the material world?
    This is already an issue. Digital fabbers (3d copy machines) are being produced by companies like Ennex [ennex.com]. Check their faq [ennex.com] for info, like fabbing in full color (pictures [ennex.com]) and discussions on fabbing food 8-)
  • by srvivn21 (410280) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @03:21PM (#28740)
    Isn't it tragic that legislation and treaties are needed to control stuff like this? I find it very depressing that "common sense" and "good of the community" are such hard concepts to follow. I know all about the "tragedy of the commons" and understand that it is a reality, but it just seems absurd that an intelligent (maybe that's my mistake?) species can't see that we would make much more progress and be much more comfortable (albeit as a species) if we could cooperate.

    It's tough being an idealist.

    • We can all see that the world would be much better, at least in some ways, if we all could cooperate. That's not the problem. The problem is that we do not in fact cooperate in that way. A very different thing. Think about it.

    • Isn't it tragic that legislation and treaties are needed to control stuff like this? I find it very depressing that "common sense" and "good of the community" are such hard concepts to follow. I know all about the "tragedy of the commons" and understand that it is a reality, but it just seems absurd that an intelligent (maybe that's my mistake?) species can't see that we would make much more progress and be much more comfortable (albeit as a species) if we could cooperate.

      What you're asking for is exactly what laws are supposed to be: Cooperation. Agreements about how to behave regarding things that affect the "good of the community."

      And it's often good to decide such agreements up front, since different individuals can have very different ideas about what's "good for the community."

    • Maybe you and I could cooperate, but how about grumpy Mr. X who thinks our very existence, and especially the fact that we discuss ideas he disagrees with, is proof that we are minions of [insert evil religious entity here] and thus must be destroyed? Or how about the hypocrit who believes that any new technology must be bad (usually "because it disrupts the (natural, or business, or political) environment"), to the extent that its developers must be harassed mercilessly and/or assassinated, but freely uses existing technologies (including the new one, once it gets deployed)? Et cetera.

      Against such threats, laws are of limited use (zero, in many cases). I'll take my own shield of nanites designed to intercept and destroy gray goo nanites instead, thank you very much.
    • Much comment has been made about the boring characters of ST:TNG, and about how they talk their enemies to death. But there's something fundamental here:

      Presently, we are not fit to play with the toys we have, let alone the ones we are developing.

      It's by the skin of our teeth that we survived the 50's and 60' without nuclear holocaust. Not to mention the times around the KAL007 incident, when according to some reports, Cherynenko (sp?) was within 15 seconds of pushing the Big Red Button. We haven't really gotten into more dangerous toys yet, like biologicals and nanotech.

      I argue that we have to improve as a species, or give up our more dangerous toys. (or 'damage' ourselves out of that capability, or go extinct.) From another perspective, giving up some Power because you acknowledge that you lack the Wisdom to properly wield it, is another step on the road to attaining the Wisdom needed.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    For real thought on this, see "Some Limits to Global Ecophagy by Biovorous Nanoreplicators, with Public Policy Recommendations" at http://www.foresight.org/NanoRev/Ecophagy.html [foresight.org].
  • When do I get my Microfibral Muscle and Cloak augmentations?

    Neurotic
    • I just *need* the ability to detonate rockets away from my person in everyday life to foil those pesky assassins. I can't wait.
    • Come on, everybody knows that Combat Strength is better. :) Well, at least if you can get your hands on a non-eutactic blade.
    • by gr3g (119302)
      Or what about the vision enhancement that lets me see through walls? And would I have to use duracells to power those augmentations? I hope they develop an ac adapter, that would be expensive after awhile. I can think of a lot of uses for the cloak in girls locker room. *he he he* oh, did I say that out loud?
      • I think I know where the AC adapter would have to be plugged in. Gimme betteries to eat any day.
        • What makes you think that the batteries would be applied any different than the AC adaptor? I couldn't begin to imagine if they ran off of a 12 volt system.
  • No need for laws! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Velex (120469)

    If nanotechnology were real and we could actually copy things, it would be an apocolypse. There would be no need for any kind of work any more. You want food, say "Let there be food," and there's food.

    This if fundamentaly different from Napster, because it reverses the the curse placed on Adam and Eve. With Napster, artists who need the money to buy food don't get it. With nanocopying, there's no need to have money.

    But, then again, I'm sure we can all count on corporate greed to obfuscate that obviousness, and we'll all get horribly entangled in weird copypatent laws.

  • I would think that nano technology is not either chemical or biological, more of a mechanical and a new treaty would probabley be necessary (please don't use the DMCA b/c of copying). I just cant see it falling under the ones we have now.
  • Nanotechnology is going to literally destroy everything that humans have valued for the past 10,000 years, whether it be money, status, or religion; All of these things will literally be destroyed overnight.

    I find it ironic that people want to place laws and regulations on this technology, even though there is no way that this technology can be controlled once it unleashed to the world. All forms of government will cease to exist because of (self-replicating) Nanotechnology, and this is due to the fact that all governments exist on the foundation of monetary gain; if this variable is taken away, the bulk sitting on what used to be a solid foundation will come crashing down. Of course, there will always be power hungry individuals out there who will try and rebuild the monetary foundation and all the crap that sat upon it, but they will fail miserabley.

    Nanotechnology is the next step in Mankind's evolutionary process...but if people aren't willing to change and stop acting like a bunch of Neandarthals, then they deserve to be destroyed by the gray goo.

    • Huh? Nowhere in the US Constitution nor Declaration of Independence (as examples) which are the BASIS to US government in any way mention money as the keystone to government. Government is about shared ideals and mores among a group of people. The people who form that government agree on some basic foundations upon which the society is to be run.

      Nanotech doesn't destroy this. You can have all the nanotech you want and it wont eliminate the need for housing (and the property upon which it sits). It wont eliminate any of the social/interactional problems that are NOT based on scarcity. Scarcity is merely the basis of our present ECONOMY, not our government or many (not all) of our social structures. They will remain.

      Having nanotech wont make it suddenly "cool" to pave thousands of acres for new buildings. It wont magically make more space available for living on without totally dicking up the ecosystem and biosphere around us. Government will still remain necessary to fight against nano-attacks, regulate land use, and so forth. Just because you might have plenty of food because of a nano replicator system doesn't make ALL problems, social or environmental, suddenly vanish. You will need government and some of its machinery to handle/regulate/mediate that.

      All Bill Gates' wealth would become crap, however, as would his empire, and this would make him cry like a little girl - which is reason enough to have nanotech tools abound.

  • Have a clue (Score:2, Interesting)

    Would nanoweapons be treated as chemical or biological weapons, or do they need a new treaty?

    Who cares? They are weapons and that's it.

    If you can use nanotechnology to copy anything and then share the "plans" with friends who can use nanotechnology to make copies of their own, is it like Napster for the material world?

    Well yes. Do you really need to ask /. to figure it out? This is just like: If I use this new pen I designed and built myself, is it still copyright infringement if I use it to copy your book? Etc...

    Internet isn't above any law, nanomachines won't either.
  • All this talk about about IP and scarcity of resources is great, but what about privacy? That scares the hell out of me. Just as they can currently run "random" drug tests, DUI checkpoints, etc, what's going to stop the sniffer and snooper nanites from randomly searching your home/car/body/desk at work?

    Won't it be in the best shareholder interest to have little nano-trackers keeping tabs on ALL the company's resources, including human? How would The Law stop this? Why would they really want to if they're using the same tech. to ferret out law-breakers?
    • You can bet that this will happen. Unfortunately, We already have a strong negative precedent for privacy rights in the workplace. (Other sysadmins feel free to chime in here.)

      Given how much time we spend at work, going to work, coming from work, recovering from work, and getting ready for work, our rights in the workplace should contrast more favorably with our Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

      We need to push the issue before the monitoring techniques become *too* efficient. It's already scary enough, depending on what kind of management culture is installed in your office.

      Of course, the "make work more fun and relaxing" lobby doesn't have the resources of the ruling class behind it.

  • OpenNano (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AnotherSteve (447030)

    With freely copied software, you gain status for having released really cool or seriously functional product into the net. With nano-tech, the same social structures will invade the world of hardware. Mindshare will become important in more than just operating systems. Instead of having to buy our shoes from an established vendor, we'll have OpenSneakers with downloadable skins, and people will be running themeable screensavers on the smart paint in their bathrooms. (Which is cool until your bathroom crashes right before your next big party, and instead of your favorite theme, they get the blue screen of death.)

    What this means is that style will continue to increase in importance. Lots of people can make music, but most folks would rather download the music of a professional. If you do it without paying them, the people who make money of the professional music get all cranky. As ease of copying invades the physical realm, there will be an attempt to extend copyright to the design of everything, in order to keep the money flowing to the companies that figured out, say watches or ballpoint pens.

    Ultimately, we'll come up with some secure way to do micropayments to the people that generate cool designs, probably right before the old way of doing things collapses completely. And we'll probably have standard libraries full of the designs of everyday things and we'll pay people to make them look different and cool, just like we do today. Fashion will always make money.

"Card readers? We don't need no stinking card readers." -- Peter da Silva (at the National Academy of Sciencies, 1965, in a particularly vivid fantasy)

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