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Responsible Nanotechnology Interview 65

cynical writes "WorldChanging has a lengthy interview with Chris Phoenix and Mike Treder of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, a non-profit group helping to make sure molecular manufacturing is developed as safely as possible. In the article they talk about their policy task force (which includes folks like Ray Kurzweil, David Brin, and Jaron Lanier), the risks and benefits of nanofactories, and why open source is so important to the responsible development of nanotechnology."
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Responsible Nanotechnology Interview

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @05:39AM (#14658453)
    I don't know how durable WorldChanging's servers are, but just in case, here's a coral cache of the article: s/004078.html []

    Additionally, here's the web site for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology: []

    Other links:
    * Wikipedia article []
    * Responsible Nanotechnology blog []
    * Wise-Nano []: their collaborate website (i.e. wiki) for "studying the facts and implications of advanced nanotechnology"

    (I tried to post this anonymously, but Slashdot gave me a "There was an unknown error in the submission" error. I guess I'll have to risk being modded down for karma-whoring.)

    • Chris Phoenix is a genuinely Nice Guy (TM) When he started out with CRN, one of the first things he did was publish some fairly detailed papers. I thought that was great, 99% of the stuff you could find re: nanomanufacturing was severely dumbed-down or market-speak nonsense. And the interesting ones are subscribers-only. So I sent him a thank-you email for the effort to publish the stuff so everyone could read it, not only paying scientists with gazillions of subscriptions. I never expected to get a reply,
  • Chris Pheonix and Mike Treder are both infected by nanites!
    Somebody quick help them, they are all over their faces.

    They also have a nice graph showing the links to the development stages and what aims and benefits it gets.
    Strangely absent are steps II and III. One of them has to be Military, any guesses on the other one?
  • by quokkapox ( 847798 ) <> on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @05:43AM (#14658462)
    IP must be protected at all costs; we cannot have people manufacturing patented and copyrighted molecules on their desktops like we have people irresponsibly trading copyrighted intellectual property (books, movies, and music) today.

    Discuss. :)

    • by GroeFaZ ( 850443 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @06:59AM (#14658640)
      It is very possible that desktop manufacturing will - in the beginning at least - cause the same problems as P2P downloading does today, including so-called "pirating" of designs, because all atomically precise blueprints can be shared just like an .mp3 file today. The only difference will be the dimensions: While P2P "only" affected the music, software and movie industry, desktop manufacturing will affect almost every branch of industry that produces physical products. I think the results of this cannot be underestimated. It will bring the equivalent of free/open source to the physical world and thus to everyone who can download it, and there will be editors to modify them at one's discretion. Just like today, there will be broad attempts to vilify the free alternatives, but just like in software today, people will not be willing to pay for a spoon design if there's a perfectly working spoon design available (and with less bugs at that :) any more than they would pay money to get a calculator program.

      Add to that the possibility of desktop feedstock refining: just throw in the old stuff to break it down and get something new out of its atoms, and you get a veritable revolution at your hands.

      The alternatives are clear: Designs are restricted at the manufacturer's will, programing the nanofactory is illegal under the DMCA, and feedstock is sold by the hp principle: give away the factory, earn money through the proprietary feedstock cartridges. Pay for every time you assemble a product, even if you paid for its design already. DRM galore.

      Which is it going to be?
      • It will bring the equivalent of free/open source to the physical world and thus to everyone who can download it, and there will be editors to modify them at one's discretion.

        Not only that, but what about the physical parallels to information which is illegal nowadays, like child pornography? For example, what do gun control laws mean if anybody can trivially construct their own firearms?
      • Interesting, but I think the same economic rules will apply tomorrow that do today. I can look up the reaction mechanism for the oxidation of borneol to camphor and perform the conversion with a minumum of lab equipment, but it's still far easier and cheaper to just buy some Vick's Vapo-Rub at the store. What makes you think that desktop technology will outpace industrial experts (or that the commercial market will allow it to)?

        Your DMCA and HP analogies are apt, however. I can certainly imagine companie
      • Software, movies, and music are just information. Private industry groups have been working very hard to get the legislative and law enforcement help they need to corner their markets.

        nanofactories and their larger-than-molecular-scale recursive fabs (any machine that can make things and copies of itself) will help people make much more dangerous //physical stuff//. Blades, bombs, guns, springs, mines, etc. Even if it can't make chemical explosives, there's a lot you can do with simple, malleable mechanical
    • Software patents may be a mess, but chemical ones are generally not.

      Please don't assume the problems of software patents extend to all types. They don't.
      • No the problems with software patents don't entend to chemistry... there are an entirely diffrent set of problems.
        Two words on chemical patents, "Big Pharma".
        yea it only costs me $400+ a month to keep myself from climbing a water-tower with a rifle and a high power scope.
        No problem with patents none at all...
        • Including salary, benefits, equipment, facilities, and support staff. "Big Pharma" and the major chemical companies have thousands of PhDs eac.

          Someone has to pay those salaries, or your drug wouldn't exist in the first place. It really is that simple.
  • Just what I want, some 14 year old nerd turning the world into grey goo because he was playing with open source nanotechnology and thought he could make a great PacMan clone ...
    • I've always wondered about the problem of grey goo. I mean if it were possible wouldn't bacteria have figured out how to do it. I've noticed that alot of the problems inherent in nanotech seem to be reinventing the wheel when some microorganism already solved that problem 2 billion years ago.
    • I know you were kidding, but let me just point out that the "grey goo by accident" concept is outdated and not very probable. In fact, its "inventor", Eric Drexler, wrote a paper why his earlier warnings in Engines of Creation [] will not apply. Basically, the argument is that in nanofactories, the assemblers are not floating freely, but are tied up in rigid and designed patterns to make assembly most efficient. Because such a fixed design is more efficient then self-organising floating assemblers, there is no
      • I doubt grey goo is possible. To make a replicator you'll need a number of differend atoms, now not all atoms are equaly abundant or even available everywhere. So grey goo would form until it used up one of its required materials (like any other chemical reaction).
        If you want to fear a scenario, picture what some madman (m/f) could do with nanobots. Don't like a particular group of people? Figure out some genetic simularity, program your nanobot-virus and release. Lots of possibilities there.
    • Just what I want, some 14 year old nerd turning the world into grey goo because he was playing with open source nanotechnology and thought he could make a great PacMan clone ...

      I don't think a literal "gray goo" is possible based on energy concerns. I suppose I could imagine a plague of very small autonomous inimical robots...that could be very bad. Wouldn't want someone creating a plague of those in his basement. ;-)

      It'll be interesting to see what's really possible.

    • Don't worry. The kids who used to cause nuclear wars with their home computers are now in their thirties.
  • while foreign countries in an area of the world I won't speficially mention, will go balls-to-the-walls with potentially dangerous nanotech research by unethical means.

    Who will win the nanotech race?

    This reminds me of the actions of a certain Korean cloning researcher who recently got caught in a scandal.

    IMHO, ethics has finally come within sight of a potential head to head battle with progress, in that ethical nations will have a disadvantage against unethical nations.
    • . . .ethical nations. . .

      And unicorns.

  • by plierhead ( 570797 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @06:01AM (#14658497) Journal
    From TFA:

    WorldChanging: So, to start -- what is the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology hoping to make happen?

    Center for Responsible Nanotechnology: We want to help create a world in which advanced beard technology -- nano-beards -- is widely used for beneficial purposes, and in which the risks are responsibly managed. The ability to manufacture highly advanced nano-beard products, such as those adorning our own faces right now at an exponentially accelerating pace will have profound and perilous implications for all of society, and our goal is to lay a foundation for handling them wisely.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "Molecular manufacturing" is absolutely pure 100% unadulterated science fiction right now. There's a possibility that some of the concepts discussed might be utilized in some sense in 20-50-100 years, but quite honestly, do we really need a "Center for Responsible Nanotechnology" right now? They would be more useful campaigning for more research into how exposure to radiation can give people superhero powers.
    • They are speculating so far out that it would be something like Grover Cleveland trying to pass regulations on solar power generators.

      There is no reason to be worrying about technologies that are many decades in the future, outside of the pure fun of idle speculation. Taking yourself seriously, though, probably means you have a screw loose or three.
      • Sure but...

        Naval Officer: Sir! We need to build an all steel non-sail navy!
        Grover Cleavland: Pollycock and brumbule boo! Thats all that HG Wells you've been reading.
        Navel Officer: But the British are building one.
        Gorver Cleavland: Oh...

        Einstein: We need to make an atomic bomb.
        Franklin D. Rosevelt: Hogwash and crumsticks! This is pure scientific fictionary. Never ever ever happen in our lifetimes. I dare say we won't see an Atomic bomb til the 21st century.
        Einstein: But the Nazi's are building one.
    • I agree, I started to read TFA, but I soon realized that it read like someone in 1960 promising flying cars by 2000.

      Their whole concept of nano tech is based on the premise that we can build factories that can build anything they want - with no constraint on power or materials.

      Yeah yeah, "one of the first projects couild be a massive solar array..." to which I answer, even if we had cheeply available power, something I consider much more likely than their verson of nanotech, you would still need nano miner
      • I still have trouble believing that the computer I am typing right now has billions of transistors, working in precision.

        I see these developments as more or less inevitable. The first compiler-writer did not have a compiler. Same for machine tools, automobiles and various other enterprises. We all start small. Scaling up is limited only by imagination.
      • I agree, I started to read TFA, but I soon realized that it read like someone in 1960 promising flying cars by 2000.

        Actually, the fact that we didn't have flying cars in 2000 was more of a political issue than a technological issue. After all, would you really want Grandma traveling at high velocities through the air?

        Think about how crappy we drive on the roads and imagine all the damage and death by drunk drivers alone in flying cars. Imagine is the local terrorist could just hop in a flying car and drive
    • but quite honestly, do we really need a "Center for Responsible Nanotechnology" right now?

      One word: Cytotoxicity.

      Nanotubes and buckyballs are so small that they can infest your lungs and bloodstream in no time. I recall reading a research paper about buckyballs being able to destroy DNA when they get to the cells.
      Just imagine the consequences from an outbreak in a nanomaterials factory.

      This is NOT about grey goo and other sci-fi monsters... This is about potentially toxic materials (materials that nature is
  • Safe nanotech? Nah (Score:1, Interesting)

    by PhakeDC ( 932887 )
    There always will be malicious use for nanotech by notorious governments and private firms, no amount of "responsible" scientists will change human behaviour. I'd suggest reading Prey by Michael Crichton to comprehend the true extent and ease with which certain people could develop serious threats using nanotech. Not to say all is doomed when nanotech hits mainstream, I'm bracing myself for at least a few nasty surprises along the way.
    • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @06:38AM (#14658595)
      I'd suggest reading Prey by Michael Crichton to comprehend the true extent and ease with which certain people could develop serious threats using nanotech.

      Bloody hell. Every time there's a global warming story, some goon who's mistaken a thriller novel for a scientific paper cites Crichton as evidence that it's all a lefty environmentalist conspiracy. Now Crichton gets raised as an authority on nanotech.

      That does it. Next time there's a story on genetics or cloning, I'm going to say it's a bad idea because look what happened in Jurassic Park.

    • "Prey" is a very bad book to learn about nanotech threats from. However, I would recommend two others:

      Crescent City Rhapsody [] by Kathleen Ann Goonan demonstrates by example the threat of nanoplagues and what they can do. She has other novels in this series dealing with similar subjects, which I also recommend.

      Anvil of Stars [] by Greg Bear has a lot of information about interstellar warfare with nanotechnological weapons.

      Sadly, there aren't any more that I've seen. Most authors fall into the same pits as Michae
  • Foresight (Score:3, Informative)

    by Suicyco ( 88284 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2006 @06:30AM (#14658571) Homepage
    Hasn't the Foresight Institute been doing this for many years? []

    Interesting article though. I dig reading about nanotech, its the coolest sci-fi-ish tech thats just around teh corner somewhere.
    • Well, it's always been one aspect of Foresight's activities, but Foresight's main purpose for decades has been advocacy. There can be a conflict of interest between advocacy and the safety-oriented research that CRN appears to be focused on. So the groups are complementary. The rise of groups like CRN is good, it means that Foresight's advocacy work has been so successful that we have advanced far enough to need to start to worry about health and safety issues.
    • Yes, Foresight has been doing similar work for quite a while (founded in 1986). From Foresight's About page [], it says:

      Foresight Nanotech Institutes mission is to ensure the beneficial implementation of nanotechnology.

      , and

      to educate society about the benefits and risks of nanotechnology.

      From CRN:

      The mission of CRN is to raise awareness of the issues presented by nanotechnology: the benefits and dangers, and the possibilities for responsible use.

      , so it certainly sounds like there is overlap betwe

  • I found a nanite that looks like Elvis!!! where did I put it?
  • They must be joking. On the contrary, the tool to make them should remain under heavy control and guarded like a nuclear warhead.

    I mean, the geek analogy would be to say that you want to give everyone a PHLAK distribution, while our body runs an unpatched Win ME.
  • Whenever the morality, ethics, or safety of Nanotechnology is brought up I think of the Excellent book by Michael Crichton... While I do agree with everything in the interview and how safety and open source would benefit it... I can't stop and think back to that book.

  • Here's [] something covering the opening of the new Purdue nanotech center...perhaps relevant for someone who can use the after-knowledge...

  • I heard a rumour the other day, and I have to say I was delighted when I heard it. My friend told me that Marriott is taking customers into the 21st century by spiking nanobots into their shampoos so that guests can be tracked throughout the hotel and provided services without even presenting a room key. For example, I noticed it right away at my current stay when I approached the concierge lounge and the doors were open. I was greeted by the attendant, and offered food, drinks, snacks, and all the televisi
  • As a chemist, it sometimes gets to me when Engineers and Computer Scientists take extrapolations from our macro-scale world, and then translate them down to the nano-scale, without recognising how terribly diffrent the two are. Mechanosythisis and machinephase matter are simply silly concepts on the nano-scale. Atoms and molecules are not nice stable things which will sit still and alow you to pluck them from one position to another. No, they are constantly moving and bouncing into one another at high sp
    • There are already cases where STMs have positioned individual atoms, and biological systems put together plants and animals molecule-by-molecule. Our abilities to manufacture and synthesize are increasing, whether it's from the top down (lithography) or bottoms-up (biochemistry).

      Take everything we know about chemistry and add a bit of positional control. This does not of course give us the ability to arbitrarily place molecules or atoms in energetically awkward positions, but should allow us to control
  • This article highlights one of my pet peeves: people with no technical background in physics, chemistry, or biology who somehow become talking heads on the subject of nanoscale science that garner world-wide attention. Seriously, look at their website []. Explain to me what gives them professional credibility on this issue. This is as bad as Michael Crichton testifying before Congress about climate change last fall. Besides being loud and writing a novel, what actual qualifications does he have to be take
  • So, according to this article:
    • Nanotechnology will solve world hunger!
    • Nanotechnology will solve the energy crisis!
    • Nanotechnology will end pollution!
    • Nanotechnology will get us into space!
    You are free to draw your own conclusions.
    • You left out the part where nanotechnology will be cheap and easy to use, allowing developing nations to quickly leapfrog their more advanced competitors, while at the same time the big risk of nanotechnology is that only one nation will have it, and that nation will use it to become a superpower.

      Maybe it's just me, but hasn't the trend throughout history been that the cheaper and easier and more accessible something is, the harder it is for a single entity to control it?

      Especially given that several nation

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN