|How might nanotechnology
affect the future
of nuclear and conventional arms control?
How might nanotechnology affect the future of nuclear and
conventional arms control? Arms control has traditionally focused
on three objectives in support of U.S. national interests. The
first is to lower the possibility of war. The second is to lower
damage caused should war occur. The third is to lower the burden
of armaments on society. Nanoweapons may provide new temptations
to aggression should one nation or group of nations achieve a
great enough technical lead in the field. In achieving the first
objective of arms control, the U.S. may seek to either limit
knowledge of nanotechnologies (as is done with nuclear weapons)
or seek to disseminate knowledge widely to allow development of
countermeasures to potential nanoweapons.
In terms of limiting damage should deterrence fail, nanotechnology may allow great increases in target discrimination so that noncombatant casualties and damage are minimized. Conversely, nanotechnology could be used to create weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. The first nanoweapons of certain classes will raise interesting questions under the international law of armed conflict and treaties proscribing biological weapons and environmental modification techniques.
As for lowering the economic burden of armaments on society, nanomachines may lower the cost of producing weapons and their supporting command and control systems. The United States may choose to use this new economic productivity to create more capable forces, rechannel defense expenditures to other needs, or lower taxes. Perhaps all three outcomes will occur.
U.S. air, naval, and ground forces all have distinct roles and missions to perform that are not likely to disappear with changes in technology, although some of the changes may be dramatic as when the Army's cavalry gave way to the tank. Nanotechnology does not allow one to violate the laws of physics; visible light sensors built with nanomachines will still not be able to see through walls. The most lethal nanoweapon is not very useful if it cannot find or reach its target. A U.S. armed with nanoweapons may be able to deter or prevent attack on its homeland, but it will continue to have obligations to allies who may ask for help. Discussions of military applications of nanotechnology will likely be most productive if grounded in realistic appraisals of nanotechnology limits, actual military needs, and continuing U.S. national interests.
Scott Pace is a graduate student in policy analysis at the RAND Graduate School, Santa Monica, CA.
FI was recently informed that USENET estimates about 5000
people read (at least occasionally) the nanotechnology discussion
on that system. This is a Netnews group called sci.nanotech, one
of the many USENET newsgroups which form a large, distributed,
hierarchical electronic bulletin board. Formerly available only
to those with UNIX machines, it is now accessible to anyone
through services such as the WELL at 415-332-4335 (voice) and
Portal at 408-725-0561 (voice).
In cooperation with FI, sci.nanotech carries most FI publications. The moderator is Josh Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org or rutgers!klaatu.rutgers.edu!josh), who can answer specific questions about the group by electronic mail.
[Note: JoSH's current email address is email@example.com. He maintains an archive of nanotechnology papers and related material at http://nanotech.rutgers.edu/nanotech/ ]
A new journal, Hypermedia, has been announced. Excerpts from the announcement follow:
"Hypermedia is a new international journal designed to provide a focus for research and a source of information on the practical and theoretical developments in hypermedia, hypertext, and related technologies.
"The journal Hypermedia will cover the following key themes: the conceptual basis of hypertext systems; cognitive aspects; design strategies; knowledge representation; link dynamics; authoring; navigation and browsing; testing and evaluation; user interfaces; tools for hypermedia; hypertext and expert systems; applications in education and training, information management, publishing, business, commerce, the professions, and public administration.
"Vannevar Bush's vision of a device to complement man's intellect by aping the associative powers of the human mind finds practical expression in the current surge of interest in hypermedia systems. It is intended that this new journal will play a central role in supporting and reporting on the significant developments in this important area of information technology."
The announcement stated that publication would begin with the Spring 89 issue, with three issues planned per year, for $85. For more information or a free inspection copy contact Taylor Graham Publishing, 500 Chesham House, 150 Regent Street, London W1R 5FA, U.K. (Note: new publications don't always succeed; the last hypermedia magazine mentioned here ceased publishing after a few months. Caveat emptor.)
Readers interested in keeping up with enabling technologies
leading toward nanotechnology will want to watch for these
relatively new journals at technical libraries:
Protein Engineering, IRL Press, 8/year, $85 individual (U.S).
Those who follow Russ Mills's technical column have seen this mentioned. Its focus is the exploration of protein structure and function through analysis of the properties of modified proteins. High editorial standards have kept the early issues thin but well worth reading.
Journal of Computer-Aided Molecular Design, ESCOM, 4/year, $190.
Described in Nature as "essential reading for anyone interested in molecular modeling and molecular design," a main goal of this journal is to be a forum for multidisciplinary communication in molecular design, emcompassing computer science, chemistry, biology, and structure-activity relationships. Quality in the first year was high and papers dealt with a broad range of topics, with a strong emphasis on design. ASCII files of the actual coordinates of modeling results are made available on IBM and Mac disks, which enable the 'readers' to view the figures on their own computers, giving a three-dimensional effect.
In our last issue we announced the availability of The Ecology of Computation (ed. B. Huberman, Elsevier, 1988, paperback, $39.50), which includes three papers by Mark S. Miller (formerly at Xerox PARC, now at Xanadu) and K. Eric Drexler (Stanford) on using market mechanisms to organize computational systems, an approach which may lead to the evolution of more adaptable and intelligent software:
(For information on obtaining reprints, see the end of this
In independent work, Donald Ferguson--now at IBM Yorktown--has completed a 1989 Ph.D. thesis at Columbia entitled "The Application of Microeconomics to the Design of Resource Allocation and Control Algorithms." Here he describes his work on market-based distributed resource allocation algorithms, which were shown to outperform known-to-be-good noneconomic algorithms for those purposes. Dr. Ferguson encountered the Miller and Drexler papers toward the end of work on his thesis, and cites them as providing "a very compelling motivation for work in this area [i.e. on how the field of economics can contribute to computer science]."
Work has continued at Xerox PARC in this area. A Master's thesis by Carl Waldspurger of MIT, involving work done in collaboration with PARC researchers, presents experimental results on processor allocation derived from an algorithm having fundamental similarities to that proposed by Drexler and Miller. These results support key predictions made in "Incentive Engineering." This new work is being prepared for publication, with additional coauthors at Xerox PARC (T. Hogg, B. Huberman, J. Kephart, S. Stornetta), for the Communications of the ACM and perhaps other journals. It has also been covered in news items in Science, The Economist (a British newsweekly), and the New York Times.
The three papers have also drawn the attention of Professor Don Lavoie of the Center for the Study of Market Processes at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. As one of the first professional economists to pick up on these ideas, he read the papers with "enormous interest and excitement" and plans to encourage his graduate students to pursue the ideas further. (Lavoie's undergraduate degree in computer science helps explain his alertness to this interdisciplinary work.)
[Note: For a follow-up on Prof. Lavoie's interest in agoric computing, see article in Update 8.]
Industry also has shown interest in agoric systems; on April 4 Eric Drexler spoke on the topic at Hewlett-Packard.
Mark S. Miller has generously agreed to donate 40 sets of the three papers to the Foresight Institute for distribution to computer scientists and economists who request them. Requests should be accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed 9 by 12 inch envelope with $2.05 in postage. (From outside the U.S., send a self-addressed envelope with airmail postage in the form of either a bank check showing a U.S. address or an international money order, made out to the Foresight Institute; $4.22 for delivery to Europe, $5.55 for delivery to Asia.)
The Italian Multievent on Hypertext will take place on
September 19-21, 1989, consisting of Advanced Tutorials and an
Advanced Workshop (Sept. 19-20) and a Conference with
accompanying Exhibition (Sept. 21-22). Sponsored by Eurogroup
Marcopolo, A.R.G., and Synergia, the event expects the following
speakers: Robert Akscyn of Knowledge Systems, Mark Bernstein of
Eastgate Systems, M.C. Borelli of A.R.G., B. Croft of University
of Massachusetts, G. Degli Antoni of Universita di Milano, M.
Frisse of Washington University, P.K. Garg of Hewlett-Packard
Labs, F. Garzotto of Politecnico di Milano, S. Gibbs of
University of Geneva, Robin Hanson of NASA Ames, M. Holm of Apple
Computer, Kirk Kelley of Sun Microsystems, Norman Meyrowitz of
Brown University, Ted Nelson of Autodesk and Project Xanadu,
Paolo Paolini of Politecnico di Milano, F. Rabitti of
I.E.I.-C.N.R., R. Schwartz of Borland International, C. Thanos of
Over 200 people are expected to attend the Conference, at which "a set of very advanced lectures of leading researchers and practitioners will present the state of the art of the field. A balanced view between technology and applications will be provided."
The Workshop will have restricted attendance and will produce a set of position papers. "The basic goal would be to compare research activities in Europe with research activities in U.S.A., focusing on possibilities of joint projects.
"Within the global framework, specific technical issues can be developed, according with the interests of the participants.
"One example: is it true that in Europe researchers tend to think (and to make use) of Hypertext products as Knowledge Management tools, while in North America emphasis is placed on cooperative development of documents?"
For further information, see the Calendar listing.
From Foresight Update 6, originally published 1 August 1989.
Foresight thanks Dave Kilbridge for converting Update 6 to html for this web page.
Foresight materials on the Web are ©1986–2018 Foresight Institute. All rights reserved. Legal Notices.