Administering Nanotechnology

from the bell-the-cat dept.
Assuming that complete anarchy is not the optimal result of nanotech, some sort of administration, coordination, policy-making, and regulation seems desirable. An organization that can do this will have to represent governments, corporations, and individuals; balance many issues at once; be credible to, and trusted by, people of widely varying ideologies; act rapidly, yet with prudence… the list goes on.
Read more for an attempt to design such a group. Robert Chappell and I have been hashing out this idea for the past few weeks. I'd expected to wait a few more days to write this, but several comments to previous articles have given me additional hope that these ideas are workable. (Especially Paul Krieger's comment.)

I'll start with several assumptions:
1) Completely unrestricted nanotech is undesirable.
2) Limited regulation (see Nanodot regulation discussion) can slow the development of uncontrollable nanotech. It may be possible to design a policy that slows regulated nanotech less than unregulated nanotech.
3) There are several basic organizational worldviews that tend to use very different methods and goals. Any workable policy must take all of them into account, for two reasons: no single approach can encompass all the issues, and any organization or worldview that is left out will try to sabotage the process.

The third point deserves an article of its own, which I haven't written yet. The three worldviews correspond to Jane Jacobs' "ethical systems", plus the "Idealist" system (which I'm now calling "Librarian" until someone thinks of a better name) identified by Pat Gratton. Here's a quick summary of some distinguishing characterists; for further background, and a table of typical rules of ethics for each worldview, read the Nanodot Jane Jacobs discussion.

Guardian Commercial Librarian
Risk Tolerance Very Low 50% Very High
Transaction Benefit Zero Sum Positive Sum Unlimited Sum
Planning Horizon Decades Years Months
Openness Secretive Semi-open Very Open
Use of Force Common Deprecated Unthinkable
Other Typical Attributes
Goals Safety Profit Freedom
Personal Identity Affiliations Possessions Actions
Organizational Structure Strict Hierarchy Loose Hierarcy, etc Collaboration
Drawn to the… Past Present Future

What I am proposing, then, is an "interlateral organization" (thanks to Skevos Mavros for the word) that would have three distinct branches, one for each of the worldviews. When faced with a question of policy, each branch would hash out its own solution. Hopefully this should be relatively easy, since everyone in the branch should be pretty much on the same page. Then the necessary compromises would be made between the branches, aided by an understanding of where each worldview was coming from. This seems to be the best way to avoid the repression of Guardian, the exploitation of Commercial, and the anarchy of Librarian, while preserving their safety, efficiency, and freedom. Note that this represents a balance of power, or checks and balances, at the top level rather than democracy. (The same is true of the U.S. government.) Democracy can of course be used within the individual branches.

The overarching goal of the ILO would be to regulate nanotech just enough to provide a reasonable amount of safety, without applying enough regulation to encourage a black market, independent military or commercial development, or special-interest or anarchic development. Each worldview would represent a different class of constituents–first-class citizens, potential customers, and users of freebies–that between them should account for much of the world's population. Each branch, then, would be able to communicate to its constituents why its choices were desirable or necessary.

The same organizational structure, and possibly the same organization, might be appropriate for implementing the resulting policies. It is clear that different worldviews have different areas of competence. For example, Librarians are not good at using force, but they're good at research and development. Guardians are not good at being efficient, but are good at maintaining order in difficult situations. Commercials shouldn't make policy on anything that shouldn't be monetized, but they're good at deciding what projects to fund. An interlateral organization, with distinct but cooperating branches, is likely to be more effective at all of the various types of actions that will be necessary to administer something as complicated as nanotech.

So far I've been talking about ethics in the sense of rules for doing business. What about morals? It seems best to have an advisory pool of moralists and ethicists for all three branches to consult with. Likewise, each branch will need access to scientists and engineers. The three branches/worldviews (can anyone think of a good name for this?) represent people; moralists and scientists represent ideas, so should be kept one level removed from the policy decisions.

The ILO should be competent to address issues include regulation of independent assembler development, including surveillance, enforcement, and inspections of military programs; education, propaganda, and media relations; conflict resolution between commercial interests, military security, and humanitarian purposes; certification of products (similar to UL or CE certification); certification of developers; promotion and implementation of research programs; and conflict resolution between political preferences (should fabrication programs for psychoactives be released? How about birth control?).

In order to be effective, such an organization would need buy-in from many different groups. The Guardian branch, for example, would need to include representatives from all the major industrial nations, and as many others as possible. The Commercial branch might look like a large consortium. It or a parallel organization would have to have actual control over the deployment of nanotech. Thus it would have to be widely trusted and respected, and each group involved would need to recognize that joining would be in its own self-interest. This probably requires an unusual degree of humility and pragmatism, which in turn would require substantial education about the complexities and dangers of nanotech. But if it works, it has the potential to defuse a nanotech arms race, prevent unnecessary repression/regulation, distribute the benefits as widely as possible while still preserving security and commercial interests, and maybe even demonstrate enough safety and forethought to weaken the Luddite position.

We need help filling in the details of the organization, as well as general criticism and suggestions for improvements. So… what do you think? Can it work?


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