In an essay on KurzweilAI.net reprinted from New Scientist, Bill Joy — whose Wired essay titled Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us touched off a big controversy — suggests insurance as a mechanism to reduce risk from powerful technologies including nanotech:
We could use the very strong force of markets. Rather than regulate things, we could price catastrophe into the cost of doing business. Right now, if you want approval for things, you go through a regulatory system. If we used insurance and actuaries to manage risk, we might have a more rational process. Things judged to be dangerous would be expensive, and the most expensive would be withdrawn. Drugs would make it to market on economic estimates of risk not regulatory evaluations of safety. This process could also be used to make companies more liable for the environmental consequences of their products. It’s both less regulation and more accountability.
Not coincidently, Swiss Re is a sponsor of a nanotech project now underway at the International Risk Governance Council, in which I participate. —Christine