Bill Joy suggests insurance as risk reduction mechanism for nanotechnology

Bill Joy suggests insurance as risk reduction mechanism for nanotechnology

In an essay on 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 Things judged to be dangerous would be expensive, and the most expensive would be withdrawn.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

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  1. Jim Capell July 27, 2006 at 3:50 am - Reply

    Judged by whom ?

    This notion presupposes insurers and actuaries are free of bias….economic or political. One only needs to look at spread in the hurrican catastrophe modeling to see how assumptions and incentives control outcomes.

    Whether its tulips or risk ….markets are easily swayed by perceived risk and just as easily manipulated by a few well placed ads or newspaper articles….or television programs. As for environmental issues the core problem would appear to have been that the market wasn’t able to foresee or control many of the longer term environmental problems ….so costs had to be imposed by regulators.

    As we become smarter a trickier issue is how the market will work in uncharted areas of extraordinary complexity where the potential for harm is significant but way down the road. By the time insurers or actuaries have a clue the damage will have occurred.

    Katrina / New Orleans is a good example of a known risk where the market, insurers and actuaries played…or should have played… a key role in risk reduction.

  2. Anonymous July 28, 2006 at 11:06 am - Reply

    Insurance is such a capitalist idea — an idea that has no place in a nano-based society. Anyone with even half a brain cell knows that the entire financial system is about to collapse — thanks in part to the fiat currency it uses. The so-called ‘market’ isn’t going to exist for much longer, my friends. Please stop with all the wishful thinking: it’s suffocating.

    As for Bill Joy, why in the world did he do an about-face? He was correct with The Future Doesn’t Need Us, and this is due to our current civilization being nothing more than a bunch of ‘useless eaters’ who have no capacity to realize their true potential, whatsoever. Technology is a double edged sword, and such a society would destroy itself very quickly on the negative edge. As long as the masses remain in their vegetative state, the future truly doesn’t need us.

  3. Anonymous August 2, 2006 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Geez that second post should have come with a disclaimer. “Warning, socialist diatribe within. The surgeon general warns that too much socialistic pessimism can cause diminished capacity in reasoning. Discretion in viewing this post is advised.”

    Seriously the second poster sounds like one of those 14 year olds who reads too much science fiction and too much of “The Daily Worker”.

  4. HOMO SAPIENS AT RISK October 30, 2006 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    And the 3rd should come with a disclaimer ‘warning, go(l)d believe who sacrifice his life in the altar of greed, self-suicidal optimist monkey who believes Go(l)d made him his only son’

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