Fine-grained relinquishment of nanotechnology

Writing in CIO Magazine on the "Promise and Peril of the 21st Century", Ray Kurzweil warns "As technology accelerates toward the full realization of genetic engineering, nanotechnology and, ultimately, robotics (collectively known as GNR), we will see the same intertwined potentials [the double-edged sword of technology]: a feast of creativity resulting from human intelligence expanded manyfold, combined with grave new dangers. We need to devise our strategies now to reap the promise while we manage the peril."

Ray Kurzweil writes further:

People often go through three stages in examining the impact of future technology: awe and wonderment at its potential to overcome age-old problems; then a sense of dread at a new set of dangers that accompany the new technology; followed, finally and hopefully, by the realization that the only viable and responsible path is to set a careful course that can realize the benefits while managing the risks.

… I do think that relinquishment at the right level needs to be part of our ethical response to the dangers of 21st-century technologies. One constructive example of that is the proposed ethical guideline by the Foresight Institute, founded by K. Eric Drexler (creator in the 1980s of the conceptual foundations of molecular manufacturing) and Christine Peterson. It states that nanotechnologists agree to forgo the development of physical entities that can self-replicate in a natural environment. Another proposal would create what nanotechnologist Ralph Merkle calls a "broadcast architecture," in which physical entities would have to obtain the codes for self-replication from a centralized secure server, which would guard against undesirable replication.

FUTURE DANGERS FROM NEW technologies may appear alarming when considered in the context of today's unprepared world. The reality is that the sophistication and power of our defensive technologies and knowledge will grow along with the dangers. …

… broad pursuit of relinquishment will only distract us from the vital task in front of us: to rapidly develop ethical and legal standards and defensive technologies that will be essential to our security. This is a race, and there is no alternative.

… I believe that maintaining an open system for incremental scientific and technological progress, in which each step is subject to market acceptance, will provide the most constructive environment for technology to embody widespread human values. Attempts to control these technologies through highly restrictive regulation or in dark government programs, along with inevitable underground development, would create an unstable environment in which the dangerous applications would likely become dominant.

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