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Fw: NSG-D/ FC: Dangers of Bill Joy's nanotech-thinking, from National Review

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  • Gina Miller
    ... From: To: Sent: Friday, July 07, 2000 6:52 AM Subject: NSG-D/ FC: Dangers of Bill Joy s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 7, 2000
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: <eugene.leitl@...-muenchen.de>
      To: <politech@...>
      Sent: Friday, July 07, 2000 6:52 AM
      Subject: NSG-D/ FC: Dangers of Bill Joy's nanotech-thinking, from National

      > And then <eugene.leitl@...-muenchen.de> says:
      > From: Declan McCullagh <declan@...>
      > ********
      > Date: Thu, 06 Jul 2000 13:28:08 -0400
      > From: Glenn Reynolds <gharlanr@...>
      > To: declan@...
      > Subject: Nat'l Review Online on Nanotech
      > FYI, a piece on the dangers of Bill Joy's "relinquishment" approach,
      > inspired by Ed Regis' book on biowar.
      > http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment070500c.html
      > Wait a Nano-Second
      > Crushing nanotechnology would be a terrible thing.
      > By Glenn H. Reynolds, professor of law, U. of Tennessee, & Dave Kopel,
      > Independence Institute
      > Richard Nixon was re-elected to the Presidency twenty-eight
      > years ago. That's 112 years in Internet Time, for which three months
      > equal one year of ordinary time. Does the Nixon era have any lessons
      > to teach us about high technology in the twenty-first century? In
      > particular, nanotechnology, an emerging hot-button issue?
      > Absolutely -- if you read Ed Regis's excellent history of biological
      > warfare, The Biology of Doom. Regis's account of the British and
      > American biological warfare program, from 1940 to its abandonment in
      > 1972 when the Biological Weapons Convention was signed, is a
      > fascinating and chilling one. Though Regis manages to give a readers
      > an understanding of why scientists and military leaders thought the
      > biowar program was important, the story is so disturbing that the
      > program's eventual abandonment at the orders of President Nixon comes
      > as no small relief.
      > But not for long. Because it turns out that the treaty outlawing
      > biological warfare had exactly the opposite result that its sponsors
      > intended. Before the United States, the Soviet Union, and other
      > nations agreed to a ban on biological warfare, both the U.S. and
      > Soviet programs proceeded more or less in tandem, with both giving
      > biowar a low priority. But after the ban, the Soviet Union drastically
      > increased its efforts. (So did quite a few smaller countries, most of
      > them signatories of the Convention.)
      > With biological warfare outlawed, and the Americans likely to abide by
      > the agreement, the stakes were much higher: now it was possible for
      > the Soviets to obtain a decisive advantage. As a result, the USSR
      > created a new research organization, called Biopreparat, and
      > drastically increased deadly disease research. The Russians not only
      > expanded their stocks of traditional biological warfare agents -- like
      > anthrax, tularemia, and such -- but also "weaponized" smallpox,
      > accumulating huge stockpiles of the virus, specially bred for
      > virulence and lethality. (Those stockpiles still exist, making the
      > "triumph" of smallpox eradication a rather contingent accomplishment).
      > This example is relevant today, because we are beginning to see calls
      > for relinquishment of another technology. In this case, it is
      > nanotechnology, a technology that so far exists only in computer
      > models and some very early practical work. Bill Joy of Sun
      > Microsystems, of course, has famously argued that we should consider
      > abandoning this technology before its birth, to spare the world the
      > potential consequences of its misuse. (Perhaps that will save Joy's
      > boss Scott McNealy from having to hector the Department of Justice to
      > bring a frivolous antitrust lawsuit against the first company to
      > outcompete Sun in nanotechnology.)
      > Though Joy's argument has so far met with a fairly cool reception --
      > not only from techno-commentators, but even from techno musicians --
      > it is worth considering what might happen if his ideas start to take
      > hold. That is not so farfetched a scenario, despite today's
      > high-flying technology sector. Europe is already facing a growth of
      > neo-Luddite sentiment -- visible in things like opposition to genetic
      > engineering. In California and the rest of the nation, Ralph Nader's
      > Green Party is doing pretty well by offering Luddites a genuine
      > anti-technology choice, rather than an echo of pro-business
      > Republicrats.
      > More generally, Luddite intellectuals are successfully propagating
      > "the precautionary principle," which states that we should never try
      > anything new unless we are certain that it is absolutely safe. Look
      > for the precautionary principle to start showing up in EPA regulations
      > around 2002 if there's a Democratic President, or around 2007 in case
      > of a Republican one that follows in the footsteps of George Bush III's
      > EPA head William Reilly.
      > Crushing nanotechnology would be a terrible thing. In fact, the
      > example of biological warfare offers the depressing possibility that
      > adopting Joy's "relinquishment" approach to nanotechnology might
      > actually make things worse. First of all, relinquishment would deprive
      > us of the potential benefits of benign nanotechnology, such as cheap
      > space travel, cancer cures, bodies that stay younger and healthier for
      > longer. Even worse, "relinquishment" would probably accelerate the
      > progress of destructive nanotechnology. In a world where
      > nanotechnology is outlawed, outlaws would have an additional incentive
      > to develop nanotechnology. And given that research into nanotechnology
      > -- like the cruder forms of biological and chemical warfare -- can be
      > conducted clandestinely on small budgets and in difficult-to-spot
      > facilities, the likelihood of such research going on is rather high.
      > Terrorists would have the greatest incentive possible to develop
      > nanotechnologies far more deadly than old-fashioned biological
      > warfare. This makes Joy's relinquishment argument hard to swallow. At
      > the very least, it suggests that Joy and those who agree with him need
      > to step up to the plate and make some more sophisticated arguments. No
      > one doubts that Joy and the rest have good intentions. But as the
      > example of biological warfare illustrates, good intentions, even when
      > embodied in popular agreements to abandon a technology, don't
      > necessarily have good consequences.
      > There is, however, a bright side. As Ed Regis also notes, the story of
      > biological warfare research is a sinister one in many ways. But, in
      > fact, all those dreadful weapons were never used. Why that is the case
      > has puzzled many people, but the best argument seems to be one set
      > forth by Regis: political and cultural factors that militated against
      > the use of biological weapons trumped the technological factors that
      > made them possible.
      > [...]
      Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
      Nanotechnology Industries
      Personal: http://www.nanogirl.com
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