Dangers of Bill Joy's nanotech-thinking, from Declan McCullough

Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

From: Antoun Nabhan (antoun@arrayex.com)
Date: Sun Jul 09 2000 - 17:37:44 PDT

The whole "precautionary principle" is a wonderfully ostrich-headed
approach to technological advancement. Yes, the amount of work we (society,
all of us) have to put in to direct new technologies into beneficial
applications is increasing as new technologies and applications come down
the pike with greater frequency and impact. But I don't see why abdicating
the responsibility to think, and foresaking the positives of these various
technologies, is a better approach.

"Manual driving killed more people than war."

>Date: Fri, 7 Jul 2000 09:52:50 -0400
>Subject: FC: Dangers of Bill Joy's nanotech-thinking, from National Review
>X-Sender: declan@mail.well.com
>X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Version 4.3
>Sender: owner-politech@vorlon.mit.edu
>X-Loop: politech@vorlon.mit.edu
>X-URL: Politech is at http://www.politechbot.com/
>To: politech@vorlon.mit.edu
>From: declan@well.com
>Reply-To: declan@well.com
>Date: Thu, 06 Jul 2000 13:28:08 -0400
>From: Glenn Reynolds <gharlanr@bellsouth.net>
>To: declan@wired.com
>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.
> 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.
> [...]
>POLITECH -- the moderated mailing list of politics and technology
>To subscribe, visit http://www.politechbot.com/info/subscribe.html
>This message is archived at http://www.politechbot.com/

Date view Thread view Subject view Author view

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Jul 09 2000 - 17:40:26 PDT