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Nanofactory licensing

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Michael Anissimov wrote a very cool piece on nanofactory regulation:
A primary concern for the development of civilian and commercial nanofactories is the buildup of NanoTrash - cheaply mass-manufactured products made of mostly diamond and empty space. Avoiding NanoTrash while preserving our freedom to design and create will be a great challenge of the early nanotech era. For starters, each nanofactory user should have a personal matter and energy budget determined by a safety authority. These limits should be variable based on product class and user profession. For example, someone that works at a hospital should have a larger energy budget when it comes to manufacturing medical products. In the same way that it’s illegal for just anyone to randomly practice medicine, not just anyone should be permitted to manufacture large quantities of painkillers, syringes, or scalpels.
The idea is to limit and allocate matter and energy budget per person. I guess this means that it operates more like a "license" than a "right". Note that when we talk about right, then the general rule is 'you are allowed to do anything unless it is prohibited'. But when we talk about license, the general rule is 'you are prohibited to do anything unless it is allowed'. For example a driving license: you may not drive unless you have a license.

Who has the power to allows and restricts? Of course, it's the authorities job. The general system in today's licensing-cycle may then be applied: granting of licenses, monitoring of licenses, warning, suspension of license, and finally, revocation of license. Also, this means that we need to consider the types of the licenses. Individual license? Corporate license? Are the licenses transferrable (Can I give my quotas to third parties)? Can parties aggregate their quotas? etc.

Regulating matter may be relatively easier than regulating energy intake. Authorities can regulate matter at the upstream level if they are presented as blocks. But regulating energy may not be that easy. As I have noted in my previous post, even the present day nanotechnology will make it possible for lay people to generate energy. Thus, the general rule in current energy law is: you can consume as much as energy it takes as long as you can either generate it or pay for it. It would be interesting to see that the rule is reversed. Energy is not scarce but they need to be allocated for security reasons. I guess -- for environmental reason -- energy consumption must be limited anyway.

I've been imagining that the licensing will come in the same bundle with the purchase of nanofactory. This licensing discussion is a good start to prepare proto-regulation for future nanotechnology. Another important step would be in designing the authority.