Regulatory Timeline, Phase 2

Monday, March 27, 2006

In 1989, David Forrest made a very interesting article at the Law, Technology and Public Policy Journal of the MIT, titled "Regulating Nanotechnology Development". One of the most interesting part of his Article is the Nanotechnology Regulatory Timeline, which consisted of the following phases:
  • Phase 1—Pre- assembler
  • Phase 2—Post-assembler, Pre-assembler lab
  • Phase 3—Post assembler lab, Pre-active shield
  • Phase 4—Post active shield

David explained that Phase 1 is "where we are now—assemblers have not yet been built", Phase 2 is "where assemblers have been successfully developed, but no assembler-proof containment facilities are available", Phase 3 is where "sealed assembler labs have been developed, which means that experiments on assemblers can be safely performed by anyone" and Phase 4 is where active "shield has been developed and is in place".

The most critical phase of all those phases is I think Phase 2. This is the phase where no assembler-proof containment facilities are available. According to David:

"Avenues for commercial development could be made available during Phase 2, with extensive safety reviews of both the manufacturing process and the product by an appropriate regulatory agency. This would provide a near-term economic incentive for developers to advance the technology, reduce the government's funding burden, and provide the public with some near-term benefits of the technology. Here, a sorting process would be helpful. Products that do not contain replicators or assemblers could be deferred to existing regulatory agencies for review. Products that contain non-replicating assemblers would undergo thorough review by an agency with appropriate expertise in assembler technology. Products and manufacturing devices that contain replicating assemblers would undergo the most stringent levels of review; quite possibly, they should not be made available until they can be extensively tested under safer conditions during Phase 3."

If we failed in this step, we failed in everything. I cannot imagine what will happen if the first assembler falls into the wrong hand. Phase 2 is the zero-sum-game phase. Anyone who first discover MNT will have extraordinary time advantage. Even other companies or states finally discover MNT, it would be almost impossible to overcome the tech gap (CRN, " Thirty Essential Studies ").

I tend to take the position that Phase 2 should be a "moratorium and non proliferation phase". What I meant by moratorium is that the tech should be made exclusively for R&D purposes and should not be used commercially. If used commercially, it will absolutely halt international trade and triggers worker's lay-offs. Even without releasing the tech to public, I would expect a tremendous market crash and recessions due to the first nano-shock.

As this is the phase where people are experiencing the first nano-shock (because we are shifting from "large chunks manufacturing" into MNT),  this period should be used for public educations.

This is the phase where I think, all MNT researches should be aimed at developing workable institutions. In this phase, people can start designing the Post-MNT-Society economic and legal infrastructures.  

Thus, there is going to be plenty question of oversight mechanism. Phase 2 shall be dealt with the Guardian Style (Phoenix/Treder, " Three Systems of Action "). I can dream that there is going to be a world council and an International Organisation that will act as a trustee for the development of the first assembler. But, who would have access to the assembler lab? Should it be a super-secret lab? What are the extent of the transparency? And worst of all, can this supra-national institution reach solid consensus? What if there is treason and leaks? 

I think, this will be more like a question of Risk Mitigation than Risk Avoidance , as there is no such thing as incorrptible institution. History taught that even the most holy religious organisation could be corrupted. Our only option would be to minimize the corruption by building an effective oversight and hope that it will work.

My preliminary position is, if at any case the supra-national institution above is corrupted, I think the non-proliferation policy should be immidiatelly ceased and the Tech should be immediatelly disseminated to allow power balance. It is better to have nano-shocks and world economic recessions than facing a world domination.

Q: How is it possible to know that there is a leak? That thing is so small!
A: I don't know. Its only a model.

We need more " thought experiments " and " game theories ".


Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani

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