Volume 1, Issue 2 
2nd Quarter, 2006

Global Geoethical Implementation of Nanofactory Production: Multi-Stakeholder Engagement for Effective Policy and Administrative Structures

Mike Treder

This article is adapated from a presentation given by Mike Treder at the First Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology on July 20, 2005 at the Terasem Movement, Inc. Retreat in Lincoln, VT.

Mike Treder, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN), describes the positive and negative potential inherent in nanofactories, a nanotechnology product that will be a reality sooner than we realize. Because nanomanufacturing does not require self-replication, it will be easier to achieve than other technologies. Therefore, policies to regulate it must be developed as soon as possible and in a conscientious manner. CRN is working with other groups to come up with a list of areas that will be affected by nanomanufacturing, and then to devise global, multi-stakeholder policy and administrative structures to address them.

We can look forward to many exciting possibilities as nanotechnology develops, such as self-replication and super humans. Yet before we reach that level, we will be able to use nanotechnology to manufacture products with atomic precision and exponential reproduction. These “nanofactories” are closer on Trederthe horizon than many realize because this technology will not require self-replication, which will render it easier to achieve than other nanotechnologies.

This upcoming period of nanofactory production will be fraught with difficulty. Therefore, we must figure out how to navigate this phase before it is upon us.

What are Nanofactories?
The defining characteristic of a nanofactory is that it accomplishes the reproduction of the means of reproduction. This is different than self-replication. It is a means of reproduction that can create another one of itself on command. This equates to factories making factories within the incredibly short time span of a single day.

Imagine if a huge automobile assembly plant could make a copy of itself overnight, and then those two factories could makes copies of themselves. This is guided replication (not self-replication). It is exponential replication because with every new day, you could double what you made the day before.

The products that the factory produces are important, but the most important product of all is the factory itself because it is a means of production that can reproduce itself.

Technical Significance
What is the technical significance of nanomanufacturing? To illustrate the scale significance of molecular nanotechnology, imagine a condor or an eagle flying. The wings of these large birds move slowly. Comparatively, a sparrow’s wings move quickly and a bee’s wings move so fast that they are barely visible.

At the nanoscale (one billionth of a meter) level, machines can work a million times faster than at our present level because the distances they must cover are so much shorter. Moving one nanometer can be accomplished in an extremely short period of time.

These nano-products and machines will be molecular in size, allowing a tremendous amount of functionality to be included in them. These products will be a hundred times smaller and ten times lighter than today’s materials. They will also contain smart computing. One example of a future nano-product is an ultra light aircraft that you can fold up to the size of a camera and then unfold and go for a flight. These unbelievable products are not that far away and will be extremely inexpensive to build - if we are allowed to build them.

Molecular nanotechnology will enable rapid prototyping. We will be able to design a new product or revise an old product and create the prototype within a matter of days, rather than years. Better and better products will evolve at extremely fast rates, which will revolutionize manufacturing. The reverberations of this will be felt in many areas, such as the environment and the military.

Molecular nanotechnology will be a general-purpose technology, like electricity. It will be in every economy and in every society. It will use inexpensive raw materials, so it will be easy to create a new nanofactory. The raw materials necessary to create a nanofactory could cost as little as a few dollars.

There exists a potential to create a real economic discontinuity when manufacturing moves from the scale of block-sized factories with their many components such as production, wholesale, shipping, and so on – to a desktop level. Many jobs will be in jeopardy, resulting in inevitable economic and social disruption. The affect on local communities will be immense.

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