Throughout his article “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”, Bill Joy constantly warns us how fragile the systems of the world are; especially man-made systems. Introducing new technologies into society, and ultimately the environment, has the potential to alter these systems in unforeseen ways. Over the past century, we have witnessed “scientific miracles” cause great damage in natural systems.
Joy starts with the example of the creation and current widespread use of antibiotics. While they do treat most cases, antibiotics have given rise to “super bacteria” that is antibiotic-resistant and therefore much more dangerous than anything that has appeared before. This argument carries over to more modern medicine and the different strains of parasites, diseases and other illnesses that have developed a resistance to the drugs we use to treat them. All of these alterations were simply the cause of humans tampering with natural systems.
If, at some point in the near future, nanotechnology becomes commercially viable and widely used, who can say what the consequences might be on the systems of the world. In a quoted passage, by Drexler briefly outlines some of the dangers made possible by the unchecked use of nanotechnology. Not only do the plants that we rely on for everyday life die off, but the organisms that depend on those plants would as well, creating a wave in any system affected by the plants. Joy also points out that with nanotechnology comes “…the risk that we might destroy the biosphere on which all life depends.” This is the ultimate and most extreme consequence of nanotechnology gone wrong.
Not only do we have to worry about the consequences of nanotechnology distributed for potentially beneficial reasons, we also have to worry about individuals having the capabilities to produce their own variations. The recent and forthcoming advances will put this technology “…within the reach of individuals or small groups.” Coupled with advancements in genetics, a single person would have the ability to tamper with or attack a “…certain geographical area or a group of people who are genetically different.” Not only could nanotechnology bring about unforeseen problems much the way antibiotics has, it could also give rise to a new, more dangerous form of terror.
With the abilities laid out before us, we cannot sit back and watch the rise of nanotechnology bring about our destruction. Unlike with the development of nuclear arms, we need to form a world wide Organization to oversee the production and use of nanotechnology before it becomes widely available. The Organization would uphold strict laws in order to safe-guard the world population and the environment.
The Organization would regulate the sale of equipment required to produce nanotechnology much the way guns are today. Before companies or individuals create their own strain of nanobots, they must be licensed by the Organization. Along with regulating the creation, the Organization would oversee the disposal of the nanotechnology. I would imagine this happening much the same way nuclear or biological waste is handled - with upmost care and caution so that the waste cannot escape and cause unnecessary problems.
While this may sound utterly impossible, I think that it is sincerely worth the effort. With so many possible disasters looming behind the advancement of nanotechnology, we clearly need strict regulations in order to avoid changes to natural systems that could potentially lead to the destruction of the Earth.