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Ethical Considerations in Molecular Manufacturing Nanotechnology

Possibilities offered by nanotechnology-enabled molecular manufacturing present some interesting challenges. Think about owning a replicator like the one on Star Trek; you could have anything you want at any time (say “Earl Grey tea,” and it appears). Molecular manufacturing may make such technology possible by enabling us to build materials and products from the cellular level up.

What would the molecular replicator, once developed, do to our society as it is today? If people could simply produce many of the items they need themselves, what would motivate people to work for the things they want in life?

Molecular manufacturing could also have an effect on our global economy. It could spawn a dramatic shift that would completely change the way business is done, possibly putting billions of people out of work. Entire industries could become obsolete. At the same time, such advances could make it easy and cheap to produce powerful weapons.

Molecular manufacturing could so streamline current manufacturing procedures that the production of materials such as weapons could become much more efficient in a few short years. Dr. K. Eric Drexler, a nanotechnology pioneer, is concerned about how the molecular manufacture of weapons could affect our world. He envisions tiny robots building products in desktop-sized factories long before replicators become a reality. According to Drexler:

“A large-scale and convenient manufacturing capacity could be used to make incredibly powerful non-replicating weapons in unprecedented quantity. This could lead to an unstable arms race and a devastating war. Policy investigation into the effects of advanced nanotechnology should consider this as a primary concern, and runaway replication as a more distant issue.”
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