Mini advent calendar of Xrisks: nanotechnology

by Stuart_Armstrong 1 min read5th Dec 201225 comments

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The FHI's mini advent calendar: counting down through the big five existential risks. The third one is a also a novel risk: nanotechnology.

 

Nanotechnology

Current understanding: low
Most worrying aspect: the good stuff and the bad stuff are the same thing

The potential of nanotechnology is its ability to completely transform and revolutionise manufacturing and materials. The peril of nanotechnology is its ability to completely transform and revolutionise manufacturing and materials. And it’s hard to separate the two. Nanotech manufacturing promises to be extremely disruptive to existing trade arrangements and to the balance of economic power: small organisations could produce as many goods as much as whole countries today, collapsing standard trade relationships and causing sudden unemployment and poverty in places not expecting this.

And in this suddenly unstable world, nanotechnology will also permit the mass production of many new tools of war – from microscopic spy drones to large scale weapons with exotic properties. It will also weaken trust in disarmament agreements, as a completely disarmed country would have the potential to assemble an entire arsenal – say of cruise missiles – in the span of a day or less.