Mini advent calendar of Xrisks: nanotechnology

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.