Adopted by the WTA Board Friday, April 25, 2003
MOLECULAR MANUFACTURING RESEARCH OFFERS GREAT PROMISE, AND DESERVES
The technology also carries risks that require prudent anticipatory
A statement from the Board of Directors The World Transhumanist
manufacturing is a branch of nanotechnology, an advanced form that, if
achieved, could revolutionize industry, commerce, transportation,
housing, medicine, space exploration, and environmental protection. It
could also supply powerful tools to criminals, terrorists, and abusive
governments, and lead to severe environmental damage, massive job
displacement, and horrendously destructive wars.
developed, molecular manufacturing technology will permit bottom-up
engineering by assembling individual molecules according to a specific
design. A proposed approach requires the prior development of nanoscale
devices ("assemblers") able to manipulate individual
molecules, operate in co-ordination, and build copies of themselves as
scientists, including Nobel laureate Richard Smalley, have stated that
molecular manufacturing is infeasible, if not impossible. Others, most
notably nanotechnology pioneer K. Eric Drexler, believe that development
of molecular manufacturing is not only inevitable, but may emerge sooner
than many expect. At this time, no one can say for certain who is right.
But so much is at stake-both potential benefits and serious risks-that
intensive study is urgently called for.
an organization, the World Transhumanist Association supports the
application of reason, science, and technology to overcome
"natural" human limitations and improve the human condition.
However, we also recognize that new technologies can bring new risks,
and some of these risks may be acute. The wise course is not to ignore
or dismiss either the potential benefits or the possible dangers, but to
study and understand them.
recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on
Science, Foresight Institute President Christine Peterson said,
"While the basics of molecular manufacturing have been in the
literature for over a decade, controversy still continues about the
technical feasibility of this goal. We urgently need a basic feasibility
review in which molecular manufacturing's proponents and critics can
present their technical cases to a group of unbiased physicists for
molecular manufacturing-the ability to create shapes, machines, and
products at the molecular level-is truly just the stuff of science
fiction and nothing more, then policy makers can safely ignore it. But
if it is someday developed, it will have grave societal implications.
Prudence suggests that we should determine now how feasible it is, and
how far away.
addition to a feasibility study, Ms. Peterson told the Congressional
Committee that a major development project might be warranted: "In
developing a powerful technology, delay may seem to add safety, but the
opposite could be the case for molecular manufacturing. A targeted
R&D project today aimed at this goal would need to be large and,
therefore, visible and relatively easy to monitor. As time passes, the
nanoscale infrastructure improves worldwide, enabling faster development
everywhere, including places that are hard to monitor. The safest course
may be to create a fast- moving, well-funded, highly focused project
located where it can be closely watched by all interested parties.
Estimates are that such a project could reach its goal in 10-15
fully committing to the project proposed by Ms. Peterson, the logical
step is, of course, to estimate its feasibility. As enabling
technologies for the creation of molecular manufacturing continue to
evolve rapidly, the need for an objective scientific assessment of
projected timelines for achievement of the capability becomes
is important to recognize that molecular manufacturing has serious
military implications. Research by groups such as the Center for
Responsible Nanotechnology indicates that an unstable arms race is a
distinct and alarming prospect. The World Transhumanist Association
strongly encourages global cooperation to forestall the deadly
possibilities of a new arms race fueled by the unprecedented power of
WTA calls for the convening of an international panel of unbiased
experts to hear testimony from proponents and critics of molecular
manufacturing. The panel should make an assessment of feasibility and
issue a statement estimating rough costs and timetables for the
development of the technology, if it is determined to be feasible.
Policy makers, business leaders, educators, and world citizens can then
use this statement in considering and making wise choices for our
WORLD TRANSHUMANIST ASSOCIATION
World Transhumanist Association is a nonprofit membership organization
that works to promote discussion of the possibilities for radical
improvement of human capacities using technology. Transhumanism is
concerned with ethically expanding technological opportunities for all
people to live longer and healthier lives and to enhance their
intellectual, physical and emotional capacities.