27 June 2007

Nanotechnology and the Fear of Falling Behind

Vladimir Putin wants to see a "superpower future" for Russia. Beginning to sense the importance of nanotechnology for future offensive and defensive capabilities of nations, Putin has decided to throw money at the problem--a lot of money.
....the Kremlin now wants to pump more of Russia's huge oil and gas profits into high-tech research. So far, nanotechnology has especially captured the imagination of politicians. This year $5 billion is being plowed into a new state corporation, Rosnanotech, that will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating research in the area. Russia will certainly need to invest billions to catch up with other countries.

But Putin's initiative has also raised eyebrows. "It looks like monopolization of finance," says Irina Dezhina, an expert on science policy at the Institute for the Economy in Transition in Moscow, who notes that the nanotech program will receive three times more state funding than the rest of Russia's scientists put together. Mikhail Kovalchuk, the director of the Kurchatov Institute that will be the center of the new corporation, is a close friend of Putin's from his St. Petersburg days. That has fed gossip that nanotech funding is being awarded on personal or political grounds-hardly a recipe for future commercial success.

...But the biggest problem, investors and entrepreneurs complain, is Russia's hazy protection of intellectual property rights. In particular, the state is reluctant to let scientists exploit their inventions if they were funded with the government's help. "There are lots of bright scientists in Russian government institutions, and I'd love to work with them. But I can't because my invention will be claimed by the government," says Dmitry Kulish, a former Intel venture capitalist who recently formed a biotech startup to make anti-hepatitis drugs. Alexei Oblayov, global business analyst with U.S. biotech giant Genencore in Moscow, says that the company has rejected the idea of working with Russian academics for similar reasons. "If it's academic research, it's unclear who owns this. The only business model that works is a private research institute," he says.

While Putin wants Russia to keep up with the US, Japan, Europe, China, and India, he also wants to nationalise every enterprise in Russia that is profitable--unless it may belong to one of his close friends. Putin's hard-headed stupidity in the area of international investment and finance keeps the smarter investors away.

Nanotechnology will play a critical role in military strategy and tactics in the future. While the billions of dollars that Putin is throwing at Russia's nanotechnology deficit may help Russia, without a broader based economic thriving and foreign investment, Russia will not be able to keep up with more cutting edge economies.

While Eric Drexler and others are understandably reticent to spell out some of the darker possibilities of military nanotechnology, science fiction authors have not been so timid.

Try this or this to begin with.

I have a lot of ideas myself which I am reluctant to introduce outside of a fictional setting. All of the advances in genetics, robotics, wireless networking, and soon nanotechnology, will combine to provide very potent means for acting out the full spectrum of emotions of which humans are capable. That could be good, and it could be very, very bad.

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Blogger Michael Anissimov said...

To me, the most prominent reason it would be bad would be due to the unfriendly AI it would enable through nanocomputing. AI in general gets easier with more computing power, but the challenge of Friendly AI can only be addressed through research and understanding. If computing power outpaces understanding, then unfriendly AI is the most likely outcome.

True 3D diamondoid nanocomputers could offer a six orders of magnitude increase, at least, in our computing capabilities.

Wednesday, 27 June, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

The coming advances in military nanotech and military biotech have the potential to make life in the open air (on land) unlivable.

There's no need for the giant hostile machines of Terminator movies. Tiny nano-sized organisms and machines could make routine life in the open air impossible.

Sunday, 01 July, 2007  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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