Friday, May 27, 2005

'Dual-use' nano vs. export controls


Those who have been following the debate on nanotech "Weapons of Mass Destruction" should also pay close attention to nano companies' arguments against export controls.

Yes, we live in a global village and collaboration is key to advancing nanotech, plus there's a mint to be made in China for nanotech companies. However, as we've discussed before, many nanotech startups are going for military applications first because that's where the money is. Much of the same basic technology can also be used for peaceful purposes. So, how can you tell a nanotech company not to export to China the same material it developed for the U.S. Department of Defense?

The "dual-use" question is a tough one to answer. But the bottom line is this: The United States is the leader in nanotech development. Nano companies are eager to partner with overseas companies and to sell their products overseas. Many nanotech materials and processes can be incorporated into civilian or military products. If terrorists or rogue nations are going to get their hands on some nanotech-enabled weaponry, the technology is likely to have originated in the United States.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree that it is important to be mindful of technological applications' dual use, but before this becomes too alarmist we need to state explicitly what we are worried about. Am I worried about terrorists utilizing switchable surfaces to keep themselves dry? No.

Are sophisticated bioweapons that have added functionality on them a major concern? Yes. But by lumping all nanotechnologies together it is likely to create unnecessary roadblocks to important humanitarian and (yes) economic technologies, while not necessarily making anybody safer.

David Woroner said...

I can see both sides of this issue, while at once the idea of a rogue tango group like AQ creating some nasty bioweapon is a dark road and some export control should be in place. Just think how happy Kim-Jung(ill)would be to gloat that he had put a new nanobiovirus on top of his west coast achievable missile target (US)? At the same time I've got to also agree that an "alarmist" position is not the way to go either. Lets leave everything out of this EXCEPT common sense for a change? One other comment I think needs to be made, I work in ballistics and it is not the "outbound" type, it is defensive in nature and I don't have any problem ONLY selling to the US Military and our LE Law Enforcement folks. So I'm stating from my own point of view, I don't want some enemy of the U.S. to be utilizing a defensive peice of equipment against my country. I would hope that would be the sentiment of every US based company. (Though I do concede it would not be repugnent to deal with STEADFAST ALLIES).
Sincerely, David Woroner

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think the idea of looking into export controls is a great idea.

This does not mean that there would be no export of nano-based technology, just that the types of products allowed would be controled. We already do this for the computer and software industry. I don't see them hurting for sales at this point.

Besides, do you really think that Customs is going to start asking "Are those nanopants you're wearing?"

Mr. Smith