Evaluating Future Nanotechnology: The Net Societal Impacts of Atomically Precise Manufacturing

Futures, vol. 100 (June 2018), pages 63-73, DOI:10.1016/j.futures.2018.04.007

22 Pages Posted: 13 May 2018 Last revised: 24 May 2018

Steven Umbrello

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies; Global Catastrophic Risk Institute; University of Edinburgh; York University

Seth Baum

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Date Written: April 30, 2018

Abstract

Atomically precise manufacturing (APM) is the assembly of materials with atomic precision. APM does not currently exist, and may not be feasible, but if it is feasible, then the societal impacts could be dramatic. This paper assesses the net societal impacts of APM across the full range of important APM sectors: general material wealth, environmental issues, military affairs, surveillance, artificial intelligence, and space travel. Positive effects were found for material wealth, the environment, military affairs (specifically nuclear disarmament), and space travel. Negative effects were found for military affairs (specifically rogue actor violence) and AI. The net effect for surveillance was ambiguous. The effects for the environment, military affairs, and AI appear to be the largest, with the environment perhaps being the largest of these, suggesting that APM would be net beneficial to society. However, these factors are not well quantified and no definitive conclusion can be made. One conclusion that can be reached is that if APM R&D is pursued, it should go hand-in-hand with effective governance strategies to increase the benefits and reduce the harms.

Keywords: Atomically Precise Manufacturing, Nanotechnology, Ethics, Research Policy

Suggested Citation

Umbrello, Steven and Baum, Seth, Evaluating Future Nanotechnology: The Net Societal Impacts of Atomically Precise Manufacturing (April 30, 2018). Futures, vol. 100 (June 2018), pages 63-73, DOI:10.1016/j.futures.2018.04.007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3170350

Steven Umbrello (Contact Author)

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies ( email )

241 Mapes Avenue
Woodbridge, Ontario L4L 8R8
Canada

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute ( email )

University of Edinburgh ( email )

Old College
South Bridge
Edinburgh, Scotland EH8 9JY
United Kingdom

York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada

Seth Baum

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute ( email )

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