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Each of these technologies also offers untold promise: The vision of near
immortality that Kurzweil sees in his robot dreams drives us forward; genetic
engineering may soon provide treatments, if not outright cures, for most
diseases; and nanotechnology and nanomedicine can address yet more ills.
Together they could significantly extend our average life span and improve the
quality of our lives. Yet, with each of these technologies, a sequence of small,
individually sensible advances leads to an accumulation of great power and,
concomitantly, great danger.
What was different in the 20th century? Certainly, the technologies underlying the
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) - nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) -
were powerful, and the weapons an enormous threat. But building nuclear
weapons required, at least for a time, access to both rare - indeed, effectively
unavailable - raw materials and highly protected information; biological and
chemical weapons programs also tended to require large-scale activities.
The 21st-century technologies - genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics (GNR) -
are so powerful that they can spawn whole new classes of accidents and abuses.
Most dangerously, for the first time, these accidents and abuses are widely within
the reach of individuals or small groups. They will not require large facilities or
rare raw materials. Knowledge alone will enable the use of them