--EXPONENTIAL general-purpose molecular manufacturing: The word exponential refers to the rapid pace--probably unprecedented--at which this technology may be deployed.
Exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing means a manufacturing system--a nanofactory--capable of making a wide range of technologically advanced products, far superior to what we have today, much cheaper, much faster, and able to multiply its own source of production exponentially.
Through responsible use of molecular manufacturing, we could have longer lasting, cleaner, safer, and smarter products for the home, for communications, for medicine, for transportation, and for industry; cheap, ready access to space flight; and remarkably efficient greenhouses, which reduce our agricultural footprint to a fraction of its current size while sharply increasing output.
On the downside, every country that possesses unrestricted molecular manufacturing technology will have the ability to rapidly design, test, and inexpensively deploy huge numbers of powerful weapons of any size.
Molecular manufacturing will enable quicker weapons optimization due to cheap, rapid prototyping.
Unless molecular manufacturing capability is contained, the number of nanotech-possessing nations in the world could be much higher than the number of nuclear nations, increasing the chance of a regional conflict blowing up.
This raises many questions about the nature of a post-MNT economy: Who will own the technology for molecular manufacturing? Will it be heavily restricted, or widely available?
It seems clear that molecular manufacturing could severely disrupt the present economic structure, greatly reducing the value of many material and human resources, including much of our current infrastructure.
However, given the large number of activities and purposes that would damage the environment if taken to extremes, and the ease of taking them to extremes with molecular manufacturing, it seems likely that this problem is worth worrying about.
In addition, if we are not careful, the flexibility and compactness of molecular manufacturing may allow the creation of free-floating, foraging self-replicators--a "gray goo" that could do serious damage to the biosphere by replicating out of control.
Molecular manufacturing raises the possibility of horrifically effective weapons.