Yesterday, we offered some new perspectives on geoengineering in the context of nanotech and globalization. So this seems like an opportune moment for us to refer readers to previous discussions of these important topics, both here and elsewhere...
Next week I'll be giving a speech in Spain about the effects of nanotechnology on globalization. In addition to talking about military, humanitarian, and economic implications, a major point I plan to make is the connection between global warming, climate chaos, geoengineering, and planet-scale engineering.
Here are the basics:
Global warming is well underway, and in fact has been accumulating for more than 100 years. Long-term feedback cycles -- such as ocean acidification, forest die-back, desertification, species migrations, methane clathrate releases, and ice cap melts in the Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica -- could be nearly impossible to change, and likely will accelerate overall warming trends.
Climate chaos, in the form of more frequent and more powerful hurricanes/typhoons, longer and more severe droughts, extreme and unprecedented rainfall and flooding, crop failures, famines, and massive refugee movements -- all this will force governmental authorities to seriously consider drastic solutions.
Geoengineering, also known as (re)terraforming, is almost certain to be attempted at some point, by one or more measures and to a greater or lesser degree. Chances are, the more severe the problems are from climate chaos -- and the less that has already been done by that time to confront the global warming challenge -- the more extreme will be the response. Whether or not those attempts at geoengineering will be carefully evaluated, wisely chosen, and will have the desired impact without disastrous unforeseen side effects is a risk we'll have to face.
Planet-scale engineering will become possible only after the development of molecular manufacturing, but at that point the full implications of nanotechnology + globalization may become apparent. For the first time in history, a simple, inexpensive, and (potentially) widely available technology could be put to use on projects of a truly global scale. Meanwhile, the continued growth of multinational corporations through globalization will have made them both more powerful and more influential in government decision-making.
Put those four things together and you can easily envision a future where things get worse, people grow more unsatisfied, and politicians feel the need to act. By the time we reach #4 above, the actions they decide to endorse could be of epic proportions, bringing science fictional projects, infrastructures, and impacts to the Earth -- and potentially beyond -- for better or for worse.
The source of the quote, as you may have guessed, isThe Onion, but that doesn't make it any less interesting to ponder.
Back when I was a teenager protesting the Vietnam War, a popular saying -- and bumper sticker -- was, "Suppose they gave a war, and nobody came?" It was also the title of a movie.
Many of us who might have been drafted to fight in that unpopular war preferred either to claim conscientious objector status or to leave the United States and head for Canada (I was lucky and the draft ended the year before I became eligible). Now, however, we can begin to glimpse a different kind of war.
Using a combination of satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and rolling, crawling, walking, or hopping ground fighters, it may become possible within the next few decades for nations (or even non-state actors) to attack their enemies and/or defend themselves with no humans on the battlefield. Would that make such a war less objectionable to citizens?
There is another possibility we need to consider, though, which was suggested by Bertol Brecht, who originally gave us this:
"Suppose they gave a war, and nobody came?
Why then, the war would come to you!"
Brecht's quote is somewhat humorous, but it's dark humor and for good reason -- mainly because it may be true. An unpopular war in which no civilians agree to participate still could result in a conflict that involves them directly.
Molecular manufacturing will allow full mechanization of field warfare. Rather than improved human soldiers, we will see revolutionary new approaches to attacking and defending. This may seem to offer the potential for saving many lives, but in reality it could do the opposite.
Automated or remote-controlled weapons, rather than removing humans from the field of battle, instead may make it easier to take the battlefield to the humans. Although these new weapons may shift the focus of conflict away from conventional battlefields, new battlefields will have to be developed, and many of them will overlay civilian populations.
If none of us come to war, will war come to us instead? Perhaps so, but then, according to The Onion, there is a final hope we can hold -- that the machines themselves could someday begin to grasp the senselessness of war.
Maybe, though, we shouldn't rely on that, and should seek instead to prevent wars ourselves.
Although we're quick to point out that the nanotechnology scenarios developed by the CRN Task Forceare not predictions, it's interesting to follow the news and see how some early elements we hypothesized are starting to take place.
Compare, for example, these highlighted scenarios with recent news items excerpted below...
RepRap is short for replicating rapid-prototyper; it employs a technique called ‘additive fabrication’. The machine works a bit like a printer, but, rather than squirting ink onto paper, it puts down thin layers of molten plastic which solidify. These layers are built up to make useful 3D objects.
RepRap has, so far, been capable of making everyday plastic goods such as door handles, sandals and coat hooks. Now, the machine has also succeeded in copying all its own 3D-printed parts.
These parts have been printed and assembled by RepRap team member, Vik Olliver, in Auckland, New Zealand, into a new RepRap machine that can replicate the same set of parts for yet another RepRap machine and so on ad infinitum. While 3D printers have been available commercially for about 25 years, RepRap is the first that can essentially print itself.
Professor Philip Moriarty of the Nanoscience Group in the School of Physics at the University of Nottingham (U.K.) has been awarded a five-year £1.53M ($3M) grant by the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to perform a series of laboratory experiments designed to investigate the possibility of diamond mechanosynthesis (DMS). DMS is a proposed method for building diamond nanostructures, atom by atom, using the techniques of scanning probe microscopy under ultra-high vacuum conditions.
Moriarty’s project, titled “Digital Matter? Towards Mechanised Mechanosynthesis,” was funded under the Leadership Fellowship program of EPSRC. Moriarty’s experiments begin in October 2008.
This highly significant -- indeed, unprecedented -- project grows directly out of the UK's innovative "IDEAS Factory" that Phillip helped to organize last year.
Scientists at the University of South Australia have discovered a simple way to remove bacteria and other contaminants from water using tiny particles of pure silica coated with an active nano-material.
The water treatment process is a new concept, not used anywhere else in the world, which has the potential to make a significant contribution to the health of nations worldwide. . .
Professor Peter Majewski, Research Director for the school along with Chiu Ping ‘Candace’ Chan of the Ian Wark Research Institute at University of South Australia, believe that nanotechnology could provide a simple answer to the problem of expensive and complicated water purification technology.
Ice at the North Pole melted at an unprecedented rate last week, with leading scientists warning that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by 2013. . .
What really unsettles scientists, however, is their inability to
forecast precisely what is happening in the Arctic, the part of the
world most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.
"When we did
the first climate change computer models, we thought the Arctic's
summer ice cover would last until around 2070," said Professor Peter
Wadhams of Cambridge University. "It is now clear we did not understand
how thin the ice cap had already become -- for Arctic ice cover has
since been disappearing at ever increasing rates. Every few years we
have to revise our estimates downwards. Now the most detailed computer
models suggest the Arctic's summer ice is going to last for only a few
more years -- and given what we have seen happen last week, I think they
are probably correct."
At his Open the Future blog, CRN's Direct of Impacts Analysis, Jamais Cascio, provides a brief overview of four significant ways that warfare is changing:
And from the Global Guerrillas blog, under the heading of OPEN SOURCE WARFARE, John Robb offers an important article on "Cyberwar."
Both of these medium-length entries should be must reading for anyone who wants or needs to know what to expect in tomorrow's headlines.
Our most recent C-R-Newsletter includes a guest essay by Jeffrey Treder, older brother of CRN executive director Mike Treder. Jeff, a retired English professor and published author, provides a compelling overview of past and future trends that could be relevant to the development and deployment of molecular manufacturing.
Here is an excerpt:
In October, 1991, two weather systems merged in the Atlantic off New England to produce a maelstrom that earned the title “the perfect storm.” Subsequently that evocative phrase has been applied metaphorically to any number of tumults. Now it seems possible, even likely, that the phrase might legitimately describe something much bigger than a nor’easter. Four things, distinct but deeply influencing one another, are about to impact our world in ways hard to predict but foolish to ignore.
These four are climate change, oil and natural gas passing their supply peak, fresh water depletion and pollution, and population pressure.
Their mutual influence is obvious. Often they reinforce one another, sometimes in positive feedback loops (positively harmful to people)....