The Ultra-Capable Machine: The Threats of Military Nanotech
A few days ago, I was having a discussion with a friend about industrial collapse. So many activists I know have had it so many times that I feel like I can guess what anyone's going to say. I knew that what I was saying was nothing new. We've heard it all before. Conjecture on what may or may not be likely, or even plausible.
Some of us have begun to realize that a lot of our projected scenarios of industrial collapse are just manifestations of our hopes. A lot of it has to do with the simple fact that many of us are unaware of what the system is really up to.
Nanotechnology is the next industrial revolution. There's no doubt about that in the minds of those on the cutting edge of technological research and development. What is coming reflects what we have now, amplified to the power of 10. You heard me right, 10 times the firepower for any Texan, and the horse he rode in on. Yeehaw! If you didn't get the inference, what I'm saying is that new technologies are produced and used first for military applications.
The economy and the military have never really been separate entities. War is the health of the state and money is politics. The US military/industrial juggernaut is also, of course, one of the most environmentally destructive groups of people on the planet.
Eminent scientists and military theorists have been making a good deal of noise recently about the end of the era of Weapons of Mass Destruction, or chemical, nuclear and biological weaponry. For the future, they see the old type of Cold War standoff ending in favor of a new kind of war. GNR: Genetic, Nanotechnological and Robotic warfare. War based not on warheads but on proprietary research. The new warfare will center around the development of high technology, the race to find answers quicker than the "enemy" and the fight to keep third parties from gaining access to this information.
Spearheading the most important aspects of the changing US military is not the giant bureaucracy of the Department of Defense (DOD) itself but one of its subsidiaries. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is "the central research and development organization for the DOD." DARPA was established in 1958, shortly following the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik. Its goal is to make the US the most technologically enabled fighting force on the planet so as to "prevent technological surprise." DARPA's scientists are the standard-bearers of the new silent arms race.
The intermingling web of finance for emerging war technologies starts with DARPA, yet at the other end are, unfortunately, the nation's learning institutions. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of California-Berkeley, Duke and Columbia are the first universities on the dole from the US military. MIT, considered one of the most important centers for development of all things computer, has a flashy new program: the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN). ISN is a program funded to the tune of 50 million dollars, and its goal is to "create a 21st century battle suit that combines high-tech capabilities with light weight and comfort." Adding insult to injury, the program partners the university with three corporations, two of which are well known to most activists for their feats of chemical and military destruction: DuPont and Raytheon.
If you liked those pesky Marines before, you will love them in version 2.0. The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton can bear 70 pounds of weight for the soldier wearing it, enabling that soldier to carry more ammo, supplies and weapons further and to still arrive fresh and ready for combat. In a very obvious manner, the nation's learning institutions are being fully militarized, and the process is only bound to spread as the money gets bigger. The end is the amalgamation of industry and learning institutions into the military's massive power monopoly.
There are, of course, strong hints that nanotechnology will mean an even more insidious type of weaponry. If a molecular machine created by nanotechnological processes can reassemble molecules any way it wants, what's to say it couldn't do so to living tissue? Take for example the "Ecobot II." This small robot produces electricity by catching flies and digesting them in special fuel cells. Although in the infant stage of development, this technology suggests that in the future, non-human combatants in a war could have the ability to actually steal a being's "life energy" and use it.
While considering the possibility of "disassembling" the molecules of another human, we have to ask how such a weapon would be targeted. Luckily, we can depend on Israel's Institute for Biological Research. Through recent leaks to the media, we have learned that extensive programs exist in Israel and the US to create weapons capable of targeting specific races of people. This has stemmed from the decoding of the human genome, and research suggests that even amongst the largely intermingled human population, specific bloodlines can still be identified. Of course, the parties using such weapons probably wouldn't mind if a few of their people died as well; numbers don't count when you're talking about wiping out entire sections of the human population.
Let's not go too far into the doomsday scenarios before we get to the wider scope on nanotech within the US military. GNR technologies will first become obvious in the fields of extremely fast computers, capable robotics and massive increases in material strength.
DARPA is moving the US military toward employing a single operating system for its computer systems, interconnected with a network similar to the public Internet, pioneered as ARPAnet. Coupled with widespread global positioning systems, DARPA's plan is to create a realistic digital view of the battlefield (Earth) for the people or machines making decisions from a safe distance. This kind of computation not only massively aids the US in fighting a war with little casualties on its side, but it also makes possible quicker planning of massive operations. We know that the DOD was planning the latest Iraq invasion for more than a year before it happened. Computers could do it faster if they knew everything about the units available and the enemy forces.
Next in line is capable robotics. The best examples of this are coming in the area of aviation. The Predator, a DARPA creation, is a drone that flies at extreme altitudes to gather intelligence and bomb targets if necessary. Another example is Lockheed Martin's Project Falcon, an unmanned plane capable of flight in space, equipped to bomb any target on Earth within two hours of deployment. Instant gratification through fast food and fast bombs, that's the US motto. The predator technology has proven a massive "success" in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and it has moved forward the DOD's general directive to change approximately one-third of all military vehicles to unmanned navigation by 2015.
Former problems with creating super-strong materials will be surpassed with nanotech. Recent breakthroughs at the University of North Carolina in creating three-dimensional structures point to some concrete results. Copper can be rearranged to exhibit the same strength capacity of today's steel, and ceramics will be strong enough to create superlight engines. The military-specific applications of strong materials are everywhere; vehicles of any kind could be stronger, lighter and have nearly impenetrable armor. Aviation will benefit massively from this research, especially in the area of space "exploration," or more likely space "conquering." Since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has recently been taken over by the DOD, it is likely that we will see nanotech materials in space exploration/killing vehicles within the next few years. Space is not the final frontier; it's just the next place to expand war (see EF!J March-April 2004).
Every second there seems to be a new breakthrough in nanotechnology. The effectiveness and growth of our movement will be concurrent with our ability to formulate a strategy that assesses these developments quickly. That means a massive change from the past, and thinking about what's going to happen before it does. The only guarantee in all of this is that the military will go forward with its plans; its only roadblock thus far has been the need for more funding. A new threat must be levied soon, or we can expect a worsening situation. Then the cops won't even have to arrest people--robots will be able to do it without their help.
Zach spends his days in the colder parts of the Rockies, watching the watchers. Waiting for the inevitable moment of their demise.
© Earth First! Journal November-December 2004