Posted: April 10, 2007

UK military think tank provides a grim vision of the future

(Nanowerk News) The UK's Guardian today covers the latest edition of the "Global Strategic Trends 2007-2036" by the UK's Ministry of Defense's Development, Concepts & Doctrine Centre (DCDC). Global Strategic Trends explores a range of potential outcomes over the next 30 years. The full 90-page document can be downloaded from report's website.
Painting a picture of the 'future strategic context' likely to face Britain's armed forces, the world in 30 years will bring us information chips implanted in the brain; electromagnetic pulse weapons; the middle classes becoming revolutionary, taking on the role of Marx's proletariat; the population of countries in the Middle East increasing by 132%, while Europe's drops as fertility falls; and "flashmobs" - groups rapidly mobilized by criminal gangs or terrorists groups.
Surprisingly, there are not a lot of references to nanotechnologies and its likely impact on society or the military for that matter. Where nanotechnology is mentioned it is in general terms, for instance:
"Innovation, research and development will originate from more international and diffuse sources and will proliferate widely, making regulation and control of novel technologies more challenging. The exploitation of these may have catastrophic results, especially those associated with nanotechnology, biotechnology and weapon systems. These may be unintended, for example ‘runaway’ nanotechnology or biotechnology, or intended, such as the development and use of directed energy or electromagnetic-pulse weapons."
"Nanotechnology is likely to be an important enabler for other developments, for example in electronics, sensors and commodity manufacture."
The report's authors state that it will be difficult to predict particular breakthroughs but that trend analysis indicates that the most substantial technological developments will be in: ICT, biotechnology, energy, cognitive science, smart materials and sensor/network technology.
"Advanced nanotechnology will underpin many breakthroughs, (See text box). Developments in these areas are likely to be evolutionary, but where disciplines interact, such as in the combination of Cognitive Science and ICT to produce advanced decision-support tools, developments are likely to be revolutionary, resulting in the greatest opportunities for novel or decisive application. Most technological breakthroughs will be positive, however, many advances will also present potential threats, either through perverse applications, such as the use of genetic engineering to produce designer bio-weapons or unstable substances, or through the unanticipated consequences of experimental technological innovation."
As far as military uses od nanotechnologies are concerned, the report foresees that small incremental changes in technology are likely to lead to disproportionally large increases in warfighting capability and effectiveness. "This is likely to lead to the reduction of transitional concept-to-capability timescales and increase the scope for technology leakage and more discriminating use of Off-The-Shelf (OTS) applications."
Finally, pretty heavy stuff is included in a paragraph towards the end of the report, titled 'Doomsday Scenario': "Many of the concerns over the development of new technologies lie in their safety, including the potential for disastrous outcomes, planned and unplanned. For example, it is argued that nanotechnology could have detrimental impacts on the environment, genetic modification could spiral out of control and that AI could be superior to that of humans, but without the restraining effect of human social conditioning. Various doomsday scenarios arising in relation to these and other areas of development present the possibility of catastrophic impacts, ultimately including the end of the world, or at least of humanity."
Overall, including a lot of other areas ranging from terrorism to climate change and social unrest, this report makes for quite some depressing reading...
Source: UK MoD
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