Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology
9 November 1995
This paper is available on the web at: http://www.zyvex.com/nanotech/nano4/jeremiahPaper.html
Thank you, Ralph. I want to shift the focus a little bit from what has gone on through the course of the day and talk a little bit about policy implications in nanotechnology but more particularly I want to talk about what I think the world is likely to look like at the time that nanotechnology is coming to some form of fruition and where it is going to have practical implications. I'm not going to talk about nanotechnology -- I'm going to talk about the world and what I think it's going to look like.
I'd like to preface my remarks, however, by saying that it is surprising in retrospect that almost no one has said anything about national strategy for the post-Cold War world until we were in the post-Cold War world. This is strange. There is nothing in the literature and yet, historically, we have had policy debates, an understanding of what we think the world was going to be about and we laid out strategies to deal with that world. As an example, in the early 1950s we came out with NSC68 which laid out the fundamental strategies for the Cold War with two components in it. One, a containment strategy around the Soviet Union and two, an effort to create an international system in which our nation and its values could survive and flourish. Today we don't have that same kind of well understood and generally accepted national strategy as we did during the Cold War.
Second, the conventional paradigm for policy planning is changing radically and it is changing because technology is now forcing policy. In the past technology was the servant of policy. The stirrup, longbow and gunpowder served policy. But today it is different. Explosions in information technology and telecommunications have become much more powerful than weapons in driving the changes in the political system in Russia and Eastern Europe. That power of technology imposes an additional burden upon those of you that are scientists and are interested in the field. The burden is this: Whoever develops the technology not only has that challenge but also has the challenge to inform policymakers so that they understand the policy consequences of the applications of technology like nanotechnology. The worlds of technology and policy must be much more tightly coupled than they have been in the past. If you look back in the past, you can see gigantic examples jump out at you: the first one, of course, nuclear weapons and nuclear power. The way we handled those issues was not very well thought out from a policy perspective. Secondly, Star Wars went off and down a path of technology before the policy implications and objectives were thoroughly understood. It was a very different kind of program than the one that was originally envisioned and presented to President Reagan when we put it together and sent it over from the Joint Chiefs in the early 1980s.
I want to tell you that the world I come from is a world in which "NM" means nautical miles. That is the world I came from when I went to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When I got there my task, among others, was to look at the future and try to understand the military capabilities required to succeed in that future world. Unencumbered as I was of any understanding of science and technology, I started looking around to find out what might be out there. Among some of the books that I read was Eric Drexler's Engines of Creation, which I found fascinating reading. I was able to understand from time to time, at least conceptually, what he was trying to say! Brashly I then decided that I would go on and take up Nanosystems and flamed out completely in that one. Eric was not writing that one for me! I told my staff I wanted to go out and talk to some laboratories and find out what this was all about and understand some more about technology. We were steered to the University of California at Berkeley. We spent some time with Dr. Muller in the Electrical Engineering Department -- a little bit of a misfire, but nevertheless very interesting. So interesting that we were very much caught up in it although it was a little more complex perhaps than some of us were able to deal with. Afterwards, one of my aides said, "Admiral, I thought this was really great, I just had a little difficulty trying to understand everything he said after 'We're working on some very interesting things here'." Despite that, I found that I could be a messenger for nanotechnology because the little tiny bit that I knew about it was an enormously larger amount than almost everybody else I talked to. In most of the speeches I made as Vice Chairman I would drop in references to nanotechnology and the kinds of things that were happening there which really amazed the audience and was sufficiently complex that they didn't ask me any questions!
Planning is obviously another important task for a military policy staff like the JCS. Military planners usually have at least a ten year time horizon. So today's planners should be thinking about forces they will deploy in 2010 to 2015 with a mid-life of about 2020 to 2025. This usually puts the planner in an awkward position. Because of construction, funding, and political constraints, the technical community requires about ten years to deliver their product in sufficient quantity to make a difference. "Fair enough," says the planner, "Tell me what technology will be available 10-15 years in the future so I know what capabilities I can expect." "Haven't you heard about the technological revolution?" says the technologist. "Things are moving so fast today we cannot possibly tell you what will be available 10-15 years from now." At which point the planner begins to wonder why he is buying the technologist's current product since it will apparently be obsolete by the time of delivery. Planning is tough work.
A few years ago I asked my staff to do some tough planning work to explore the world of 2025. I think that that world has a relatively good synchronization with when we believe nanotechnology would be a factor in the world, although not yet in its maturity. I will quote their response to me in their first report because I think it is relevant to some of the discussions we are having here today: "From the outset, this project proved a humbling exercise. Explaining the past is far easier than predicting the future ... Policy makers can prepare for the future realistically only by accepting the fact that their plans may have little relevance, while totally unexpected events may catch them by surprise." This is the part that I think is particularly relevant to your deliberations: "Yet they cannot afford to wait and merely react to events. Instead, the prudent policy maker takes anticipatory measures today, both to bolster the chances for what he hopes for tomorrow and to ward off what he fears. While it is impossible to predict the future with any accuracy, it is still useful to develop a plausible range of hypotheses, in order to design flexible policies and forces for an increasingly uncertain world." That's the task that I think this conference is all about and that is what I think you are looking at today and the next several days.
Just to put what I am going to say in context -- we can go back to Ralph Merkle's diagram this morning. I can't do anything about any of the lines he drew in there, but what I'm talking about is the world in 2025 or nearly so. That, you will see, is a world that has considerable need for the products that you will develop over those intervening years. That's why what you are doing here and what you're doing in your occupations is essential.
Let me begin by noting an enormous amount of change in the international arena over the past few years. Much of it is clearly favorable. The end of the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Empire. Renewed vitality, at one point at least, in the UN. Peace talks in the Middle East and, most importantly I suspect, a democracy in Latin America. Collectively those events exceeded our wildest dreams of just a few years ago. Change also has its dark side. The renewal of bitter ethnic, religious, and territorial squabbles. Proliferation of modern weapons. Desperate regional bullies, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the late Kim Il Sung in North Korea, who used military bluster and intimidation to carry out their designs. Violence and unrest because of economic, political and social reform in Russia and the other former Soviet republics. And I think most depressing of all, total humanitarian catastrophe throughout much of Africa, particularly south of the Sahara. Many people believe this is simply the "hangover" after the Cold War and that things will settle down soon. I hope they're right, but frankly I don't believe that's going to happen. I think we are seeing the emergence of an entirely new world situation. A world situation in which regional conflict, chronic instability and persistent crisis -- conditions that the U.S. population does not respond to well -- is going to be characteristic of the future to a far greater extent than will be peace and tranquillity.
There will be competition in that unstable future.
There will be competition between the developed and the developing world. I will not try to define which nations will be developing and which will have moved on to developed status by that time. Some developing nations may well grow into major economic and, potentially, military powers. China will almost certainly be in that category. Much of the developing world is going to be faced with exploding populations, hunger, abuse of the environment, and political instability. Ethnic issues such as those we see in Rwanda and Bosnia will inhibit growth and foster instability. Political turmoil will reinforce poverty and starvation as we saw in Somalia. The gap between the developed and developing world will widen. The developed world will continue to increase its wealth but instability in the developing world will have consequences for the future. In some cases internal strife will interrupt the developed world's supply of raw materials. Those sentences are captured by an October 17, 1995 article in The Washington Post on the economic turnaround in the Philippines. The story stressed the progress made by the upper and middle class but made the point that nothing had changed for the urban underclass and the rural poor. Humanitarian concerns brought about by drought or lack of food or any number of other things was brought to our living rooms by ever more pervasive and life- like communications media that will compel action. Refugees fleeing from instability and economic problems in their countries will create serious political and military problems for the developed world. The flight of Haitians out of their own country in search of a better life was perhaps a foretaste of a major trend. As a result of the fighting in the Balkans and emigration from Africa and Eastern Europe, there are more refugees today in Europe than at any time since the end of World War II.
There will be competition over the degree to which the developed world invests in research and new technology. That competition will come from forces are at work to divert government resources towards social programs rather than "wasting" funds on research and new technology such as space stations. Yet without those funds we cannot reap space benefits like cheap solar power, minerals mined from the moon and asteroids, and weightlessness in the assembly of large heavy structures. Most military research and development investment will be curtailed without the Cold War engine to drive investment. This means the military will look to commercial sources for much of our new technology. Science will compete with shareholder value for scarce research moneys and generally will lose because of today's short term profit focus.
The competition for world power will shift towards economic strength and economic blocs rather than military power and regional security alliances. In that economic competition, military forces will be necessary to protect trade against the outbreak of ethnic chaos in a supplier nation or in sealanes threatened by ideological or ethnic warlords.
There will be competition between regional or global organizations like the UN, NATO or the GCC on one hand and nation states and regional bullies like Saddam Hussein on the other. Conversely, regional organizations may also align against one or more of the great powers. Nation states will find themselves in internal conflict over their role as members in increasingly pervasive regional or global alliances that threaten their sovereignty and independence. Economic competition will strain the cohesion of historic alliances among the great economic powers of Japan, North America, Europe and the emerging superpower -- China.
There will be competition between anarchy and international order. The fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Berlin Wall let loose a host of long suppressed bloody conflicts. The roots of these conflicts are unresolved border disputes, religious intolerance and the darkest side of nationalism. There is a moment in the television drama of "I, Claudius" where Claudius looks back at all that had happened during his lifetime and decides that it is all rotten and has to be destroyed. He says: "Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out." I think that is the best description one can give of what has happened in the Balkans in the last four or five years. The fighting there comes from very ancient hatreds, with roots that go back at least 500 years. Without the police state to keep these hatreds in check, history resumed its natural course. As we look into the future, the Balkans and Rwanda may become depressingly familiar models. When you look at the events surrounding Rwanda, Somalia, the Balkans and Bosnia, you see that national leadership and international organizations' first instinct is to turn away from the problem. But it never survives and we are ultimately forced back to deal with the problem by the enormous pressure and presence of the media and the visual images of genocide from starvation.
An important subset of this competition between anarchy and international order is the competition between arms control and proliferation. There are a dozen countries today with the industrial and scientific capacity to build nuclear weapons. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea, Iraq or Iran could force neighboring countries to seek nuclear arms of their own. That could lead to another escalation of the nuclear arms race involving smaller nations with the capability like Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. There are over twenty countries who have the capability for building at least theater ballistic missiles, relatively shorter range than intercontinental ballistic missiles. Think about that in the context of Desert Storm. Beyond Riyadh and Tel Aviv, what would be the consequences on the actions taken in the Gulf if London, Rome, Berlin, Paris, Athens, Madrid, Ankara and Cairo were also threatened by those kinds of weapons or, in fact, were attacked by those weapons with nuclear, biological or chemical warheads. Those weapons unfortunately are increasingly available to transnational terrorist organizations. Those can be groups of 5-10 people. That is a real threat. We only need to look at the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York and the Federal Building in Oklahoma City to understand that no nation has a guarantee against wanton acts of international or domestic terrorism, potentially with weapons of mass destruction.
Weapons of mass destruction are just that -- but conventional weapons marketed by the developed nations have killed, and most likely will continue to maim and kill, far more people. Today, there is rapid proliferation of conventional weapons to all parts of the world for two reasons. First, many nations, particularly in Asia, have become much richer in the last decade. These nations are putting money into their defense budgets because they perceive (1) a weakened and distracted U. S.; and (2) a growing regional threat to themselves from one or more of their neighbors. Secondly, defense industries in both the West and East are looking overseas for markets to replace their shrinking domestic markets. Conventional weapons proliferation will increase as more nations gain the wealth to utilize more advanced technology. The only deterrent so far to this spread of weapons is an effective nuclear and conventional arms control regime and thus renewal of the Non- Proliferation Treaty was an important decision. Think about this in the context of nanotechnology and the implications of where you are headed and what you are about to be doing.
Finally, there will be competition between our population and our environment. According to the World Bank, the western industrial democracies will shrink from 12.7% of today's population to 8.6% by 2025. At the same time in the developing world the population will double. To support that population growth, non-developing nations will exploit their natural resources. The environment could be ravaged. Natural disasters of Biblical proportions could result. Consider just this example. Unrestricted timber harvesting in the foothills of the Himalayas is already threatening India's water table. If the monsoons should fail for just two consecutive years, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh could face drought and crop failures at least as bad as those that devastated Somalia. Imagine that in a nation of more than one billion people. As soil erodes, forests shrink, and lakes, rivers and our air become progressively fouled, people will flee. This will lead to mass migrations to nations with more stable governments and constant populations. Without question we will see more demand for humanitarian operations and restrictive immigration patrols as Earth attempts to support about 10 billion people in 2025.
Now you may say: "Admiral, that is a pretty bleak picture." I agree. There are worse and better scenarios. For example, in Clifton Berry's Inventing the Future, he cites projections for the year 2025 by Mal Currie, Chairman Emeritus of Hughes Aircraft:
From these scenarios, four characteristics will most likely guide our future:
First, I want to tell you what we are going to try, I think, to move away from. We want to move away from systems that are so inflexible they cannot easily adapt to exploit new technologies or that are so highly specialized they can only be used against a narrow threat or in a unique environment. We want to move away from systems that do not have a high degree of strategic or tactical mobility. We should move away from systems that lack low-observable or stealth technologies. We want to get away from systems that need large vulnerable logistical tails. We want to move away from large fixed sites that are readily targeted by precision guided munitions and theater ballistic missiles. We got into the Gulf in a hurry, but it took us 18 months to bring back all the stuff we took over there and it was all pretty much in one place -- a very inviting target for theater ballistic missiles and we lost a number of people, guardsmen from the State of Pennsylvania, in one hit by a theater ballistic missile.
Second, all elements of our society will place a very high premium on information. For the military, information for strategic intelligence, tactical intelligence, precision targeting and after-action assessments. For commercial purposes, economic, weather, process control, demographic and a vast field of other kinds of information. There will be a high demand to protect our own information and exploit open source and our opponent's intelligence. Opponents can be military or commercial. Increasingly sophisticated encryption systems will deny us readily available open source intelligence but will be protected in the future because of its economic value. Information transmission media will themselves complicate intelligence collection because of their speed, sophistication, and relative invulnerability to access and sheer volume of information. Just a few years ago, if we were going to extract from some nameless nation intelligence that was the equivalent of a 5 minute conversation, we had to go through the equivalent of a stack of paper correspondence 5 miles high. Today that same stack of correspondence would be 112 miles high. That's the increase in the volume of material we have to go through just to glean some tactical intelligence. On the other hand, very small bits of information injected into someone else's system has huge consequences in confusing an opponent and destroying his confidence in his own system, be it financial systems, stock market, health systems or air defense systems. In either commercial or military applications speed in information processing, higher level languages and artificial intelligence will be essential to win because to win you must operate inside your opponent's decision cycle. In short, commercial and military information warfare will be a major, perhaps dominant characteristic of the future. Extraordinarily sophisticated systems to control communications, power, stock exchanges, and monetary assets can break down and will be attacked.
Third, we talked about robotics in the last presentation and I think that most military planners believe that robotics and remote controlled sensors will be essential to gather information in the future. Because of the progress we have made so far in microminiaturization, they will be very small. Military systems will be deployed in very large numbers, much like minefields, and specialized in their tasks in order to reduce their size and minimize data processing. They will be scattered in space, at sea and on land. Any movement will be detected in specific areas of interest and progressively more complex sensors will be focused upon the movement to determine final disposition. For urban combat and surveillance in peacekeeping missions, many of the sensors will be incorporated into the human system in order to enhance performance. Today we strap on night vision devices but by 2025 we almost certainly will implant enhancements in the human body to deal with biological warfare, to enhance visibility, to increase strength of the soldier, and do a variety of other things.
Fourth, combatants and weapons will be dominated by robotics. It is not a great leap forward from today's robotics designed to conduct routine operations with consistent quality and enhance human characteristics to tomorrow's robots used as force builders for nations with little manpower or an aversion to bloodletting -- particularly their own. Robotic systems can instantaneously achieve a specified level of training and maintain that level almost indefinitely without the investment of resources that is necessary for human beings. Molecular manufacturing combined with artificial intelligence may well give us the capability to build, from the molecular level to the end product, humanoid robots. We can pull certain genes and cells out of the human brain and load them into a computer chip in such a way that you create a neural network. This could lead to an artificial brain with neural capacity. As an example, the International Armed Forces Journal in its June 1994 issue reported that: "a consortium from the Naval Research Laboratory, the National Institutes of Health, the University of California, and Science Application International Corporation was 'powering up' a cultured neural device using hippocampal neurons" -- the brain cells that control memory and logic. Combined with holographic memories as described in this month's Scientific American, robots could be very formidable indeed. Isaac Asimov would be pleased.
Fifth, the traditional element of military dominance, mass, will take on a very different form. To quote from my staff's 2025 report: "Thirty-five years from now, ... small, lethal, sensing, emitting, flying, crawling, exploding and thinking objects may make the battlefield [or sea] highly lethal to humans in steel (or ceramic, or carbon-fiber) boxes. The battlefield of the future will be dominated by precision-guided munitions; enormous quantities and varieties of sensors (some the size of bottlecaps), will collect and disseminate a vast amount of tactical intelligence; and advanced automation (including robots) may increasingly reduce the number of people in harm's way. But while there will be an enormous increase in the mass of sensors and other minute devices on the battlefield, there will be fewer weapons."
Those weapons will be smart weapons that will allow us to reduce wholesale destruction and the tremendous expenditure of ordnance. The goal is finer and finer precision, more and more selectivity and less need for mass. Indeed, there is less need for weapons of mass destruction because they are increasingly less useful to us for military characteristics. Weapons of mass destruction are political tools used by one nation to influence the population of another, not tools we in the military need to carry out military operations.
Now finally, and with some hesitation, I turn to molecular nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing. I do so with hesitation because everyone here has spent more time and has far more knowledge on the subject than I. But every conference needs at least one layman.
Thomas Paine came from England to America less than a year before the outbreak of the American Revolution. In the pamphlet Common Sense, published in 1776, he wrote: "We have it in our power to begin the world all over again." Surely molecular manufacturing is the wave of the future which can solve the long list of problems I cited in the world of 2025. Surely we are smart enough to ensure that nanotechnology will be introduced to the world rapidly enough and broadly enough so that it will serve all mankind and not be diverted into destructive applications with enormous leverage. Surely our society, which has introduced more advances in technology and greater change in the lives of people in the last four decades than in all of previously recorded history, has the entrepreneurial skill to bring this technology to fruition before the competitions I described earlier take us back again to the Dark Ages. And surely we have international and national governing bodies that will create the environment necessary for this technology to flourish without undo interference while inhibiting the opportunities for mischief. Or do we?
Somewhere in the back of my mind I still have this picture of five smart guys from Somalia or some other nondeveloped nation who see the opportunity to change the world. To turn the world upside down. Military applications of molecular manufacturing have even greater potential than nuclear weapons to radically change the balance of power. In anticipation of that possibility the uninformed policymaker is likely to impose restrictions on development of technology in such a way as to inhibit commercial development (ultimately beneficial to mankind) while permitting those operating outside the restrictive bounds to gain an irrevocable advantage. I don't know very much about the Foresight Institute and Center for Constitutional Issues in Technology (CCIT), but surely that is the right track in your efforts to inform the public and the policymakers of this technology and this future.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have tried to open the lens somewhat this afternoon on what we can expect to see over the horizon and into the next century. None of these projections may come to pass. The world may head off in a radically different direction, it may all be wonderfully green and the challenges may be quite different. I think, however, that these are problems the world faces. I don't advocate these changes but events are moving us in that direction unless we change the course we're on today.
Machiavelli said in The Prince: "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
But you have the power to do that. Thank you.
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