Anticipating military nanotechnology
Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE
Vol. 23, Num. 4
Altmann and Gubrud ask what happens when a high tech soldier encounters a low-tech grenade? The scenario of the vastly superior soldier supported by nanotechnology typically doesn't include the low-tech knockout blow, the equally superior nano-supported foe, or the possibility of a new arms race based on new developments in nanotechnology. Israel and India have begun such work on military applications of nanotechnology, and other nations are doing likewise. None have suggested limitations or restrictions on what can or should be developed. In the US, the leader in global military R&D spending, may currently outstrip the rest of the world by a factor of 10 in nano-research; however, in the US as elsewhere, most applications are still in the research phase. What is going on in the nano-research world now (2004), and what are the future problems inherent with new military nano applications ? Explosives which cannot be unintentionally triggered, bio-motors and sensitive clothing/skin materials are of interest in many military labs. "One guiding vision is a multi-functional dynamic battle suit that projects against projectiles and chemical/biological agents, provides communications, changes color for camouflage, can apply force for lifting loads, and senses body state." Also of interest are very small computers "embedded in uniforms, weapons and equipment" that enhance a soldier's decision-making capacity; nano-structures that allow for stronger and lighter structures; and he elusive fuel-celled electric car. Small accurate munitions might be practical against "even human targets. Swarms of small robots could support satellite and radar and other communication tools. Soldier's reaction times could be enhanced by nano-implants; at the same time, enemies could be poisoned or even genetically manipulated by nano-delivery systems." What sorts of threats do these visions entail? The destabilization of current arms control and laws of warfare, which account for known threats, but do not acknowledge the precisely the targeted uses that nanotechnology offers. Particularly Altman and Gubrud see rival nations engaging a new nano-arms race and then using those applications in civilian and state control. They call for cooperative international regulation, for an updating of the biological weapons convention, and for the prohibition of space weapons and autonomous killer robots. Limitations should be applied to small mobile artificial systems used for sensing humans and to bodily implants. Regulation could indeed be difficult, but the effort to do so would strengthen international cooperation.