Human Extinction by Biotechnology and Nanotechnology
As biotechnology has advanced, so has the power of the individual. In the past century, it took a country or rogue organization, a lot of money, and special skills to create a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). Now, it takes just one person, the internet, and a small cheap lab.
Instead of "Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)", we are faced with "Weapons of Mass Extinction (WME)".
For example, in 2011, in a surprise address to the Biological Weapons Convention in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated: "Less than a year ago, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula made a call to arms for, and I quote, 'brothers with degrees in microbiology or chemistry to develop a weapon of mass destruction.'"Clinton-UN
She also officially acknowledged the generally accepted situation that "A crude but effective terrorist weapon can be made by using a small sample of any number of widely available pathogens, inexpensive equipment, and college-level chemistry and biology" and noted that "it is not possible, in our opinion, to create a verification regime" for preventing biological weapons.
This came just a few months after two independent developments -- a scientist in the Netherlands, and a team led by a Japanese scientist at the University of Wisconsin -- both announced that they had created viruses in the laboratory which are far more virulent than anything which had occurred naturally, potentially the most deadly virus ever faced by humans. Both were created by modifying the H5N1 Bird Flu virus in the laboratory. These scientists were apparently planning to publish their research openly soon after Clinton's address.
The US government's National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH) requested they not publish the details. The NSABB has no legal authority, and is only an advisory organization. The authors disagreed with the decision but agreed to adhere to it. All the authors had already received funding from the NIH and it might be presumed they would continue to receive funding... unless they did not follow the request.
After also being contacted by the NSABB, the two scientific journals, Nature and Science (two highly established journals), still planned to publish the two papers minus some of the details. The journal Science stated it would agree with the NSABB to refrain from publishing the details only if the government created a system whereby scientists worldwide could access the details if they had a legitimate need to know the information. However, at least one of the scientists had already presented his work at a major conference.SciAm-Albert
Indeed, the editor of Science Magazine said "“This finding shows it’s much easier to evolve this virus to an extremely dangerous state where it can be transmitted in aerosols [i.e., by coughing or sneezing] than anybody had recognized.” NYTimes-1220
In 2011, folks. Imagine, as this news spreads around, and as technology advances even further, what the world will be like in 2020. Scientists are already saying it's not a matter of "if" but one of "when".
These kinds of things cannot be kept secret. They will spread. Indeed, such news announcements stimulate interest. You can be sure that the news media will broadcast such gains very prominently, because it sells their service and makes them money, and can selfishly rationalize away the greater interests of our species.
Keeping this kind of research secret is difficult.
Pharmaceutical companies pay scientists for information and cooperation all the time. Others can pay scientists as well. There are still many scientists who rationalize their research as "not that dangerous" and/or is important for "defensive" purposes (kind've like other arms races) in order to promote their paid work, and when money is offered, many people can rationalize even more. It may not matter whether the money is offered by a pharmaceutical company or just a visiting consultant.
It could even be an undercover agents posing as pharmaceutical company staff, either a front company or faked, or even a plant into a legitimate company, university, computer center, or other organization. Indeed, what percentage of people really verify an identity on a business card, and check with the boss of the person?
Beyond that, people just talk, out of ego, curiosity, open scientific dialogue, or soliciting work. Graduate students and other young people often brag about their knowledge in casual conversations, or job interviews. It's easy to find out what research people are doing, and people and places can be targeted undercover.
University laboratories, offices, and homes are often not locked or secured well. If necessary, most locks can be picked easily by somebody trained in standard locksmith skills. Most trash isn't shredded. Hired thieves don't even need to know what they're stealing and can be told a ruse, but money talks. And many victim companies and laboratories would cover up a break-in or leak, out of fear it would tarnish their reputation and reduce funding, as well as threaten individual jobs and well being. This kind of espionage has been going on for decades by professionals, normally undetected. It's just becoming much more deadly and easier for an individual or a small group to do on a shoestring budget.
This is not news, but has been known for decades by a tiny percentage of people. What is lacking is broader recognition, acceptance, and interest in bioweapons.
PERMANENT was created in 1985 while I was working for the Pentagon in advanced planning in space "defense" systems. From also reviewing "nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC)" weapons and other things at that time and before, it was abundantly clear to many of us that a much greater threat to the world, actually to our species, was biological weapons. In one way, it was good that nations were wasting their money and focus on nuclear, robotic, and more conventional weapons, which do not create existential risks, rather than on biological weapons.
While it was good experience to be working on advanced planning in the space program, there was very little interest in top government circles in space colonization, mainly just interest in the next money contracts, and overblown fear of the Soviets at that time was a successful formula for getting funding. Fear mongering and demonizing sells (and the secrecy and unknowns surrounding weapons programs only enhanced "what if" fears, regardless of how dysfunction the opponent really is, information which was not leaked publicly). If you talked about mining the moon or asteroids near Earth, most people would be disinterested and many would laugh and brush it aside.
It was difficult enough to get serious attention to PERMANENT concepts, and arguing that we have a rush deadline of doing so before we biological weapons make us extinct -- before our own technological advances destroy us -- usually got a reinforced brushoff and often snide remarks. I mainly stuck to the engineering and scientific studies relevant to PERMANENT, with a general theme of space industrialization for sustainable profits, and space colonization following that.
The hottest topics were related to space tourism whereby we could go to space for selfish reasons for a vacation, such as private earth launchers. Advocates of private earth launch stated that we needed to get the cost of launch down via their private projects before space resources would become economical. (Baloney, as I discuss elsewhere on this website.)
When writing the PERMANENT book, I buried the biotechnology / supervirus / extinction threats in the Introduction (see, for example, page iii, under the section title Why. (That was published in 1998.)
At the turn of the millenium, I was actually out of money, due to spending my savings to write the PERMANENT book and website for outreach, as well as the expenses of ordering scientific publications and other important basic items, plus mailing copies of the book to wealthy people (at our expense, and we had to find them first) ... all while forgoing many opportunities to go out and make money instead for myself. While the website attracted huge numbers of visitors and a whole lot of traffic, not many people were willing to make any financial donation, and the overall support was very disappointing. My dot com bubble burst.
So, hardly able to survive, many years of working on PERMANENT website ground to a crawl, and the rest of PERMANENT was frozen for the most part, except for Sam Fraser's volunteer artistic overhaul in 2001. I had to go out and make money in the usual ordinary ways in the world.
Some time before this, in the year 2000, I moved the extinction risk and the responsibility of our generation up to the very top of the home page. "In all geologic time, our generation will be the one to get mankind off our lonely planetary cradle. It is a race against time, before biotechnology makes mankind extinct, or nanotechnology destroys Earth's biosphere, suddenly."
You can see a year 2000 version of this (before Sam's artistic overhaul) on the Way Back Machine's archival page on PERMANENT.
Then came the year 2001. And 9/11. Suddenly, "Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)" came into the general vocabulary of the masses.
Now, 10 years later, 2011 (at the time of this writing), more people are finally coming to realize that we really do have human extinction threats. Furthermore, it's not the nation state that is the biggest threat. It is the lone nut fanatic, ego maniac, or just profit seeking pharmaceutical company in the laboratory anywhere in the world who can do it, and it actually doesn't take much knowledge or money.
We need to think about "Technologies Imperiling Mass Extinction (TIME)". (Maybe there's a better word than "imperiling". If you can think of one, please tell me.) It's just a matter of time.
We cannot create PERMANENT overnight. It takes time to plan and develop. The question now is whether we are starting too late. We don't know, but it's better to start sooner than later.
Anybody who brushes off the idea of space colonization / PERMANENT, or human extinction by advancing technology, is an irresponsible member of our generation.
If you want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem (excuses, rationalizations, or any other way to dodge the issue NOW), then click on the "You Can Help!" button at the top of the page.
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