Biotechnology and nanotechnology are exciting new technologies which offer great commercial rewards. Unfortunately, a commercial or academic laboratory accident, or even a bioweapon accident, could spread and wipe out the human race, and potentially a lot more life in our biosphere.
It doesn't take a major facility to do this. It takes only one "lab cowboy" somewhere. The rising power of one individual with technology is reaching mammoth proportions.
Biotechnology is advancing so that we can map the molecular structure of viruses and modify them, e.g., to make vaccines. However, this same technology will give us the ability to change these viruses, in manmade, intelligent, technological ways. This gives us the technical power to make a virus which would kill every human on Earth, e.g., a variation of the AIDS or Ebola virus which spreads as easily as the common cold, reproduces much faster, and is more effective in killing its host. This could be either a laboratory accident driven by money desires, reckless military research, academic curiosity, a religious fanatic, or an egomaniac similar to today's computer virus makers.
We won't live to get a second chance to learn from our mistake.
For many years, laboratories have already been modifying viruses such as the bird flu virus (H5N1) and the SARS virus in the laboratory in order to find out ways the virus could possibly mutate to become a more virulent virus, and to test vaccines. They have tried to mutate the virus more virulent, and mixed it with human forms of the virus, in sealed high security "enhanced Biosafety Level 3 laboratories", e.g., Cornell, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and secret commercial facilities elsewhere.
Notably, these viruses replicate slowly and have a high failure rate in human cells in lab dishes, so labs have been known to try to modify the virus to make it replicate faster in order to improve the economics of their testing. By making the virus more contagious in the lab, they would have more infected cells at a faster rate in their race for testing vaccines, and allegedly find a way the virus could mutate naturally with the same effect (a self-fulfilling prophecy). Spokespeople have assured the press that the lab conformed to U.S. safety standards, of course. (Remember Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Bhopal, and others?) However, these labs exist all over the world, with lower safety standards or diligence than the USA.
Their motives? Be the first to develop and sell a vaccine (money), to discover something (ego), or just curiosity.
The same can apply to Ebola, SARS, bird flu, HIV or other viruses.
There are many species that have come into existence on this planet and which are suspected of having become extinct due to a natural virus outbreak within the species.
A manmade technological virus could be far worse than any naturally occuring one the earth has ever seen before.
Already, we have Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and other laboratory modified life for commercial reasons.
Nanotechnology is the ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level. Biotechnology is a kind of nanotechnology -- nanotechnology applied to biological systems.
What other kinds of nanotechnology are there? A lot of money is being spent on making computer microchips smaller, down to the molecular level. An IBM research lab wrote its logo atom by atom in the year 2000. Microscopic packages and mechanical mechanisms are being experimented with in the laboratory.
The great danger of non-bio nanotechnology is "self-replicating machines", i.e., machines that reproduce themselves using the material in their environment -- just like viruses do. There is increasing funding of research in this area, mainly for manufacturing applications. In this concept, a molecular sized "machine" converts material in its environment into a product without being consumed themself, like a regular factory, but these machines are microscopic. For example, imagine throwing a small scoop of dust (each particle of dust being a molecular sized machine) into a barrel of crude oil and after a few hours getting polyethylene and refuse.
Now, imagine a microscopic, self-replicating machine made of a kind of plastic, that can take many kinds of organic material to make itself -- crops around the world, trees, and/or animals including people. We would see our biosphere, ourselves, and those we love die. This is called "the grey goo scenario".
When will we achieve this level of technology? Perhaps in 20 years. There's a real chance it may come in a lot less than 20 years.
How can we assure the survival of mankind and our children?
Only by space colonization -- getting out of the Earth's biosphere.
It is our goal to create a space habitat "ark" which will be populated with people from multiple cultures around the world, as well as a diversity of animal and plant species.
This ark will be designed using engineers, agronomists and people in other fields around the world who will collaborate mainly via internet. This field -- using internet to utilize the best talent around the world -- is a field that PERMANENT founder Mark Prado has been involved in since 1983, including moving to the other side of the planet, exactly 12 time zones away, and setting up internet for engineering companies staffed with local people of another culture to design buildings and facilities in other countries (the U.S., Canada, Australia).
An international governmental bureaucracy is not the solution. A multinational enterprise is.
What can you do?
Join up with PERMANENT and work together. We need all kinds of people.
An example of a possible coverup of a biotechnology accident is here: www.sunshine-project.org/ibc/bb21.html . "Originally published on 11 January 2007, Biosafety Bites #21 describes an incident involving a genetically engineered cross of H5N1 ("bird flu") and H3N2 influenza that occurred in a BSL-3 lab at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) on 12 April 2006. It is based upon UT records, specifically, UT's incident report of 13 April 2006, biosafety committee minutes, e-mails, and letters acquired under the Texas Public Information Act. ... After publication of Biosafety Bites #21, UT was contacted by several journalists. UT provided information to the journalists that contradicts what is stated in UT's records. UT's contradictions prompted further uncertainty about the facts of the incident and how UT managed it. ... [and later] responded to the Biosafety Bites by refuting information contained in its own records." See also www.sunshine-project.org
It's awfully naive to think that governments or any regulatory body can prevent biotechnology development by controlling laboratories motivated by the prospect of making money (the first vaccine), ego (just being the first), or the desire for a weapon.
Links to selected outside information on this topic:
As of late 2009, I have created a new website on the technological race to human extinction by biotechnology and other mechanisms: www.GAINextinction.com
whereby GAIN = Genetics, Artificial Intelligence, and Nanotechnology.
The links and some of the discussion which previously existed on this page has been moved to that website. (There are many professional studies and articles in the popular media about this topic, and the links previously here were getting a bit old.)