Recent U.S. planning and policy documents foretell "how
wars will be fought in the future," and warn of new or
re-emergent "global peer competitors" in the 2005-2025
time frame. It is generally appreciated that this period will be
characterized by rapid progress in many areas of technology.
However, assembler-based nanotechnology and artificial general
intelligence have implications far beyond the Pentagon's current
vision of a "revolution in military affairs."
Whereas the perfection of nuclear explosives established a
strategic stalemate, advanced molecular manufacturing based on
self-replicating systems, or any military production system fully
automated by advanced artificial intelligence, would lead to
instability in a confrontation between rough equals. Rivals would
feel pressured to preempt, if possible, in initiating a
full-scale military buildup, and certainly not to be caught
behind. As the rearmament reached high levels, close contact
between forces at sea and in space would give an advantage to the
first to strike.
The greatest danger coincides with the emergence of these
powerful technologies: A quickening succession of
"revolutions" may spark a new arms race involving a
number of potential competitors. Older systems, including nuclear
weapons, would become vulnerable to novel forms of attack or
neutralization. Rapidly evolving, untested, secret, and even
"virtual" arsenals would undermine confidence in the
ability to retaliate or resist aggression. Warning and decision
times would shrink. Covert infiltration of intelligence and
sabotage devices would blur the distinction between confrontation
and war. Overt deployment of ultramodern weapons, perhaps on a
massive scale, would alarm technological laggards. Actual and
perceived power balances would shift dramatically and abruptly.
Accompanied by economic upheaval, general uncertainty and
disputes over the future of major resources and of humanity
itself, such a runaway crisis would likely erupt into large-scale
rearmament and warfare well before another technological plateau
International regimes combining arms control, verification and
transparency, collective security and limited military
capabilities, can be proposed in order to maintain stability.
However, these would require unprecedented levels of cooperation
and restraint, and would be prone to collapse if nations persist
in challenging each other with threats of force.
If we believe that assemblers are feasible, perhaps the most
important implication is this: Ultimately, we will need an
integrated international security system. For the present,
failure to consider alternatives to unilateral "peace
through strength" puts us on a course toward the next world
Mark A. Gubrud, University of Maryland Physics Dept. CSR, College
Park, MD 20740, ph: 301-405-7581, fax: 301-314-9541, email: firstname.lastname@example.org