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The Tiny Army - Vinay Gupta

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.


In the end, there were only seven of us in the army. Harald built the lab, Frieda and Alok manufactured or bought the reagents, Ali designed the distribution systems and Micky selected the targets. Sweet, brilliant Chen built the humanitarian pandemic organism. I did logistics and communications, so that the others never had to meet. I don't run the errands myself, of course. There's a rather good underground syndicate that trades routine favors on deliveries and such, like using smurfs, and generally if you generate a bit of noise on the network, they're reliable. Of course, it would be easier in a corporate lab if we were engineering sterile mosquitos or enslaving cotton farmers, but we're not. We're working on a final solution to the ills of humanity.



We're going to kill all the alpha males.

The rising destructive power of small groups is one of the biggest worries of national security types. The "force multiplier" effect of weapons has increased to the point where ten men can paralyze a city, and fifty can execute terrorist attacks that cost a trillion dollars to repair. As technology delivers longer and longer levers, the ability of a small group to render immense harm has increased. A single person, if they were a skilled virus author, could paralyze large parts of the internet.

When you add biotechnology to this equation, things darken dramatically. Rumors have circulated for years about nations, such as Israel, researching gene-specific bioweapons — because to defend against a genetic final solution, one would have to know if one was possible.

What to do? What to do? Are we to have Science Police who intrude into every aspect of life looking for the technical capability to kill? Perhaps compulsory mental screening, but then what to do with the numerous people who might, but never do? At fifteen, how do you tell Lex Luthor from Luther Burbank?

Like all wicked problems, it is going to take many approaches combined to get a lid on small group power. Some loss of civil liberties for those working in dangerous areas is inevitable - those with advanced knowledge of how to do dangerous things are going to have to become socialized to heightened personal surveillance and occasional mental health screening. A licensing approach to these technologies is not the whole answer, but an acceptance that working with them makes you a risk to the world and gives the world the right to scrutinize seems necessary. It is one of the few areas where enhanced transparency solves many problems.

The most dangerous actors will still be profit-seeking corporations. The people who are crazy enough to want to kill the world are usually too ineffective to do it. But the corporate psychopath, seeking profit above all other goals, is sleek and well-organized, and willing to run this year's risks for next year's profits. We must open the labs to inspections, as we do for weapons testing, but to free us from the risk of regulatory capture those inspections must have tight public oversight.

The final guard is that the violent reformers, generally speaking, are trying to kill their way to a better world. In a twisted way, they value life and quality of life. Few of the most dangerous people operate out of hatred. Rather, it is the vision of the better future that guides them.

As a result, there may be a certain self-correcting aspect to small group destructive power. People who are resorting to violence to change the world do not want it destroyed. Perhaps we will find that even the most violent of extremists shy away from deploying self-replicating weaponry, be it bio or nano in nature, because of the risk it will destroy what they only wished to improve.

This is scant hope, but it is all I have for you.