Another far-fetched idea or the future of warfare?
Before we can look at the possibility of nanoweapons, we have to understand exactly what nanotechnology is. In short, it’s a kind of hybrid science that combines engineering and chemistry to build “structures” at a molecular level. (For more detailed explanation, I heartily recommend reading the nanotechnology node.) Anyway, some scientists believe that within the next couple of decades, the possibility might exist to build what are being called “self- replicating assembler” or robotic systems that could be programmed to build (or destroy) just about any structure. It would be accomplished through the precise placement of individual atoms and a little hardwiring..
So what’s that got to do with war?
How would you like to build a “gun” that can aim itself? Or, how about building surveillance devices and/or weapons of sabotage that look like your normal everyday bird or insect? Still not satisfied, how about that instead of dropping weapons from the sky, we make weapons that can burrow under the earth to reach their target? Scary huh?
Well, recent advances in the field of nanotechnology might make these and other more unpleasant scenarios a distinct possibility. Scientists have theorized that a nanoweapon would consist of a bunch of “nanomachines”. These tiny machines would act like little robots that have something in common with both you and I. They would be capable of replicating themselves by using the resources they gathered from the environment. In simpler terms it means you cannot freakin’ kill the damn things.
One might argue that the size of these nanoweapons would be so small as to be insignificant. After all, it would take a shitload of precisely placed atoms to make even the smallest nanoweapon a viable threat.
For those of you who believe that, I got one word for you. Bacteria. Yep, that tiny little organism that has inflicted plague upon plague and accounted for the deaths of more human beings than we can ever hope to inflict upon ourselves.
We’re probably all familiar in some way or another about the threat that biological warfare might have on each and every one us. Therein lies the problem. Biological warfare is indiscriminate. In sufficient doses, it will kill or incapacitate anything that gets in its path. Now, imagine if you will that you were able to “program” or “target” this bacteria to attack a certain culture, crop, material, or even individual or structure within a given area?. Sounds too good to be true huh?
I don’t know what would happen to the nanoweapon once it had accomplished its task. How strong would its survival instinct be? Would it die or would it turn to other similar “targets” in order to survive? This is where the gray goo and/or the blue goo theory comes into play.
Simply put, the self-replicating nature of nanomachines would cause them to devour everything in its path thereby leaving nothing (and I mean nothing!) to survive in its wake. They would be the only things left.
Many folks have argued that so-called conventional warfare leaves nothing but a path of destruction. Nuclear war, in addition to the carnage it would cause, also has the added benefit of placing contamination to the equation. The long-term effects of chemical warfare are too hard to predict and also add contamination to the equation. Proponents of nanoweapons make their case by stating that the use of nanomachines/weapons would not have the inherent destructive nor contaminative effects upon our lives and the landscape. These proponents theorize that they could even prove beneficial if one was able to “program” or hardwire these nanoweapons to build new things with the matter they have destroyed.
Don’t get me wrong, I trust technology and science as much as the next person but I can’t fathom the implications of an experiment in which nanoweapons have gone awry. When it comes to warfare, no matter how primitive and horrible it seems, I’ll take my chances on what we have today.