Human beings are an odd species. For all of our capacity for logic, we are so often less rational than far less intelligent creatures. There is genius at work in the human race, twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year. Somewhere, right now, one of us is changing the world with a discovery or invention or epiphany that somebody else will make look insignificant with some other discovery a few minutes from now. And yet…
You know it’s true. I mean, look at what we eat and how hard we fight to convince each other that it’s really fine to put the stuff into our bodies that we do. I’m craving some cookies right now.
But if there’s one thing we’re better at than creating food-stuff that is both tasty and potentially deadly, it’s inventing technologies with a high probability of destroying us. Some of those technologies might only kill some of us, while others are introduced to the world with the full knowledge that they have the capacity to bring about the end of the human race. Oh, humans, what nonsensical beasts.
Without further ado, and without even mentioning nuclear weapons or power plants (the possibility those might kill us is old news!), I present: Nine Technologies That Will Probably Kill Us All.
(Hey, it’s a better title than Nine Technologies, Some of Which Will Kill Some of Us and Others of Which Might Kill Most or All of Us.)
In my novel TIN MEN, the drones are remotely piloted robot soldiers, but we don’t have to wait for that technology for drones to start killing people. We also don’t have to be at war or even focus on military action for drones to be used to take human life. Military drones have been used to kill enemy combatants for years and countless civilian casualties have resulted. But what will the future bring, now that ordinary citizens around the world are acquiring drones of their own, flying them onto the White House lawn or hovering them outside neighbors’ bedroom windows (with cameras running)? As the tech improves and drones become increasingly available and numerous, they will doubtless be relied upon even more by the military and, likely, by police forces in the U.S. and abroad. In time, drones will be programmed to operate autonomously, both for surveillance and to take specific action. Regardless of how well programmed those drones may be, there will be the possibility of malfunction, and a malfunction in an armed drone or multiple armed drones could be disastrous. But let’s take that one step further…drones have proven they can go places people cannot easily access, and there’s no reason to think those same drones couldn’t be outfitted with explosives or, perhaps worse, biological weapons. Cheery thought, no?
Recent strides in molecular biology have made it possible to synthesize and assemble various fragments of DNA with predetermined sequences. Given that the DNA sequences of several deadly, infectious diseases are well documented amongst the scientific community, it would not be particularly challenging for enterprising biologists, either for their own purposes or under pressure from their government or some terrorist organization, to recreate samples of smallpox or polio. From scratch. Let that sink in for a moment. They won’t need to steal a sample of the deadly virus if they can just cook it up in a lab.
Perhaps you’ve seen the recent reports that a computer artificial intelligence had solved a biological mystery more than a century old—on its own. Pop culture is riddled with instances of fictional AI’s attacking and/or eradicating the human race, from 2001 to The Terminator to a thousand science fiction novels. But when Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and many of the world’s other leading scientists are telling the public that we should be terrified of the consequences of the development of true artificial intelligence, you would think that the world would listen. Oddly—or perhaps not for the peskily illogical human race—no one seems to be paying attention. Considering the rapid increase in computational power and the prospect of quantum computing, it’s all but certain that general AI will be achieved within a few decades. What happens then is anyone’s guess.
This term refers to artificial attempts at manipulating the Earth’s climate. Various nations—the U.S. included—have been attempting to figure out how to control the weather for a number of reasons, including as a weapon, for generations. How much success they’ve had is a debate usually restricted to conspiracy theorists, but a little research on HAARP (the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) turns up a confirmation from the U.S. Air Force that the military has been engaged in efforts to control the weather, though not an admission that there is a weapons-agenda behind it. Methods of preventing storms and of causing them have been developed and implemented for various purposes over the years. Technology is now being developed that will draw water out of the air to be used for irrigation and, of course, drinking, but geoengineering is a moving forward, with the intent to affect the world on a global scale. Early attempts will likely revolve around curtailing or reversing the impact of global warming, but it’s not unthinkable that scientists might then move on to further manipulate the planet in hopes of improving its overall climate. While success would offer great rewards, errors could have catastrophic results like those seen in the film Snowpiercer. (Start building your constant-motion, self-sustaining train-bound community now!)
NAVAL LASER WEAPONS SYSTEMS
Within the next year or two, the navy will begin outfitting a number of its ships with the LaWS (Laser Weapons System). LaWS is designed to precisely target enemy missiles and detonate them before they reach their targets. It can also be used as an offensive weapon against small aircraft. And let’s be honest…if they can mount a laser on a ship and use it to shoot down an airplane, what’s to prevent lasers being mounted on airplanes and being used to attack ships, or targets on the ground?
KINETIC ORBITAL STRIKES
Once upon a time, President Ronald Reagan’s signature military stratagem was a little thing called “Star Wars” (named after the movie, because what isn’t fun about putting massive weapons arrays in orbit so you can blow the crap out of whomever you like, whenever you like?). The plan called for the military to launch satellites capable of firing missiles at targets on Earth. The concept of kinetic orbital strikes also originated, unsurprisingly, under Reagan. The basic idea was to construct an orbital platform that would launch simple rods of tungsten toward targets on the planet’s surface. The kinetic energy that the rod would build up as it descended toward the Earth would deliver a concussive force on the level of a small nuclear warhead, but it would produce no nuclear fallout, and it would be almost impossible to stop. We can’t get the funding together to fix the thousands of bridges threatening to collapse beneath motorists’ vehicles any day now, but if the right enemy presented themselves, Congress might find a way to scrape together the budget for a kinetic orbital assault platform. Or Reagan’s original Star Wars project (the Strategic Defense Initiative), or, hey…why not the navy’s LaWS weapons, only targeting shifting Earthbound targets from space? Once we have functional lasers in use by the military, isn’t it only a matter of time before Reagan’s dream is resurrected in some form or another?
I know, I know, this isn’t as sexy or as Hollywood-blockbuster-ready as some of the other techs we’ve discussed, but…shudder. It’s equally terrifying. Perhaps more so. While antibiotics have saved countless lives since their discovery in the twentieth century, pathogenic bacteria are rapidly evolving resistances to many of our antibiotics. Recent MRSA outbreaks in California demonstrate the danger of such evolved bacteria. Already, many infections treated by antibiotics have mutated, making the antibiotics less effective or completely ineffective. Antibiotic-immune bacteria have spurred a research boom, with scientists racing to develop the next generation of antibiotics before the current generation has lost all effectiveness.
BLACK HOLE ENERGY SOURCES
This concept pretty much speaks for itself. Scientist have theorized the use of stable, miniaturized black holes as a source of power. The only problem is that, after a certain amount of time, such black holes would become unstable, and they would detonate, engulfing the entire planet. So there’s that.
While advanced nanotechnology has the capacity to cure every human disease and even to extend our lifespans indefinitely through repairs made at the molecular level, malfunctions in nanobots could have profoundly dangerous consequences. Nanobots could be programmed to kill bacteria and viruses to sterilize a surgical surface, but, instead, they might become confused and kill all life forms that they come into contact with. We’d have almost no way to protect ourselves. And, of course, nearly every technology is bound to eventually be used for two purposes—porn and murder. So nanobot assassins aren’t just a Hollywood executive’s dream.
And there you have it. Nine Technologies That Will Probably Kill Us All.
Now be good humans and forget all about them. Go watch TV or eat something deliciously bad for you.
Better yet…read a book.
TIN MEN’s out now. Get it while you’ve still got time.
–Special thanks to Daniel Golden for his research assistance