Re: Fears of nanotech

Mike Linksvayer (
Sat, 04 Sep 1999 22:40:45 -0700 wrote:
> Because it's not hard to imagine scenarios with advanced nanotech in which
> one or more Bad Crazies destroy the planet, I share the fairly common fears
> associated with it. However, a point that a couple of experienced defense
> professionals shared with me earlier this year is the fact that there are
> astonishingly few examples of the kind of mass havoc that Bad Crazies could
> be wreaking now with existing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Consider
> the old 1960s scenario of "Charles Manson putting acid in LA's water supply"
> or similar biochemical attacks. The Om Yo Ricio attacks in Japan are the
> only example of a terrorist chemical incident of which I'm aware. Likewise,
> with the dissolution of the old Soviet Union, it seems like a seriously
> committed band of well-financed terrorists ought by now to have been able to
> have gotten a small nuke to use for terrorist purposes.
> State terrorism has also been surprisingly limited. Saddam Hussein COULD
> have used chemical or biological warheads in his SCUDs, but didn't. Hitler
> could have, but didn't use biological or chemical weapons on the battlefield.
> Why?

This has puzzled me for a long time. I hold forth three explanations, all pretty obvious:
1) Anyone "sick" enough to want to carry out a scheme of mass

destruction to completion is also "sick" enough to be incapable of carrying out such a scheme. One could perhaps get some "moral" milage out of correlating these two forms of "sickness".
2) Depending upon how one defines mass destruction, there have

been very few acts of technology-enabled mass destruction in history. People capable of doing anything at all for which there is little precedent are exceedingly rare, so it shouldn't be surprising that nobody has stepped forward to be first. 3) Luck. Or "I'm alive, so of course I'm not in one of those

threads where most people are killed en masse (yet anyway)."

> I don't propose to have an answer for these questions, but they do point to
> some limiting factors that curtail the frequency with which WMDs are used.
> Of course, the problem with advanced nanotech is that it presumably lowers
> the threshold for an isolated Bad Crazy to build a WMD. If it only increases
> the danger by a factor of ten, the effect could be devastating.

On the other hand, one would think that this century's advances in mass destruction technology and individual wealth would have already increased the danger factor by some large factor. Have incidences of crazies killing lots of people increased over the last century (taking into account huge increases in population and much better reporting)?

See From: and Organization: above.