Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Brief thoughts after reading Military Nanotechnology

I just got through reading Military Nanotechnology: Potential Applications and Preventive Arms Control by Jürgen Altmann (

This book covers a lot of ground. It discusses what sorts of research projects are being done worldwide (mostly in the US, mostly military funded (though a lot medically motivated and funded)) on nanotechnology, how much money is being spent on them, and lists specific technologies that are on the horizon for 5-20 years or longer. It also discusses the challenges/benefits of molecular nanotechnology. It's amazing how close to reality sci-fi can be...

Perhaps the most interesting section of the book breaks down and evaluates military applications under the criteria of preventive arms control. Broadly, there are three categories:

Effective arms control, disarmament, and international law; Maintain and improve stability; Protect humans, environment, and society.

The applications include, again broadly:

Electronics, photonics, magnetics; Computers, communication; Software/artificial intelligence; Materials; Energy sources, energy storage; Propulsion; Vehicles; Propellants and explosives; Camouflage; Distributed sensors (Generic, Battlefield, Treaty verification); Armor, protection; New conventional weapons (Metal-less arms, Small guidance, Armor piercing, Small missiles); Soldier systems; Implanted systems, body manipulation; Autonomous systems (Unarmed, Armed); Mini-/micro-robots incl. bio-technical hybrids (No weapon function, Target beacon/armed); Small satellites/space launchers; Nuclear weapons (Auxiliary systems, Computer modelling, Very small weapons); New chemical weapons; New biological weapons; Chemical/biological protection/neutralization.

Happily, most of these likely military NT advances are neutral or only slightly dangerous in the categories of arms control, except the subarea of stability that involves arms races and proliferation for pretty much everything. There is the suggestion that a country might not want to develop certain technologies because that would incite others to do so as well, and that just increases the likelihood that a terrorist group would get a hold of any of them. Another exception is that new chemical and biological weapons are all-around dangerous. The author has a lot to say about how to effectively have preventive arms control depending on the area of technology and the area of control. There is no need for pessimism all around, especially because there is precedent with biological warfare bans etc. However the book does recommend a complete ban on small arms, light weapons, and munitions that contain no metal. I think this is interesting in that in the US at least, 3D printing has made possible such weaponry, and the State seems to have no interest in shutting it down. (And by now it may be too late.) I think the US's history of individualism and its present state of government dysfunction (in all areas, but particularly in law enforcement) will create a lot of problems for control in the civilian sector. It doesn't even have to be NT, it could be standard microsystems technology (MST) that has become such a commodity as the case has become for 3D printing, robotic parts, and powerful microcontrollers.

Molecular nanotech is on a completely different playing field. Fortunately it's still far out, but as it becomes more feasible, there is a huge incentive to be the first entity to build and control a universal molecular assembler or in general self-replicating devices. Arms control over this seems unlikely.

The author did a talk a while back that I think is a nice prelude to the specifics found in the book:

Posted on 2013-09-02 by Jach

Tags: books, government, nanotech


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