Nanotechnology researchers continue their relentless journey to develop nanobots and they are succeeding. Nanomedicine is using nanobots to cure to cancer. Military nanotechnologies, especially nanobots, will emerge as the defining weapons of the twenty first century.
The United States military already deploys nanoweapons, such as nanotechnology based lasers, toxic nanoparticles, nanoparticle catalysts, and nano electronics. These nanoweapons give the United States significant capabilities in asymmetrical warfare. However, the US military’s greatest quest is the development of nanobots, tiny robots built with nanotechnology.
What is it about nanobots that make them the ideal weapons? Let us address this question by taking several examples. About a third of all US fighter planes today are drones. Today’s drones are approximately one-third the size of a manned fighter jet, like the F-35. However, a new class of drones is in development, bird and even insect size drones. For example, in 2014, the Army Research Laboratory announced the creation of a “fly drone” weighing only a small fraction of a gram. This drone could conceivable fly into an adversary’s command post and provide surveillance or into the adversary’s dining area to deposit a nano poison. An insect fly drone provides the military with both surveillance and assignation capabilities. This gives a completely new meaning to “fly on the wall.”
As electronic processors shrink into the nanoscale, becoming nanoprocessors, about 1/1000 the diameter of a human hair, conceivably they could provide the fly drone with artificial intelligence. In effect, it could autonomously carry out its programmed mission.
You may wonder, How does all of this threaten human extinction? To address this question, imagine a scenario where the US military releases millions of artificially intelligent fly drones within an adversary’s boarders, programmed to target the populace via commonalities in their DNA. If each fly drone had the capability to assassinate a few people, conceivably they could wipe out an entire nation.
Although this may sound like science fiction, the United States is within a decade of having the capability. The US Army is already testing a fly drone. As for poisons, as little as 100 nano grams of botulism H will kill a human. That quantity of poison is too small to see or taste, yet lethal and small enough for a fly drone to carry. In my book, Nanoweapons: A Growing Threat To Humanity, I classify this type of weapon as a strategic nanoweapon. This classification parallels strategic nuclear weapons that have the capability to destroy nations.
While artificially intelligent insect drones are already a scary proposition, the next step in their development is even more frightening, namely self-replicating insect drones, or more generically self- replicating nanobots. Given the exponential advance in nano electronics and artificial intelligence, characterized by Moore’s law, it is likely we will see the emergence of self-replicating nanobots in the 2050s.
Self-replicating nanobots are the ultimate invention. In medicine, they will flow through our blood preventing diseases and curing injuries. In military applications, they will have the capability to completely destroy an adversary, from its populace to its structures. This scenario was depicted in the sci-fi movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Strategic nanoweapons, like their nuclear counterparts, pose a threat to humanity. The major issue is control. Will we be able to deploy strategic nanoweapons and maintain control over them? If, for example, we lost control of self-replicating nanobots, we would face a technological plague, one that we currently have no way of stopping.
In a decade, we will see the emergence of nanobots. In medicine, they will cure cancer. In warfare, they may kill millions. In the 2050s, we will see the emergence of self-replicating nanobots. In medicine, they will offer immortality. In warfare, they will pose a threat to humanity.