poly: The singleton hypothesis-- military dimensions

From: Carl Feynman <carlf@alum.mit.edu>
Date: Wed May 20 1998 - 08:54:54 PDT

At 08:38 AM 5/19/98 -0700, Peter McCluskey wrote:
> bostrom@ndirect.co.uk ("Nick Bostrom") writes:
>>I think that in a singularity scenario, the leadning force will
>>quickly be so much more advanced than its competitors that it will
>>not really matter that the new war machines haven't been tested in
>>(non-simulated) battle.
> Do you have some reason to believe this? It's sufficiently different
>from what military history suggests that it sounds like wishfull thinking.

Actually, never-before-used weapon systems have often been decisive in
their first use. For example, blitzkreig and the A-bomb. Also the use of
laser-guided bombs against bridges in Vietnam.

Of course, there are also plenty of unsuccessful first uses of new weapon
systems, often because they were not accompanied by correct doctrine. For
example, tanks were used in WWI to little effect, because the officers
commanding them didn't think of having them advance sideways along the
enemy trench line after they had punched a hole in it. Instead, they
puched a hole in the enemy line, and then withdrew and punched a hole
somewhere else the next day.

Let me suggest a method for converting a nanotechnological advantage into a
military one: mass production of extremely potent formerly-expensive
weapons. The technology needed to reliably put a ton of explosive onto any
hectare of the planet has been available for thirty years. But ICBMs are
wicked expensive, so there are only a few thousands of them in the world,
and most of those are nuclear, and thus too scary to use. A similar
argument applies to spy satellites. If a moderately large country, say
France or South Korea, suddenly developed the ability to produce spy
satellites and TNT-tipped ICMBs for ten cents a pound, it could rapidly and
secretly produce a force of millions of missiles guided by thousands of
satellites, and train tens of thousands of people in their use and
maintenance. This would give them offensive and deterrence capability at
least equal to, and arguably greater than, the current superpower, the
United States. Given the 'exemplar molecular manufacturing device'
described by Drexler in 'Nanosystems', it would only take days or weeks to
produce and deploy the system. Planning the deployment and training the
troops would take months, but could be done before the manufacturing.

I specify 'a moderately large country' because a sufficiently small
country, or most subnational entities, wouldn't be able to conceal the
preparation stages long enough.

It's true that this wouldn't give them the ability to win a war with either
of the major nuclear powers, but it seems plausible that in a few years
missile defense will be feasible against isolated missiles, albeit at
enormous expense and less-than-perfect reliability. (see, e.g.,
http://www.lmsw.external.lmco.com/newsbureau/pressreleases/98-30.html) By
duplicating the anti-missile systems sufficiently, you might be able to
survive an all-out nuclear attack by a mere few thousand missiles.

Received on Wed May 20 16:03:22 1998

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