By Jeffrey T. Fowler, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, School of Security and Global Studies, American Military University
There are two critical issues that will affect security over the next 20 years, artificial intelligence and bio-engineering (including nanotechnology). First, a few definitions:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI is defined as an algorithm capable of being trained to identify live data and create activity based on that data. AI also has the capability to educate itself and to mature based on associations to which it has been exposed. In short, it is code that writes itself.
The Singularity is defined as that time in the future when the capabilities of humans and those of technology are equal. Inventor and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil refers to the process as the law of accelerating returns. Only the technological singularity and its potential implications are examined in this article.
Bio-engineering is the application of classical engineering to biological systems. The science encompasses elements of engineering design and combines them with rigorous analysis. Biomedical engineering is an important sub-category of bio-engineering.
Nanotechnology can be described as the science of studying very small things and their potential applications across all scientific disciplines.
Chaos theory in mathematics refers to attempts to explain why very simplistic constructs with predictable results sometimes turn out quite differently than expected. In this article, the focus is on how chaos theory is applied to the world and how one seemingly simple environmental change may result in immense and unexpected results. This is sometimes called the “butterfly effect.”
Artificial Intelligence – Will Its Effects be Positive or Negative?
As with most technological change, there are pros and cons about AI. One thing is certain: AI is in its initial stage and will continue to advance over the coming decades. AI forms the basis for the idea of the Singularity. One example of AI today is the smartphone because it uses AI to accomplish its smart functions. Another development is Watson, the supercomputer developed by IBM.
These AI machines:
- Do not need rest or downtime
- They can reduce human risks by assuming dangerous and unhealthy tasks
- There is no interference in the work cycle due to emotional concerns
- Are cost-efficient because they do not need wage and benefit packages
There are also some important negative considerations, primarily that AI will create job loss. This has been a continuing trend since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. AI could, for example, eliminate many of the entry-level jobs that keep young people gainfully employed.
Another concern is AI’s lack of empathy and human concern. It is already irritating to talk to machines that often cannot resolve an issue. In a field like healthcare, AI cannot empathize with a patient or family members.
The increasing use of AI might accelerate the current loss of important information due to hacking or machine damage. Finally, while it might seem fantastic, there is a potential that sentient machines may one day choose to make decisions on their own. Sound impossible? So did the personal computer and smartphone not so long ago.
The Potential Effects of the Singularity
The Singularity has been predicted for several years. The possibility of its arrival has been welcomed by some and feared by others. Ray Kurzweil, the director of Engineering at Google, suggested that the Singularity could occur as early as 2045. Obviously, that is merely the prediction of a well-known futurist. Any number of factors could affect that prediction or even cause the chances of it happening to lessen or be eliminated altogether.
Most would agree that technology is both a blessing and a curse. While technology has prolonged lives and restored or replaced limbs, it has also been used to create bombs and enhance the global reach of terrorism. The following is a brief overview of the technologies associated with the Singularity.
Bio-engineering certainly holds great promise for medical research. There is a possibility bio-engineering can reduce diseases in children, adults and fetuses. It can also be used in attempts to increase the human lifespan. On the negative side, bio-engineering raises ethical questions. Some critics call it playing God. Since human understanding is imperfect, bio-engineering might produce genetic defects and reduce the gene pool. The increasing use of bio-engineering raises the question whether it will be abused and go too far? Knowing human nature, it is safe to say bio-engineering will certainly be used for good and for evil.
There are many potential uses for nanotechnology in healthcare and medicine. Nanotechnology permits tiny machines to be injected into diseased human bodies to repair damage from the inside. They might also repair broken machines or search out and solve problems in hazardous environments.
An example of nanotechnology use in ophthalmology: Retinal diseases have traditionally been virtually impossible to reverse. The development of a nano-retina now holds the promise of restoring sight in some cases of blindness. Another interesting application of nanotechnology is to fight infections. There has been great concern in recent decades that the effectiveness of antibiotics is weakening. Conversely, the so-called “superbugs” that are highly resistant to many antibiotics are increasing. Could nanotechnology replace antibiotics? It is an exciting possibility.
On the flip side, technology could be used for political assassinations, crime and terrorism. Even the Rand Corporation looked into the “dark side of technology.”
In military terms, the U.S. Air Force has designed Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) with the clear potential to protect service members. ) MAVs are tiny devices built to resemble the shapes of natural winged creatures like birds or insects. They protect by acting as virtually invisible scouts or spies that can reconnoiter an area and pass intelligence to human patrols or intelligence agencies. They can be used to perform crowd surveillance.
In the civilian sector, they may be incorporated into a facility’s security system or a private residence to provide real-time security data to the occupants or security staff. One might even envision a tiny MAV released to provide a warning of danger to a jogger starting out on an evening run in a park. MAVs could also be employed by adversaries or criminals for a variety of actions, from assassinations to surveillance to determine when a residence is empty and vulnerable to theft.
Chaos theory is both a mathematical construct and a process that can be applied to the human experience and the future. Chaos theory holds that many of the world’s greatest achievements have been accomplished when humanity is on the precipice of catastrophe.
This is often true when nations are at war. Consider how the airplane and radar emerged from WWI and WWII. Radar forms the basis of the microwave oven. This is but one example of many. It is very interesting to contemplate how chaos theory might apply to the Singularity and its effects. Humans have become more aware of the complexity and linkages between natural and artificial systems. These interactions may result in unpredictable outcomes both positive and negative.
What conclusions can we draw? The first conclusion is that we must understand the flawed nature of our species. One person might use the Singularity and associated technologies for the betterment of the species; another might see these systems as tools of war to be used for repression and manipulation. Just consider how a future Hitler or Pol Pot might use some of this knowledge.
The world stands at the edge of a new and emerging reality. It is up to each of us to manage those tools responsibly.
About the Author
Jeffrey T. Fowler, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Security and Global Studies at American Military University. He is an Assistant Editor for the International Journal of Risk and Contingency Management (IJRCM). He holds a B.A. in law enforcement from Marshall University, an M.A. in military history from Vermont College of Norwich University and a Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in criminal justice from Northcentral University. Jeffrey is also a published author, a former New York deputy sheriff and a retired Army officer, having served over 20 years in the U.S. Army. He and his wife reside in Missouri.