Simanaitis Says

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ON DEADLY ACCESSIBLE TECHNOLOGY

MAYBE CONTRITION prompted Alfred Nobel to devise the Peace Prize. He made a fortune from his 1867 patent for dynamite.

Dynamite. A: absorbent material soaked in nitroglycerin. B: protective casing. C: blasting cap. D: Fuse. Image by Pbroks13.

Nobel’s Blasting Powder was marketed as a safer alternative to black powder, the latter having been invented by the Chinese in the 9th century. Nobel coined the term “dynamite” from the Greek word δύναμις, dýnamis, meaning “power.”

Dynamite was intended for deep-shaft mining and constructing transportation infrastructure. But it didn’t take long for the world’s baddies to find deadly applications.

Deadly Accessibility. Technology in the wrong hands is the theme of a new book, Audrey Kurth Cronin’s Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists. It’s reviewed in the November 15, 2019, issue of Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Here are tidbits gleaned from the Science review and my usual Internet sleuthing.

Audrey Kurth Cronin is Professor of International Security at American University, Washington, D.C., and the Founding Director of the Center for Security, Innovation, and New Technology. The Science review of her book, by George Lucas, is titled “The Deadly Diffusion of Lethal Technologies.”

The Kalashinkov AK-47. Mikhail Kalashinkov’s assault rifle is another example, even more compelling in that it was devised for deadly applications.

The Kalashnikov AK-47. Image from britannica.com.

Lucas notes, “Ridiculed by technological purists for its clunky inaccuracy, the AK-47 nonetheless proved inexpensive, lightweight, easy for untrained troops to operate, and—perhaps most important—extremely durable in the field.”

Easy Kills. This paradox of easily achieved violence defines other problematic technologies: 3D-printed guns, weaponized hobby drones, even viral “fake news.”

Contrast this, for example, with nuclear weapons that require complex infrastructure to get materials, centrifuges for enriching them, and devices for their delivery.

Lucas writes about “the built-in vulnerabilities afforded by the Internet of Things.”

Other Examples. Lucas shares Cronin’s “serious consideration to the chilling potential misuse of artificial intelligence (AI), envisioning, for example, the hacking of a state-owned, AI-driven unmanned aerial vehicle for the purpose of shooting down a commercial aircraft (a scenario initially put forward by Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking). Dissidents might also seek to disrupt autonomous passenger vehicles in large cities, easily causing chaos and casualties.”

Wife Dottie and I recently viewed Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Maybe it’s time to start worrying anew. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

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