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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.

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The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Men of Steel


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DARPA shares this description of its exoskeleton research:

The goal of the Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation Program is to develop devices and machines that will increase the speed, strength, and endurance of soldiers in combat environments. Projects will lead to self-powered, controlled, and wearable exoskeletal devices and/or machines and demonstrations of their utility in military applications. Inclusion of exoskeleton technology into land-based operations could radically alter the current military doctrine through significant increases in the load-carrying and power deliver capacity of the individual soldier. This technology will extend the mission payload and/or mission range of the soldier and increase the lethality and survivability of ground troops for short-range missions and special operations. Currently the program is evaluating exoskeleton prototypes with the goal of determining the best applications for exoskeleton technology in the near and far terms.
Obviously the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan brought the needs of individual ground troops to the forefront in military planning. Oddly enough, you could argue that the military already uses "power armor" for its individual troops... specifically, vehicles such as F-22s and A-10s. These are, after all, machines that vastly increase the abilities of the lone combatants inside them including their speed of movement, their sensory abilities, their armor and defensive countermeasures and, of course, their capacity for destruction.

But the pressures of special forces anti-terrorism work in general and the Iraq conflict in particular are reminding many observers just how vulnerable the average soldier, Marine, etc actually is, and how much s/he could benefit from a great increase in strength, speed and carrying capacity.

Perhaps you could see this as a natural evolution in how we are adapting to the rigors of modern warfare -- the fact that military conflicts have become too dangerous for ordinary, conventionally equiped humans to survive on the battlefield. Unfortunately, if past arms races are any guide, those battlefields will soon be too dangerous for anyone to survive them. Not a problem so long as those war zones are somehow distant and contained (except that they never are) and the mindless "AI" drones sent out to fight in them are happy with their lot, but not so easily dealt with when the war comes looking for you.

Despite everything we do to armor our soldiers and police, there's a critical mass we'll soon be facing -- a tipping point that hits when enough individuals and institutions know enough to be able to build weapons of mass destruction without significant outside help. A steel or titanium or diamondoid shell won't do much good against a tactical nuke or even a pandemic. (You'll have to leave the armor sometime.) Many of these tools being developed for our next-generation military sound like they'd useful indeed to our next-generation cops -- the people who will have to police terror on many different "battlefields."

These devices -- including exoskeletons, non-lethal weapons and advanced scanners -- could be invaluable in law-enforcement while becoming increasingly futile warfighting tools in a world with many ever-more-advanced and contending military forces. What's the point of bulletproof armor against explosions that can crumple it like tin foil? What's the point of sniffing out explosives when dozens of mini-missles are hurtling toward you at supersonic speeds?

One of our most pressing practical concerns in the coming decades may be to avoid as many such conflicts as possible by reducing the number of potential contenders. In other words, to get as many nations as committed to peace as possible, if only out of self-preservation or socio-economic self-interest, or at least make outright sociopathic governments and organizations as rare as possible before certain technologies become almost as common as the electric toothbrush. I will let others argue the political, economic and/or cultural elements of such a push.

I merely wish to point out what one consequence of ever-advancing technology could be -- a world in which we no longer make war because no one can afford to."

Future Imperative

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