A Plan for Victory: Part I (Problem Statement)
When people on the web talk about plans for victory, lately, they mostly seem to mean victory in Iraq -- that's the War, for them. Not for me; I'm concerned with the Long War. This post is mostly a response to Tom Barnett's second book, Blueprint for Action, a book which I think is very interesting, very insightful, but less than completely convincing. Rather than a review or a direct commentary, I'm just putting my own mistakes on record. Here's the way I see it.
We're not in trouble yet. 3000 dead American civilians; 3000 dead American soldiers; maybe half a million or so dead Iraqis (maybe many more, maybe many less, but a lot.) Armed Liberal points out the Jerusalem Post report that
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported this month that at least 914,000 Iraqis have left their homes....The situation is bad. Still, I don't think we're in trouble yet. Trouble is when we have half a million or so dead Americans and a tens of millions dead around the world. Big trouble is lots, lots worse than that. You don't think it can happen? You think terrorism is an overhyped nuisance? Well, I sort of agree: it can't happen now, at least I don't think so, and terrorism now is in some ways an overhyped nuisance. I'm talking about a timeframe that probably doesn't start for ten years, and might not start for thirty. But it will start. In the thirty-one years since I started working on my PhuD in computer science, Moore's Law has increased computer bang-for-the-buck by a factor of approximately one million: 20 doublings. People haven't changed. In the next thirty years, technology will go on getting more so, and up to a point (past which I have no predictions) people will go on not changing. That's the problem.
In the CNC world, proliferation becomes a matter of design, software, and materials, rather than finished systems. What happens when North Korea or Iran starts selling missiles as digital files rather than on ships which can be intercepted? When private designers and companies create designs which anyone can produce? Two words: Watch out.
Of course I'm not just concerned with designer bombs or missiles, even the nuclear kind; we also have designer diseases coming down the pipeline. I assume that you'd have trouble getting smallpox replicated by DNA 2.0 Inc., which advertises
DNA 2.0 Inc. is a leading provider for synthetic biology. With our gene synthesis process you can get synthetic DNA that conforms exactly to your needs, quickly and cost effectively.
Well, I hope they'd be reluctant. But in fact I'm expecting that somewhere early in that ten-to-thirty year period it will be possible for a Kim or a Khameini to generate fun crossbreeds of smallpox and influenza with very high mortality rates (and enough variation in the crossbreeds to make it unlikely that any single vaccine, or even any dozen vaccines, will do much good). Later on in the development, we'll see privately owned prototyping/fabrication labs which can generate robots far beyond the levels discussed by Defense Tech: Attack Of The Genius Robot Cockroach Swarm:
are we really ready for killer robots yet? “There is a reluctance to entrust lethal missions to autonomous robots,” says Thaler. “However, the bad guys may not share the same reservations. The escalation is inevitable."
My own imaginings have less to do with killer robots; killer robots have to work against opposition, under high-stress conditions that can't easily be simulated or tested out in secret. Killer robots will come gradually from testing out developments like Samsung's $200K machine-gun sentrybots. The most effective secret developments will be systems whose high-tech components have to do with production rather than combat, so they can be debugged without bangs. There will be swarms of robot miner-fish, for example, collecting uranium ore from undersea sites, and then other swarms which build nuclear and thermonuclear bombs -- 1950s technology. We're moving that way already: Winds of Change reports on "Fibonacci's Nukes" as The Road to Atomic Perdition:
In Britain's The Times Online, Richard Beeston reports that 4-6 Arab states announced that they were embarking on programs to master atomic technology...
Well, maybe we'll have killer robots too, created by robot fablabs, but here I'm concentrating on things which we know can be done because they have been done already; I'm just saying they'll be done more cheaply, by small groups, hiding in what Tom Barnett calls the "Gap": countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, Burma and North Korea, and so on and on and on. The Gap is a big hiding place. Barnett's Gap is basically defined in terms of disconnectedness (and recent military events) which more or less automatically makes it a big hiding place. My view of the Gap is slightly fuzzier -- I see corruption, authoritarianism, and kleptocracy as providing Gapacity even where we have not lately been shooting people. So I'm a bit more worried about Russia and China (and the US, for that matter) than Barnett is. Still, I'm much less worried about Russia and China than about Iran. Barnett wants to deal with Iran, saying essentially that Iran should
abandon terrorism and their support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, shut down the nuclear-weapons program, and then the West will treat Iran as a strategic partner in the region.
Unfortunately that's not a quote from Barnett; it's a quote from the conservative Captain's Quarters blog, which continues with
That's hardly a policy shift -- it's the carrot we've been offering Iran for years.
Barnett knows that, but I don't see that he really deals with it; [update he wants to accept Iran's inevitable nuclearization, which I see as accepting an inevitable nuclear arms race within the Middle East to be followed by inevitable nuclear, umm, incidents.] His interpretation seems to be that the Iranian government is basically rational, and can be dealt with by improved connectivity in itself. I believe that he's overestimating the rationality of the human animal -- himself and me definitely included. Barnett notes the triumph of South Vietnam:
North Viet Nam has won the war, and Saigon the peace ! ... Our stuff simply sells.
Yes, that's true, if you remember that a non-nuclear North Vietnam needed a couple of million boat people and hundreds of thousands (millions?) dead in order to finally close the deal. Iran in the immediate future will have far greater (nuclear) destructive power, far greater (oil) wealth to spread its destruction, and an arguably far more destructive ideology, one that glorifies death rather than wealth. Closing the deal with Iran will not be impossible (I hope), just proportionately more expensive. Our stuff simply sells -- but some who are exposed to Western culture, well-educated within that culture, simply feel alienated by it. Call them sales-resistant, because they've been sold on something else. As Tawfik Hamid points out,
There are millions of passive supporters of terror who may be poor and needy but most of those who do the killing are wealthy, privileged, educated and free.
And yet -- we're still not in trouble, yet. [upd And the solution is definitely connectivity.] I'm not that far from Barnett.
I consider big trouble, cataclysmically big trouble, to be essentially inevitable -- unless the Gap is gone. If the Gap is gone, if the Core includes the whole world, then the problem reduces to a nuisance where we clarify the relationship between liberty and privacy, and we lose some privacy so that groups of bad guys get caught before they do bad things. Technology can do that, with help from the law. (Maybe I mean the law can do that, with help from technology? Something like that.) This will not create a utopia: civil libertarians will fuss, and they'll be right to. There will be lots of nuisances, including people killing people. Overall, however, it will be survivable. That will be victory. That victory is what we need a plan for. The Gap has to go, being replaced with free minds and free markets. (No, I'm not a libertarian.)
We don't need all countries to be democratic, although we might get that. We do need governments which are moderately transparent, moderately consensual, moderately willing to back off from private lives and even property. If we get them we're sort of okay; we can move on towards some version of a Singularity. If we don't get them, I expect big trouble in less than thirty years, less than the next millionfold improvement in computer power. Maybe a lot less than thirty years. Hmmm -- I'm fifty-four, my grandparents all died in their eighties. My youngest child is ten.
Update: I see I was quoting the more aggressive version of Moore's Law: 18-month doubling. I should have used the 24-month, which is a mere 32,000-fold increase in 30 years. So far as I can tell, this makes no difference to anything else I was saying.