In the Future: Death from the Commons
Today we can safely travel around the world, by air, sea, rail, and highway. We can breathe the common air, eat the common food, and often drink the common drinks, taking only the merest of precautions. As long as we follow a few basic rules we can go almost anywhere on the planet. But traveling freely around the world through common spaces may become a thing of the past, if autonomous robots acquire lethal talents. Consider the lowly slaughterbot:
The basic autonomous miniaturised slaughterbot is undergoing a number of evolutionary improvements in targeted lethality. The video above provides a brief glimpse at one type of slaughterbot. But ever newer, stealthier, and more subtly lethal forms of slaughterbots are being developed every day. They are used for reconnaissance but also increasingly as weapons and delivery systems for lethal weapons systems.
Precautionary assumptions when faced with the disruption of the future commons by slaughterbots:
Governments will mass produce lethal micro-drones to use them as weapons of mass destruction;
There are no effective defenses against lethal micro-drones;
Governments are incapable of keeping military-grade weapons out of the hands of terrorists;
Terrorists are capable of launching large-scale coordinated attacks.
Are these assumptions realistic? Not at this time. But technologies of biowar, chemwar, nanowar, and other do-it-yourself wars are evolving rapidly. Ignore them at your own risk.
Evolution of the Commons: From Pristine Yesteryears to Nightmare Tomorrows
Commons of Christmas Past
The pristine Earth of the hunter gatherer tribes provided clean air, water, game, and forage. Most known enemies were large and mean, although natural microbes cut a wide swathe through the young and the old. In general, air was safe the breathe, water to drink, and food to eat. Traveling in the open deep into another tribe’s territory might be hazardous to one’s health, but in general it was safe to move about in the open within one’s own tribal lands.
Commons of Christmas Present
In modern cities, air may smell of exhaust fumes and water taste of chemical additives, but both are generally safe to consume. Food is sold in open markets and stores, with common access to products. Open movement through most parts of the city is considered safe — and public services are widely available — such as public transport, EMS, libraries, and many other types of services within the “commons”.
Commons of Christmas Future
In the Earth of the future, it is conceivable that common lands might fall prey to blights of various types — including deadly chemicals, and microbes engineered to extinguish large numbers of animal and plant species. In such future commons, life in the open without biohazard, chemhazard and other types of protection may be impossible. Humans may need to live in sealed underground habitats. Air and water would be heavily filtered and treated, while clean food would be produced at great energy and facilities cost compared with modern food growing methods.
Face the Future with Open Eyes
Killer automatons of all scales and sizes are coming, like it or not. Many of these will likely incorporate features that allow them to target specific individuals, or particular groups or occupations of people. Therefore we must be ready for them. In the same way that intelligent individuals learn armed and unarmed self defence against conventional attacks, so will wise people develop ways of evading or destroying autonomous and piloted weapons drones of various sizes and types.
There are no shortages of advanced bioweapons, chemical weapons, and nuclear weapons, of course. Russia, for example, has almost certainly maintained huge stockpiles of highly lethal bioweapons. More. And under the mantle of bioweapons defence, western scientists are once again beginning to develop lethal variants of common microbes.
When one combines lethal bioweapons or chemweapons with stealthy autonomous delivery swarms, the Twelve Monkeys scenario becomes eerily plausible. Suddenly the commons as we know it would be destroyed. In the Twelve Monkeys world, the common spaces of the relatively few survivors were depressing, cramped, stinking places.
Hope for the Best. Prepare for the Worst.
It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood.
Note: There is a good deal of satirical paranoia incorporated into the above post. Yet in today’s world, the line between satire and reality is growing perilously thin. Watch the horizon and keep your feet quick and nifty.