João Pedro de Magalhães
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B-5000 Namur. Belgium.
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Scientist Predicts the End of Privacy in the Next Few Decades

Namur, Belgium - 24/10/02 - A Portuguese scientist argues in the November-December issue of the magazine The Futurist that a decrease in privacy is inevitable in the next few decades as the only way to prevent terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction. João Pedro de Magalhães, microbiologist at the University of Namur in Belgium, points out that technological progress has gradually increased the potential of destruction accessible to individuals or small groups. Science continues to develop weapons of increasing destruction and, more importantly, easier to build. The only way for civilization to survive is to control the actions of each individual and, as such, privacy will fade.

The theory is based on the trend that weapons become increasingly more powerful and accessible. For several decades that humankind has the power to destroy itself through nuclear weapons. Yet the construction of nuclear weapons involves materials, namely radioactive isotopes, that are relatively difficult to obtain. The Portuguese scientist points out that new technologies, such as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, may render the construction of weapons of mass destruction an easy task accessible to any terrorist or serial killer.

One example is nanotechnology, or atomic manipulation, in which countries such as China or the United States invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year. At present, nanotechnology already exists in the cells of all living organisms: proteins such as enzymes are true machines at a molecular level; nanomachines capable of an astonishing variety of chemical reactions. In the same way, for example, catalase can turn hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen, scientists expect to build tailored nanomachines for a variety of functions in a near future--according to some, within the next 20 years. Although nanotechnology can lead to unprecedented progress, it will also allow for the easy construction of weapons of mass destruction. The grey cloud, proposed by Ralph Merkle, is just one example: the idea is to build an enzyme or nanomachine that transforms atmospheric carbon dioxide into graphite. If this nanomachine has the capacity to self-replicate, like bacteria, calculations indicate that in as little as 48 hours earth would be covered by a solid cloud of graphite that would block the sun and destroy civilization. Since, unlike nuclear weapons, nanotechnology is not limited by exotic isotopes but only by knowledge, we can reach an unbearable scenario where a single intelligent person has the power to destroy humankind.

When we cannot control the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the only option is to control the potential users of such weapons. Privacy is destined to disappear under these circumstances since civilization cannot survive in the hypothetical extreme where anyone has the ability to destroy everyone. In addition, power will become more concentrated. Governments and the powerful men in the world will have the temptation to diminish civil liberties and control individual actions even further as a defense against violence. Although unattractive, this is the future predicated by João Pedro de Magalhães, young Portuguese microbiologist currently a doctoral fellow at the University of Namur in Belgium.

For more information:
To obtain the article please contact the World Futurist Society: (The Futurist, November-December issue, pages 41-45).
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