The end of the world — or at least humanity’s place in the scheme of things — may come before the end of the century at the hands — or feet, claws, pincers — of robots. Tiny robots. Think terminator machines that resemble insects. According to one expert, human extinction might arrive before the year 2100 and insect-sized robots equipped with nanoweapons could easily be the cause.
Physicist Louis del Monte has envisioned such a future — or soon-to-be lack thereof — for the human race if weapons smaller than a strand of human hair — called “nanoweapons” — are allowed to proliferate in what he says could become the world’s most deadly arms race. As CNBC reported recently, in his new book, Nanoweapons: A Growing Threat To Humanity, it could get worse. The author predicts nanobots, or extremely tiny robots constructed through nanotechnology (technology so small it is measured on a scale of nanometers, where one nanometer is roughly smaller than the width of molecule of human DNA), will soon be developed — and be weaponized.
To gain perspective on the nanotechnology slide to the end of the world, note that a nanoweapon deployed aboard an insect robot could be delivered just about anywhere. This type of delivery system could be used to poison people and contaminate food and water supplies. And a bomb weighing about five pounds could fit into something wallet-sized, be easily transported and deposited at or near most targets.
The existence of these types of weapons will likely prompt world governments to invest and compete in a nanoweapons arms race.
“Nanoweapons are the most likely military weapons to render humanity extinct in this century,” del Monte writes. “This is not a philosophical issue. This is about whether you and yours will survive through this century.”
And if a future of nanoweapons proliferation is a scary enough scenario, de Monte predicts that nanoweapons will likely be available to terrorists in about a decade or so on the black market. Imagine a terrorist or hostile government agency with a dragonfly or spider robot whose intent is assassination, or a suicide bomber armed with a five-pound nuclear explosive device — a “mini-nuke” — that could level a building. Such incidents could lead to irreparable diplomatic harm and escalating tensions to the point of nuclear war.
“Nanobots are the real concern about wiping out humanity because they can be weapons of mass destruction,” del Monte says. “This is not a philosophical issue. This is about whether you and yours will survive through this century.”
Nanobots are at the top of the list of possible causes for human extinction, del Monte says, noting that the causes most think of, like asteroid strikes and or a super-volcano eruption, are calculated at one in 50,000 or so. Nanobots score a one in 20 chance of eliminating humanity.
According to the Daily Mail, the Global Catastrophic Risk Conference at the University of Oxford first predicted the rise of nanotechnology to lethal levels, saying in 2008 that molecular nanotechnology was one of the most likely methods by which humans would be exterminated in the future.
The author says that a nanotechnology arms race is already underway.
“The superpowers of the future will be those nations with the most capable nanoweapons.”
A report by Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency warned in 2010 that living insects could become weaponized biological warfare agents. It was also warned that the small nanobots could become offensive weapons themselves in that their size could allow them to be breathable. And then there are the nanobots that could double as deadly micro-explosives.
Still, del Monte says that mini-nuclear weapons might not spell the end of humanity, but if millions of “smart” nanobots were lost or were free of controlling restraints, they could become an indiscriminate killing force. They would be the technological equivalent of a biological weapon, a technological pandemic.
Humans being wiped out by robots is and has been a common theme in apocalyptic science fiction. But humanity falling to the machines might not come in Terminator form or with robots on a large scale. The end of the world for human beings might come on a technological scale that is dismissively small or cannot even be seen.
[Featured Image by Neo Edmund/Shutterstock]