Friday, September 10, 2004

The Slipping Veil

The animosities of the Middle East draw a veil over growing nuclear capabilities that are spreading throughout the region. During the Cold War, the nuclear cards of each player were on the table, the majority face-up. In a strictly Clauswitzian match between the superpowers, such weapons needn’t have been hidden beneath mountains, their existence denied; rather, trumpeting nuclear brawn was essential to wage a psychological war on the enemy. The annual May Day parades in Red Square made pageantry out of trucks pulling huge SS-25 and SS-11 ICBMs while squadrons of nuclear bombers flew in formation overhead. Later it was learned that the bravado was puffed up: the jets were making a circle around Red Square to give the impression of larger forces---more cards were face up than there were actual cards. Mutually assured destruction relied upon nuclear bravado---bristling with atomic weapons kept each player defensively engaged. While not a certainty, loudly proclaiming one’s ability to annihilate the other side was an asset, not a liability.

Thirteen years after the Cold War, the current war takes the opposite tack: Nuclear capabilities are largely kept secret, and denied. Israel disclaims having a nuclear arsenal, although the common assumption is that they have had one for at least 20 years. Iran is bending over backwards to assure the I.A.E.A. that their nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes. And yet, there are many allusions to Iran’s implicit nuclear capability made by the theocratic regime. But no specifics. Only North Korea stands apart by changing course and announcing their nuclear ambitions.

Listening to acrimonious speeches by Middle Eastern politicians gives one the sense that beneath the denial lies plausible nuclear capability. The talk is loose. Speeches sometimes become unhinged, with a boldness and confidence that shows more than courage or mere fanaticism. Somewhere behind the rhetoric and threats lies growing nuclear credibility.

Israel’s determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities is telling---Germany backs nuclear subs for Israel:
Germany said yesterday it will help Israel acquire two nuclear-capable submarines and modernize three older vessels amid escalating tensions between Iran and Israel over Iran's planned construction of several nuclear reactors.

"We are of course ready to help Israel's acquisition, and support it. ... The exact details now need to be clarified in a working group of both ministries," German Defense Minister Peter Struck said in an interview with Handelsblatt newspaper.

The submarines, which could carry two nuclear warheads, could be used as a deterrent against Iran, which is going ahead with plans to build several nuclear facilities despite American and Israeli pressure to halt construction.

Iran recently announced it may decide to pre-empt an Israeli or American strike against its reactors with an attack against the Jewish state or U.S. interests in the Middle East. The ayatollahs have also gone to great lengths to warn that Iran can "hit anywhere in Israel" with its upgraded version of the Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile.
There is a growing confidence coming from both sides that indicates nuclear weapons are in some sense already deployed, or imminently so. The dark veil of secrecy is slipping away, bit by bit. Israel orders submarines capable of deploying two nuclear warheads, although officially they have no such weapons. And Iran’s Shahab-3 missiles are only a credible deterrent against Israeli preemption if they are armed with nukes.

This is an inherently dangerous way to play nuclear poker, with most cards face-down. There is much left to guesswork; gambles are larger and more erratic. The only sane purpose of a nuclear arsenal is to bolster defense by credibly threatening an adversary from launching an attack. Nuclear weapons can level the playing field in a way that most conventional forces cannot. The insane purpose of a nuclear arsenal is to vanquish your enemy first---something that is not unthinkable in a theocratic dictatorship.

There is a nuclear buildup taking place in the Middle East that is unprecedented. The presidential election---now obsessed with forged documents and Swift Boat stories---seems to be a distraction from this reality. Whomever is president in the next term will face a nuclear crisis like none this world has seen since 1962. Prepare yourselves.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


It is important to visualize the world in its present form, in order to recognize the stakes of the war on terror.

This blog has posited that a new, virtual umma has formed on Earth---the New Frontier. To be as thorough as possible describing this new rising post-national global power, it helps to visualize the virtual umma as a physical country, though it only partially is.

In past wars, maps were often used to show the positions of enemies and allies in the ongoing struggle. Maps showed ideological adversaries' strategic positions by visualizing the conflict geographically. Our current situation seems to deemphasize visualizing the global nature of the war; maps only concentrate on areas of conflict, such as central Iraq or eastern Afghanistan. The most credible map of the global conflict would show the whole world in context to the new nation, one that this blog will hereby refer to as Islamia---the umma of Islamic countries and their cells throughout the free world, unified by the Internet and telecommunications technology.

We are witnessing a unique, powerful signature of the World Wide Web. The first ten years of the Web were relatively benign, with emphasis placed on commerce and the exchange of ideas. The Web is still such a place, but some ideas reinforce themselves more effectively than others. Islam is a religion without a head, comprised of thousands of holy men with unique interpretations of the Koran. It is a decentralized faith composed of a Muslim community called umma and adapts almost perfectly to the decentralized, anonymous information network of the Web.

Many Muslims who have left their native lands for places like Europe and America find it difficult to assimilate into their adopted countries. They retain their sense of umma through the Internet. Now, a Muslim can go anywhere but be perfectly at home at Islamia online. Islamia's citizens have a sense of nationhood, and are inspired to defend their nation, though it is virtual. Through the Web, Islamia governs its people with a Sharia system of fatwas administered by clergy. The sheiks in Medina or Cairo have a direct line into Detroit, London and Paris through their websites.

Islamia will evolve rapidly, and become more established as the Internet becomes more reliable, stable, speedy and pervasive. As the Internet matures, so shall the nation of Islamia.

We must visualize our global situation. This map attempts to show the nation that wishes our destruction. Battle lines are amorphous. The borders shown on this map are only partially accurate---it is difficult to show geographically what is largely virtual. But this map does show the plethora of cells throughout the west, which are Islamia's colonies. The true number of cells is not even entirely known.

Some people may object that drawing a map of Islamia over-simplifies the issues, and renders all Muslims as enemies. This blog recognizes that the war against Islamofascism is complex; but we need to objectify our enemies as much as possible so we can visualize our standing in this war. Most of the war reporting takes a microcosmic view, concentrating on local battles, skirmishes and atrocities without drawing a global context.

Readers are invited to assist in this visualization project. This map is a first stab at identifying something new on the global political landscape. Defining what it is will be essential to turning the tide on this war.

Some questions to ponder:

What is the cultural currency of a virtual nation like Islamia? Certainly, videos and media recording acts of terror---'martyrdom'---are essential in a media-based umma to reinforce will and determination.

How does Islamia inspire unanimity of its citizens?

Is the West responsible for the existence of Islamia by creating the technologies that allow it to flourish?

What technologies need to be deployed to fight Islamia on an even playing field?

Can Islamia be changed into a more moderate force, or will there always be a lethal side to it?

Are there other religions or cults that might similarly form and be as dangerous as Islamia? Many groups are coalescing online and are grasping at concepts of nationhood, like a virtual umma. Who are the leading candidates?

Does the Web inspire only specialized interest groups which will ultimately debase the notion of national sovereignty?

Please add questions as they occur to you.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Anti Fog

In the previous post, Fog, the hallmarks of the coming Singularity were conjectured as a disruptive fog.

Winning the war on terrorism, if possible, will have many unintended consequences. In all likelihood, the road to ‘winning’ will be traversed developing technologies that transparently surveil, identify and eliminate threats before they are acts. Coupled with the rise of smart materials, prenatal artificial intelligence and genetic prowess, the fog of random violence might be countered with an Anti Fog---a landscape that sees, hears, anticipates and preempts. Much of this has been foretold in science fiction settings like Minority Report, but the technology deployed usually seems opaque.

The fog of disruption will require an Anti Fog deployed against it. The curve of technological innovation may well be driven by an anti-terrorist industry responding to a psychasthenic culture seeking only to preserve preconceptions of normalcy and safety. Anti Fog is an industry in the making---composed of dense webs of smart materials and information gathering and assessment technologies.

But beware of success. Imagine the most perfected anti-terror web possible, in the near future. It probably will mean that no infraction of the law will go unpunished; no hair uncounted; no tax unpaid; no sickness unrecorded; no conversation or opinion unheard; no tendency unnoticed. And by this measure, the whole of our individual freedoms that we think we are defending in 2004 will be a closed chapter in 2020. The omnipresent sign in the grammar school halls could not be a better omen for the future’s revised constitution:

Safety First.


Before all the Islamofascist-terrorist hubbub initiated by 9/11, the buzz about our uncertain future centered around the idea of the Singularity, which is defined thusly:
The Singularity was defined by Vernor Vinge as a point in our future when our self-guided evolutionary development accelerates enormously---powered by nanotechnology, neuroscience and artificial intelligence---so that nothing beyond that time can reliably be conceived. The Singularity is a future time when societal, scientific and economic change is so fast we cannot imagine what will happen from our present perspective, and when humanity will become ‘posthumanity’. Another definition is the singular time when technological development will be at its fastest.
The modern world presents many challenges, mostly wrought by the unintended consequences of technological advancement. Consider the usage of electricity in 1904; from that viewpoint, predicting how electricity would affect human evolution over the next hundred years would produce laughable prophesies. Too many major innovations spawned other major innovations to be able to predict anything beyond bigger light bulbs and hotter electric irons.

So then consider the technologies of 2004, now in their infancy. Extrapolating a future vision from our current viewpoint is even more laughable than 1904. We are higher up the tree of innovation, where there are many tree-sized branches---each capable of becoming whole forests of trees themselves. Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History may have been disproved by the age of terrorism; but perhaps in its place lies The End of the Future.

Modern life is largely reactive. If older times were like baseball---with long periods of inactivity, punctuated by fast plays---the current era is like tennis. The ball is either coming at you or you are whacking it back, expecting its sudden return. People, governments, cultures and civilization itself is reactive, always responding to ‘threats’ and ‘changes’ in the fabric of existence. As technology innovates, possibilities proliferate, shortening our view ahead. The tennis game is played in fog, which steadily thickens. There’s more than one ball, more than one opponent, and you have many rackets to play with at once. Bonne chance.

The Singularity is simply the inability to see ahead for lack of a reliable imagination. And perhaps there is another competing imagination to our own, one that is emerging. Some other kind of sentience of our own making.

James Bell wrote Technotopia and the Death of Nature in 2002. Commenting on the emerging technology, he said:
The Warning

In a now-infamous cover story in Wired magazine, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us," Bill Joy warned of the dangers posed by developments in genetics, nanotechnology and robotics. Joy's warning of the impacts of exponential technologic progress run amok gave new credence to the coming Singularity. Unless things change, Joy predicted, "We could be the last generation of humans." Joy has warned that "knowledge alone will enable mass destruction" and termed this phenomenon "knowledge-enabled mass destruction" (KMD).

The technologies of the 20th century gave rise to nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) technologies that, while powerful, require access to vast amounts of raw (and often rare) materials, technical information and large-scale industries. The 21st century technologies of genetics, nanotechnology and robotics (GNR) however, will require neither large facilities nor rare raw materials.

The threat posed by GNR technologies becomes further amplified by the fact that some of these new technologies have been designed to be able to "replicate" -- i.e., they can build new versions of themselves. If the new self-replicating GNR technologies are released into the environment, they could be nearly impossible to recall or control.

Globalization and Singularity

Mr. Joy understands that the greatest dangers we face ultimately stem from a world where global corporations dominate -- a future where much of the world has no voice in how the world is run. The 21st century GNR technologies, he writes, "are being developed almost exclusively by corporate enterprises. We are aggressively pursuing the promises of these new technologies within the now-unchallenged system of global capitalism and its manifold financial incentives and competitive pressures."

Joy believes that the system of global capitalism, combined with our current rate of progress, gives the human race a 30 to 50 percent chance of going extinct around the time the Singularity happens. It is very likely that scientists and global corporations will miss key developments (or, worse, actively avoid discussion of them).

The true cost of technologic progress and the Singularity will mean the unprecedented decline of the planet's inhabitants -- an ever-increasing rate of global extinction.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN), the International Botanical Congress and a majority of the world's biologists believe that a global "mass extinction" already is underway. As a direct result of human activity (resource extraction, industrial agriculture, the introduction of non-native animals and population growth), up to one-fifth of all living species -- mostly in the tropics -- are expected to disappear within 30 years.

At the same time that nature's ancient biological creation is on the decline, artificial laboratory-created bio-tech life forms -- genetically modified tomatoes, genetically engineered salmon, cloned sheep -- are on the rise. Already more than 60 percent of food in US grocery stores contain genetically engineered ingredients -- and that percentage is rising.
Much of the discussion of the Singularity is mere groping, with apocryphal overtones. We just don’t know the future, and never have. And we probably now see the future less than ever before. And yet, we try to forge a path. That’s what we do---that’s our distinguishing mark from the other beasts that roam the Earth---we project paths where none are present. The fog that is descending upon us might be the blindfold before execution.

This blog raises the Singlarity issue because in the past three years since 9/11, it has not gone away. Au contraire. We are living it everyday. Modern terrorism is part of the Singularian bargain, if we even made one. It comes with the territory of unexpected, unintended events. Perhaps we should look at our current geopolitical situation---where civilization is nipped at the heals by the mindless insects of rage without reason---and consider that terrorism is part of the inevitable fog that will thicken as we approach The Big Day. Bill Joy warned of unleashing forces from Pandora’s box; and so they are unleashed already. Part of the Singluarity’s fog will be history---in the form of bearded medieval goons with jihadi websites---coming back for one last tussle on the mat. If the prognosticators of post-humanity are correct, then civilization as we know it will be the first institution to slip beneath the waves. And in Ossetia, it’s women and children first.