In recent years, we have witnessed a series of terrorist attacks where people without access to special resources have been able to carry out attacks that have killed hundreds or even thousands. The weapons have been semi-automatic guns, homemade bombs, vans and captured passenger planes. None of these (maybe apart from the planes) are particularly difficult to get hold of in our modern, international society. At a somewhat higher level we have seen how rebel groups and private militia seemingly with no difficulty have been able to amass military weapons like machine guns, rocket launchers, and tanks. This is an unprecedented mass dissemination of weapons of destruction. A hundred years ago, it wasn’t so easy to get hold of weapons of this calibre – in fact, many of them didn’t even exist. If we go even further back, before the introduction of gunpowder weapons, most weapons were muscle-powered and could at worst kill a handful of people in an attack. The trend is clear: Over time, individuals and organisations get access to increasingly destructive weapons (among which we may count banks, which Thomas Jefferson called “more dangerous than standing armies”). The negative side of technological advances and the empowerment they give is that increasingly dangerous technology becomes available to the common man. It is not difficult to find instructions on the internet for making remotely triggered bombs, and GPS-controlled helicopter drones can deliver small bombs with great precision. Hackers can shut down global infrastructure, and it is even possible to find manuals for making nuclear bombs – and, after the fall of the Wall, a lot of fissionable material has disappeared from the radar. The question most likely isn’t if, but when we will see a nuclear terrorist attack. In the future, easily available weapons of mass destruction could potentially kill far more, maybe even wipe out our entire civilisation. It is becoming easier to genetically engineer organisms, and in a decade or two, a sufficiently persistent individual will be able to engineer an airborne bird flu that has close to a hundred percent mortality rate. Within half a century, it may become possible to create self-replicating nanobots that turn all organic matter into copies of itself until the surface of our planet is covered in grey goo. Technological advances probably can’t be stopped, and past experiences with limiting the dissemination of dangerous technologies are rather bad. Eventually, we will reach a level of technology where a single individual has the power to wipe out all of humanity – and then, it seems inevitable that it will happen. Consider the Fermi Paradox: Why don’t we see any trace of intelligent beings in outer space, even though it seems likely that they should be out there? We may have the explanation here: Any technological civilisation will eventually reach a stage where any individual can destroy the entire civilisation – and this is a stage that we may be terrifyingly close to reaching.
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