Monday, October 17, 2005

Recipe for Destruction - New York Times

This is such incredible bullshit I don't know what to say. Bill Joy, I should have expected this from. Kurzweil I always felt to be vague, but largely futurist, and harmless to me. But here he is, making an insidious call for research and publication controls. They modestly suggest that such 'very dangerous' research as the genome for a influenza virus should not be publishable, or perhaps researchable.

They do not mention what limits such controls should have. Who might oversee it, or what other fields of research should be so controlled. Why should they? It's common sense, that such dangerous things should not be allowed in the wild, where the 'terrorists' will get it.

Building a virus from a genomic specification is a non-trivial bit of biology. I will confidently state that the only people who may develop weaponized diseases based on this will be the US military/associated industry, who spies on them, and who buys it from them. WHO WOULD HAVE HAD THE VIRUS GENOME ANYWAY.

I'll tell you what else will happen, almost for certain. People will keep dying from influenza virii. Medical care will continue to be developed, which depends on viral research which falls entirely within the area Joy and Kurzweil claim should/can be controlled. The military will develop more and more biological weapons that it denies having, and prevents other people from having. They will contribute effectively nothing to medical research or the scientific community.

So we can control this research, and lose some medical progress in all related fields, which will not affect the development of biological weapons(which is largely undertaken by militaries who would be independent of such controls), in order to control the possibility of independent development of such weapons by terrorists.

That seems like a bad bet to me. The only sophisticated terrorist attack using independently developed weapons was the Aum group in Japan, who used Sarin, and attempted to use biologicals. Sarin is a nerve agent, and they developed it by recruiting chemistry majors. constructing a virus from a bare genome is profoundly more difficult than that, and requires independent scientific work to weaponize, very different from simply constructing a known substance. Every other terrorist attack has used conventional or stolen weapons. Even the anthrax letters in September-August of 2001 were embarassingly later shown to be of the Ames strain of weaponized anthrax(which is only known to be in US weapons labs).

Suppression, in the long run, doesn't work. You can prevent undetermined people(who weren't an issue in the first place), catch ill-prepared or incompetent people, and dissuade moral and legal people. This leaves largely the people you were concerned about in the first place, which is determined, competent, immoral people.

Ditto the concept of relinquishment. You can buy time by refusing to develop something if you were the person who would have developed it first. But someone will be second, and third, and so on. If you make further development illegal, it won't happen until a sufficiently competent illegal group has cause to develop it. Which doesn't really sound like an improvement to me.

Terrorism is already illegal in every country in the world. Rather than trying to ban antecedents and precursors, and possible aids to terrorists, we should focus our efforts on stopping and capturing specific terrorists. Even if we banned every weapon, every strategem than terrorists are known to have used, if a given terrorist still exists, he'll simply choose to do something new, like crashing a fuel tanker into a building, or setting fire to a hospital, or something even I can't think of. And having banned all these things, we will have lost every legitimate use of those tools, as well as ushered ourselves into a regulated life, where many innocous activities will be illegal and monitored as a matter of course. As well as all the known excesses of police states.

we lose and lose and lose, with Prohibition. It hasn't worked before, wouldn't have worked for any of our greatest terrorist acts, but why not try it now, Kurzweil and Joy seem to say. Well, no bet. I'm happy few seem to be listening to them now.

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