Posthuman Nuclear Doomsday Maneuvers

Posthuman Nuclear Doomsday

After the Cold War, the global system spun hard on one axis, but it did not collapse. We managed to get through the deadlock of the US/USSR nuclear arms race without nuclear war, and for twenty years, we’ve been sighing with relief. We’re still alive!

In the first decade of the 21st Century, after New York, London, and Madrid were hit by non-state actors, we had to put our confidence in the .gov and .mil set (with what would soon be a historic increase in our reliance on private contractors to both). We had to trust that all the right ambassadors and all the right diplomatic/economic grunts on the ground were sweating it out for us — saying the right things, making the right deals, destroying the right neighborhoods. Surely, we could trust our agents to have the right kinds of conversations about North Korean missiles; about Iran; about that leaky border between Afghanistan and a Nuclear Pakistan. Surely Hubbard and Crocker and Khalilzad were working hard so that we wouldn’t have to learn to duck and cover again. And, of course, many a young soldier has bled doing the hardest of this work.

In some ways, we are still resting easy. As we begin to look back on the "pax Al Qaeda" era that has developed since 2001, no one has struck us on our soil, and we haven’t had talk of mutually assured destruction (MAD) in a generation. Terrorism has not yet evolved into an existential threat.

The worldview of our millennials and late Gen X-ers wasn’t forged in a doomsday era, and they are now old enough to be rising through the economic, military, and political ranks. For those old enough to have been shaped by the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviets is a formative event.

Though the world has moved on from the existential despair and gallows humor of Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, things are still hairy. Mutually assured destruction is replaced with the possibility of random acts of mass destruction. Now it’s tactics and tit-for-tat. After leaving a scar in Manhattan, Kandahar gets leaned on until it cracks. It’s dirty, it’s hard, and it’s dangerous — but none of this leads immediately into any kind of truly existential threat. Some may indeed still be riding a wave of relief, but a new kind of fear has been in the air for nearly a decade. This fear, though, is of spotty instances of anthrax, airplanes, and maybe a nuked city-center.

It has been too easy for the great mass of us to believe that the big problems orbiting the remaining massive nuclear armaments in, for example, the former Soviet states, are not relevant worries anymore. We beat the Commies, for one, and we’re keeping our eyes on a resurgent Taliban.

Nukes Kill Nerds Too
Consider some still-pressing facts: The five state signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty currently have a total of up to 23,125 active warheads. Other states with nuclear arms (including Israel) have up to 260 total warheads. Of Russia’s 13,000 warheads, approximately 6,481 were supposedly transferred back to the motherland from Soviet-era lots in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in the 1990s. (See "resources" below).

That’s a lot of very serious bombage. And the systems for ensuring their security are not universally robust. There are leaky spots and leaky people (Abdul Qadeer Khan, for example). Guys who sell what they know about weapons for money or favor are still rattling around unaccounted for between Peshawar and Jalalabad in the Safed Koh.

World nukesSo this is not the same world as it was twenty years ago. And if we speculate into the near term — say twenty years into the future — we may be able to use our h+ toolkit to glimpse new ways to manage the lingering problem of WMDs. Our strategy changes from brinksmanship to (counter)terrorism, and ultimately we have to recognize posthuman possibilities that up-end any conventional nuclear strategy.

The Internet was designed as a strategic Cold War defensive tool. It was a kind of shield for information. If Princeton were about to be bombed, we could have our data backed up at UCLA, and/or Menlo Park, and/or MIT, and/or Cambridge. No room-sized computational engine would be meaningfully unique, and each would be a node in a network possessing shared, valuable data. Our ability to transfer information along a network, where any given node was expendable, was a survival strategy in the era of looming nuclear war. But the full potential of the Internet, that coolest of Cold War tools, has not yet been fully realized.

Mirror-Nodes and Cities
Data can be copied and transferred between nodes on a network, and in 2009, the notion that soon "everything" will be modeled (and will, therefore, be data) is not a strange idea. Facets of whole earth systems, including political and economic regimes, government services, language groups, dietary culture, species distribution, gender roles — not to mention geophysical elements — are available in .kml files. And now your phone’s recognition of a street sign causes information about the intersection to come spilling out at you ("There’s a Dunkin Donuts 78 meters to your NNE where April’s waiting with Thomas, and John Dillinger cruised this very spot for prostitutes in the Spring of ’34").

That neural cells have been successfully grown onto a circuitry medium further opens the possibilities for modeling brain processes as usable data and may now be actionable. If everything is information, anything would be transferable on a communications network.

PipebombA city destroyed by a nuclear weapon or made unlivable by a "dirty bomb" will reinstantiate moments later by way of Corps of Engineers/FEMA fablabs. Right now, the world’s garages and university science basements are sporting lots of sugar-printers. A growing number of networked 3-D printers, executing fabrications in sugar, cellulose, polymers, and metals, makes for a world ready to be replicated on demand.

If the chief executive and Senate are all hit with something small and tactical at a bill signing ceremony, no one would have to worry much. White Hats at Homeland Security have uploaded the latest versions, and now our pr3s1d3n7 pr073mp0re is about to download into a Camp David bound Air Force One. D.C. deposits itself some eight miles southwest of Clovis, New Mexico where it sits well defended by the 27th Fighter Wing of Air Combat Command (though the new capital would no doubt be held in disdain by the people of Curry County).

London, if bombed to ash and stain, reappears fully formed in Nunavut. The East End is tundra, the New Thames empties into Yathkyed Lake, and The Gherkin looks out over the vast pale planes of Keewatin. This is city as signal, nukes as noise. As culture-makers and city-builders, we have built the means to survive the noisiest possible weapon, the raw radiation and shockwave of the nuclear bomb.

This is city as signal, nukes as noise.

In the late 1940s, George Kennan’s telegrams from Moscow told the Truman administration how to deal with Stalin and the Soviets. Containment won the century for The West. The fall out from a singularity includes the perfect defense for nukes, hidden in the perfect defense for information. Keenan’s containment will be vindicated again. The moneyed globals will win against a penned-in Al Qaeda. Non-state terror cells already have to move in perpetual atari, beyond mere "containment," utterly and universally surrounded by the brightest silver son of capitalism and democracy. The Internet wins because we become it. We win because we become it.

Doomsday Blues
Even if President Obama’s efforts are sincere, the United States is not going to get rid of very many of her nuclear weapons. Neither is Israel or Russia or India or China. Nothing is likely to change except that 1) more states will acquire nuclear weapons, 2) more non-state-actors will acquire them in some form, and 3) the tactics available to states to win nuclear battles will become unpredictable with new technologies. Also, the nature of the "us" that will be winning will be forever changed by the technologies that allow the win — and by the winning itself.

The kind of hegemony the transhumanist will know is irrevocable. It’s a kind of victory that lies beyond any previous conventional victory. Unlike conventional victories that provide the seed for future defeat (and therefore a correction mechanism for history — as in the victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan), the complete post-singularity victory won’t be forgiving. When we’re on the other (and possibly the wrong) side of history, we’ll have to live with it permanently — no chance at redemption, no chance for correction, just perfect and lonely finality, forever.

Radiation buttonDespite the post-coldwar relief that many of us may feel, nukes are clearly still a serious threat. And the Internet has not yet reached its full post cold-war era potential as a defensive tool. When we can mirror node whole cities, whole social networks, and whole systems of government, people and their dogs and their lives — it is then that the Internet will be fully realized.

We no longer worry about World War III. Our future nuclear exchanges will be skirmishes, yes, but the Internet is far more dangerous than anyone ever realized. It becomes something that eats the world defensively.

In that vein, and by way of such mechanisms, our corporate democracy might not only be promoted and insured — it may be improved upon with each new download. Time and iterative versioning will tell us what, in fact, is the best way to conduct the business of gross cooperation.

11 Responses

  1. February 10, 2014

    […] and sentient virtual lifeforms themselves, only moving from bits to atoms when necessary. As I wrote elsewhere, imagine: ”If the chief executive and Senate are all hit with something small and tactical […]

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