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Jan 19, 2007

Militarization of Space Looming

Posted by in categories: military, space

On CNN:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — China last week successfully used a missile to destroy an orbiting satellite, U.S. government officials told CNN on Thursday, in a test that could undermine relations with the West and pose a threat to satellites important to the U.S. military.

According to a spokesman for the National Security Council, the ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile knocked an old Chinese weather satellite from its orbit about 537 miles above Earth. The missile carried a “kill vehicle” and destroyed the satellite by ramming it.

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Jan 15, 2007

More on Mahmoud

Posted by in category: geopolitics

From JTA News:

House resolution calls for Ahmadinejad genocide charges

A bipartisan slate of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a resolution calling on the Iranian president to face genocide incitement charges.

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Jan 15, 2007

U.S. developing nanotech military armor

Posted by in categories: military, nanotechnology

From United Press International:

DAYTON, Calif., Dec. 20 (UPI) — The U.S. Army awarded a $15 million contract for the development of a new type of lightweight composite armor based on nanotechnology.

The pact awarded to the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) this week will lead to new materials that can be used in vehicles and body armor.

“This is not a ground-level academic study project,” UDRI engineer Brian Rice said. “We are actually working with two Ohio companies to create a product that, if it tests out well, could show up in Iraq next year.”

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Jan 14, 2007

Scientists to Move Doomsday Clock Forward

Posted by in category: nuclear weapons

From NewsMax.com:

The keepers of the “Doomsday Clock” plan to move its hands forward next Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.

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Jan 11, 2007

State of Existential Risk in 2007

Posted by in category: existential risks

An existential risk is a global catastrophic risk that threatens to exterminate humanity or severely curtail its potential. Existential risks are unique because current institutions have little incentive to mitigate them, except as a side effect of pursuing other goals. There is little to no financial return in mitigating existential risk. Bostrom (2001) argues that because reductions in existential risks are global public goods, they may be undervalued by the market. Also, because we have never confronted a major existential risk before, we have little to learn from, and little impetus to be afraid. For more information, see this reference.

There are three main categories of existential risk — threats from biotechnology, nanotechnology, and AI/robotics. Nuclear proliferation itself is not quite an existential risk, but widespread availability of nuclear weapons could greatly exacerbate future risks, providing a stepping stone into a post-nuclear arms race. We’ll look at that first, then go over the others.

Nuclear risk. The risk of nuclear proliferation is currently high. The United States is planning to spend $100 billion on developing new nuclear weapons, and reports suggest that the President is not doing enough to curtail nuclear proliferation, despite the emphasis on the War on Terror. Syria, Qatar, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates met to announce they their desire to develop nuclear technology. North Korea successfully tested a nuclear weapon in October. Iran continues enriching uranium against the will of the United Nations, and an Iranian official hinted that the country may be obtaining nuclear weapons. Last night, President Bush used the most confrontational language yet towards Iran, accusing it of directly providing weapons and funds to combatants killing US soldiers. The geopolitical situation today with respect to nuclear technology is probably the worst it has been since the Cold War.

Biotechnological risk. The risk of biotechnological disaster is currently high. An attempt among synthetic life researchers to formulate a common set of ethical standards, at the International Conference on Synthetic Biology, has failed. Among the synthetic biology and biotechnology communities, there is little recognition of the risk of genetically engineered pathogens. President Bush’s plan to spend $7.1 billion on bird flu vaccines was decreased to $2.3 billion by Congress. There is little federal money being spent on research to develop blanket countermeasures against unanticipated biotechnological threats. There are still custom DNA synthesis labs that fill orders without first scanning for harmful sequences. Watch-lists for possible bioweapon sequences are out of date, and far from comprehensive. The cost of lab equipment necessary to make bioweapons has decreased in cost and increased in performance, putting it within the financial reach of terrorist organizations. Until there is more oversight in this area, the risk will not only remain, but increase over time. For more information, see this report.

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Jan 10, 2007

Better Virus Detection Device

Posted by in category: biotech/medical

From MIT’s Technology Review:

Researchers at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, have developed an ultrasensitive sensor that could potentially be used in a handheld device to, within minutes, detect various viruses and measure their concentration. The sensor could be used to quickly screen people at hospitals and emergency clinics to control outbreaks of diseases such as SARS and the bird flu. All it would take is a tiny sample of saliva, blood, or other body fluid.

Currently available methods to detect viruses are also sensitive. But they require laborious preparation of the fluid sample and only give results after several days. Since viral diseases can spread rapidly, researchers are looking for easier, faster ways to directly detect viruses. “You want a tool on which you apply the [fluid] sample on-site and in a few minutes say whether or not the person has the SARS virus,” says Aurel Ymeti, a postdoctoral researcher in biophysical engineering and the sensor’s lead developer.

Looks promising. Hopefully this model can be extended to other nanoscale threats, like prions and genetically engineered viruses.

Jan 9, 2007

Iranian official: If threatened, we will use nuclear weapons

Posted by in categories: geopolitics, nuclear weapons

From Ynet News:

Iran’s chief nuclear envoy Ali Larijani said on Friday that Iran is committed to the peaceful use of nuclear technology but warned the situation could change if his country is threatened.” We oppose obtaining nuclear weapons and we will peacefully use nuclear technology under the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty, but if we are threatened, the situation may change,” He told a news conference after two days of talks in Beijing. Iran’s nuclear chief said his country has produced and stored 250 tons of the gas used as the feedstock for uranium enrichment, state-run television reported Friday.Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who is also the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Iran has kept the uranium hexaflouride gas, or UF-6, in underground tunnels at a nuclear facility in Isfahan to protect it from any possible attack.“Today, we have produced more than 250 tons of UF-6. Should you visit Isfahan, you will see we have constructed tunnels that are almost unique in the world,” State-run television quoted Aghazadeh as saying.

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Jan 9, 2007

Interview with Dr. Alan Goldstein

Posted by in category: nanotechnology

Over at Accelerating Future, a new interview between Michael Anissimov (a.k.a. me), and Dr. Alan Goldstein, a member of our Scientific Advisory Board who is concerned about the dangers of bionanotechnology. Here is an excerpt from the first part of the interview:

Michael Anissimov: How do you define synthetic biology (A-life)?

Dr. Alan Goldstein: It is crucial to this discussion that people recognize that Synthetic Biology is not the same as Artificial Life. I have spent a great deal of time trying to explain the difference in terms that are understandable to non-technical folks.

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Jan 9, 2007

Egypt’s President Hints at Nuke Development

Posted by in categories: geopolitics, nuclear weapons

From Ynet News:

SHARM E-SHEIKH – Is Egypt declaring its intentions to develop nuclear weapons? Thus it appeared in a speech delivered by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Thursday on the occasion of meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Sharm e-Sheikh.

“We don’t want nuclear weapons,” Mubarak stated, “But since they appear highly present in the area, we must defend ourselves.”

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Jan 9, 2007

Hawking hopes to go into space in 2009

Posted by in category: space

From Yahoo News:

Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking says he wants to undertake a zero-gravity flight aboard an aircraft this year as a precursor to a journey into space.

“This year I’m planning a zero-gravity flight and to go into space in 2009,” he was quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

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