Radically Inept
Monday, June 07, 2004
  Science Monday

Next a light sword?
New Scientist: Dancing lasers levitate carbon nanotubes
"For the first time, carbon nanotubes have been picked up and moved with a laser beam. The trick may finally offer engineers who want to build microchips based on nanotube components a way to move the diminutive devices into place.
The semiconducting properties of nanotubes - which are just a few nanometres wide and around 100 nanometres long - mean they might one day be used as the basis for low-power, ultra-fast chips. But until now, the only way to position the carbon tubes has been laborious: nudging them around with an expensive instrument called an atomic force microscope.
So David Grier of New York University and Joseph Plewa and colleagues from the optics company Arryx in Chicago, Illinois, wondered if a technique called optical trapping could do the job more conveniently."

Wonderful. When we get to Mars, DoD can destroy it.
Popular Science | Is This What War Will Come To?:
"Efficiency is also a factor to a military that finds itself stretched from old bases in Europe to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to calls for intervention in Africa, Haiti and other hotspots. The scores of potential combat scenarios sketched out by the Joint Chiefs, as well as individual branches of the U.S. military, have convinced the Department of Defense that a fast-track modernization program is critical to national security. Many current weapons systems are fast becoming out-of-date, from aging attack helicopter fleets to the early-'60s-designed rifles troops carry on the ground. Key trends will be automation--unmanned land, air and underwater vehicles; communication networks that connect all the players in a battle theater, so that information flows freely between pilots, foot soldiers and commanders; and finding new ways to solve old problems--such as firing ballistics electrically rather than with explosives.

But perhaps more in need of overhaul than the weapons systems themselves is the process that produces them. New weapons typically start out as ideas developed in one of the R&D labs belonging to the U.S. military or to private defense contractors such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin or hundreds of smaller companies around the country. As it progresses, though, a new technology may get bogged down by Byzantine red tape and excessive everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tinkering. Years may elapse--5, 10, 15 or more--while proposals and demonstrations are requested, Congressional approvals secured, contractors chosen, and the technology tested and fielded--and by then the weapon that emerges may be technologically obsolete, or designed for threats that no longer exist. The Defense Department has a history of continuing to fund needless programs because of political pressures and sheer momentum. A prime example: the Army's Comanche attack helicopter, which was canceled in February after a 21-year, $6.9 billion development program. One of its key missions, battlefield reconnaissance, is quickly being usurped by far less expensive unmanned aerial vehicles.

Weapons procurement is also plagued by redundancy: More than one branch of the armed services may develop different systems that accomplish the same goal. This could range from small-caliber bullets being developed for each branch up to entire weapons platforms.

Then there's the chicken-and-egg problem. New weapons usually address specific needs, but the reverse can occur. Military leaders can simply be dazzled by new technologies, and develop weapons to exploit them. "These are often solutions in search of problems," cautions analyst Loren Thompson of the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute, a Department of Defense watchdog organization. Meanwhile, U.S. military supremacy has made certain weapons systems seem like overkill--the submarine fleet, for example. In the case of the supercavitating torpedo described in this article, skeptics ask where the need is. "If we ever face a hostile navy again

I'd like to take a look at it," says Thompson. "Obviously it's an improvement over what we have, but what's the enemy? It's not enough to have a weapon that can use new technology creatively. It needs to answer a valid military need or threat." It's also wise to recognize that the technological supremacy that drove U.S. forces into the heart of Baghdad in record time won't necessarily forestall the low-tech agony of the fight that has followed.

To streamline weapons development, in the mid-1990s the Department of Defense implemented its advanced concept technology demonstration program, a sort of try-before-you-buy setup that helps bypass usual R&D hurdles. One result: In 1997 the Air Force, after only two-and-a-half years of development, put the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle into service. Then, in 2002, with only minimal testing, they equipped several of the drones with Hellfire missiles and used one to attack an al Qaeda vehicle in Yemen. "Someone came up with the idea and just did it," says Patrick Garrett, an associate analyst at GlobalSecurity.org. "It harkens back to the good old days of WWII."

Another example of DoD-backed corner-cutting: the littoral combat ship, a versatile vessel with interchangeable modules that can be a minesweeper one day and a special forces troop lander the next. "It normally takes a decade or so for a new ship class to be decided," says Garrett, "but the Navy put out the bid in 2002, had five or six shipbuilders come up with designs, and they're hoping to start construction in 2005. That's a major feat."

Officials hope new technologies will shorten combat, minimize casualties, and enable attacks to be carried out with greater precision.

Many weapons in the pipeline, such as the space-launched darts and electromagnetic railgun, will use no explosives at all, relying instead on kinetic energy to destroy targets. Some, like Metal Storm, will use electricity rather than mechanical firing mechanisms. Laser weapons will disable enemy gear with heat rather than force, providing pinpoint accuracy and speed-of-light delivery.
" The article then gets into the meat of a few of the weapon systems currently under very real consideration including:
A GUN THAT FIRES A MILLION ROUNDS A MINUTE [Metal Storm Limited -, see Metal Storm Videos
For more, see Space: The Final Battlefield? and Wired News: Pentagon Preps for War in Space. I did a research paper with a collegue a couple of years ago that argued that most technology spending in the US was driven by national security issues. Or, call it a national paranoia driven budget. I'll post more on this later.

More points to ponder
Wired 12.05: VIEW, Robots and the Rest of Us by Bruce Sterling:
"Since when do machines need an ethical code? For 80 years, visionaries have imagined robots that look like us, work like us, perceive the world, judge it, and take action on their own. The robot butler is still as mystical as the flying car, but there's trouble rising in the garage. In Nobel's vaulted ballroom, experts uneasily point out that automatons are challenging humankind on four fronts.

First, this is a time of war. Modern military science is attempting to pacify tribal peoples with machines that track and kill by remote control. Even the resistance's weapons of choice are unmanned roadside bombs, commonly triggered by transmitters designed for radio-controlled toys.

The prospect of autonomous weapons naturally raises ethical questions. Who is to be held morally accountable for an unmanned war crime? Are machines permitted to give orders? In a world of networked minefields and ever-smarter bombs, are we blundering into mechanized killing fields we would never have built by choice?

The second ominous frontier is brain augmentation, best embodied by the remote-controlled rat recently created at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn. Rats are ideal lab animals because most anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human. So this robo-rat, whose direction of travel can be determined by a human with a transmitter standing up to 547 yards away, evokes a nightmare world of violated human dignity, a place where Winston Smith of Orwell's 1984 isn't merely eaten by rats but becomes one."

Escalating computeer security
Atom-photon link demoed TRN 060204:
"Practical quantum information processing is likely to require atoms to process and store information, and photons to transmit information within and between quantum computers. The trick is finding a way to transfer information from atoms to photons and back.

Researchers from the University of Michigan have taken a significant step in that direction by entangling a cadmium ion held in a vacuum by radio waves, and a single, free-flying ultraviolet photon. An ion is a charged atom.

Entanglement, dubbed spooky-action-at-a-distance by Einstein, is a weird ability of particles like atoms and photons. When particles are entangled, their properties, like polarization, remain linked regardless of the distance between them. Polarization is the orientation of a photon's electric field. Entanglement is most often accomplished between like particles.

Entangling an ion and a photon makes it possible to instantly know the state of the ion by measuring the photon, wherever the photon is. 'Even if the photon traveled [several] light years to Alpha Cantauri before detection, the Alpha Centaurian who detected the photon would know what state the ion... on Mother Earth... was in,' said Boris Blinov, a research fellow at the University of Michigan.

This is potentially useful in quantum cryptography, which taps the properties of particles to provide theoretically perfect security. Two people can share a series of quantum particles and use them as random numbers to encrypt and decrypt messages. The process provides perfect security because when an eavesdropper observes the particles, he unavoidably alters them, making the security breach detectable.

Ion-photon entanglement also promises to advance quantum computing. Quantum computers have the potential to solve certain problems like cracking secret codes and searching large databases far faster than the best possible classical computer. Quantum computers work by checking every possible solution to a problem using one set of operations rather than checking possibilities one by one as today's classical computers do."

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