[extropy-chat] Rapid prototyping makes police state more likely

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Tue Sep 26 12:52:54 UTC 2006

On Mon, Sep 25, 2006 at 05:14:28PM +0100, BillK wrote:

> This is not a problem for next week.
> Obviously, nobody is going to buy a 50,000 euro fab to build a 500
> euro readily available gadget. But when the price of fabs come down to
> hobbyist prices, then.....

If we're still talking about rapid prototyping, you will still not
able to produce explosive or toxin or bioagent, or even fuel.
RC planes or civilian aircraft are cheap. Why has nobody ever
doused a crowd with a liter of VX dispersed from a model helicopter,
whether GPS-guided or on remote control? (And even if they did,
what's the worst you can do with a little of VX other than ruin
a WEF meeting?). 
> Ten years ago, who would have thought that 12 year old kids with a

Ten years ago, that's 1996. The first and only virus I ever had was
around 1987 on the Amiga. The first virus to appear in the wild was 1982
IIRC network worms were written shortly after Ethernet was
invented, as a proof of concept. As Jeremy Weinberg once
said "If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote 
programs, the first woodpecker would destroy civilization".

> small amount of coding knowledge would be able to copy plans created
> by experts and make viruses that bring down computers all around the
> world? Or run botnets of thousands of controlled computers provided by
> ordinary users?

> Knowledge wants to be free remember.

Knowledge wants to be a banana daiquiri. First, knowledge is
not atoms. Duplicating bits will never give you a critical mass
of plutonium, or a thimbleful of ricin. Secondly, some knowledge
(like the details of geometry and timing of a fission weapon)
has managed to stay away from public knowledge quite a while.
Thirdly, in a massively surveiled environment (the current
global networks are getting there) you will not share dangerous
knowledge for long without attracting some scrutiny. The moment
a remotely controlled Cessna UAV manages to blow up President
Bush on his lawn, you will notice that those tax dollars hard
at work in Ft. Meade are there for a purpose.

> In a few years time, anyone interested enough will be able to buy a
> cheap fab, get plans off the web, get patches from user groups, and
> build pretty much whatever they want. No improvising required, just

No, whatever they can design, or get the designs for.

> basic reading skills. You are correct that plastic explosive is

Dumb people never build much.

> unlikely to be sold in Walmart. But last I heard, fertilizer was

Do you know which kind of fertilizer you need? Have you tried
purchasing large amounts of ammonium nitrate, while not being
a farmer? Try it. You might get surprised.

Do you know how much diesel you need, how long the life time of
the mix is, and that it won't do a thing without a detonator?

> pretty useful. And there are other alternatives, and poisons, e-coli,

I'm quite interested in your list of alternatives. Also, which kinds
of poison you expect to be able to buy at Walmart. And just why
do you think E. coli, even pathogenic strains of E. coli, are going
to cause anything more than a case of roaring dysentery?

> etc.
> Tinkering with disease strains won't be too difficult either, in the

In theory, this hasn't been too difficult in the last twenty years.
Try it. Obtain a pathogenic strain (exhibit A) and enhance it (exhibit
B). Then, manage to do harm with it (exhibit C).

> near future. Remember that if you want to cause trouble, you don't
> need to know much about what you are doing. (Just avoid killing

On the contrary. You need to know exactly what you're doing, and right
now there aren't too many people who are capable of that. The overlap
with those who're willing to use that knowledge to kill is almost zero.

> yourself during the tinkering phase). If the new stuff lives and
> spreads, that's good enough to cause a lot of disruption, even if the
> actual death toll is not enormous.

If it's so easy, do it.
> You don't run Windows so you probably don't really appreciate the
> daily workload of updates, scans, backups, rebuilds, and so on
> necessary to keep systems running (mostly) safely. It is a big
> overhead for the IT department.

I run many things, and most of them take a gigabyte worth of
downloads every few weeks (a bleeding edge Linux distro is
your worst case).
> Once cheap fabs are available everyone will probably have to get one
> to build their own protection devices. Or buy security devices from
> multi-nationals.

I'm looking forward to the precedent of a government surveillance UAV
inviding someone's private space, and being shot down. "I just thought
it was a wasp, Your Honor!"

> I'm really not looking forward to having to implement and maintain a
> similar, always online, protect, detect, destroy, environment in the
> real world. It's my life and health at stake, not just a virus on my
> pc.

I don't think this is going to happen. Our cypherpunk dreams never
materialized. Anything involving threats at the physical layer will
cause societies to go into armadillo mode. Kiss your residual freedoms
good-bye then.

Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820            http://www.ativel.com
8B29F6BE: 099D 78BA 2FD3 B014 B08A  7779 75B0 2443 8B29 F6BE
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