Theme E Summary

Panel: R. Asher, DM Etter, T Fainberg, M. Goldblatt, C. Lau, J. Murday, W. Tolles, G. Yonas

The fourth NBIC theme examines the ways in which the United States and modern civilization can meet the intelligence and defense challenges of the new century. In a world where the very nature of warfare is changing rapidly, national defense requires innovative technology that (a) projects power so convincingly that threats to the United States are deterred, (b) eliminates or minimizes the danger to U.S. warfighters from foe or friendly fire, and (c) reduces training costs by more than an order-of-magnitude through augmented reality and virtual reality teaching aids.

Investment in convergent nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science is expected to result in innovative technologies that revolutionize many domains of conflict and peacekeeping. We are entering an era of network-centric combat and information warfare. Increasingly, combat vehicles will be uninhabited, and robots or other automated systems will take on some of the most hazardous missions. Effective training will make extensive use of augmented or virtual reality. Nanotechnology will offer reliable means for detecting and protecting against chemical and biological agents. Convergence of many technologies will enhance the performance of human warfighters and defenders, in part through monitoring health and instituting prophylaxis, and through magnifying the mental and physical capabilities of personnel.

The Defense Science and Technology Strategy (Department of Defense 2000) seeks to ensure that the warfighters today and tomorrow have superior and affordable technology to support their missions and to give them revolutionary war-winning capabilities. There is special focus on information assurance with emphasis on security; battlespace awareness with emphasis on sensor webs, miniaturized platforms, netted information and cognitive readiness; force protection with emphasis on chemical/biological defense; and support for the warfighter.

In the recent past, new technologies have dramatically enhanced American ability to both prepare for and execute military actions. By implementing advances in information technologies, sensors, and simulation, we have strengthened our ability to plan and conduct military operations, quickly design and produce military systems, and train our forces in more realistic settings. These technologies are central to greater battlefield awareness, enabling our forces to acquire large amounts of information, analyze it quickly, and communicate it to multiple users simultaneously for coordinated and precise action. As former Defense Secretary William J. Perry has noted, these are the technological breakthroughs that are "changing the face of war and how we prepare for war."

There are numerous special programs, reports and presentations that address these goals. The Department of Defense has designated nanoscience as a strategic research area in order to accelerate the expected benefits (Murday 1999). Various conferences and studies have been devoted to assessing nanotechnology status and needs for defense (Murday 2000; National Research Council, forthcoming). Attention has also been paid to anticipating more global societal consequences of those efforts in support of national security (Roco and Bainbridge 2001).

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