Figure 1: Unexpected blast of infrared on the author’s dry erase board.
All of us embrace technology in the IT field. We write computer programs, administer systems, and perform other work tasks via the use of the latest devices enabled by silicon wafer foundries and the resultant end-use chip products that come from that. Lately, there has been a turn from pure electonic silicon to photonic-electronic silicon and optical devices on silicon.
With each iteration of technology, efficiency improves, and we all perceive this as a good thing. Well, there might be reason to debate the value of efficiency taken to the highest level. Ultimate efficiency carries with it a plethora of negative results. Luddite or not, few can argue that technology’s efficiency has eliminated many jobs that will never return. Fewer people work in western countries now, than in the past, and the number of actively employed people will continue to dwindle. technology will slowly and methodically put everyone out of work, including IT people, medical profession people, and all sorts of administrative people. In the end, with full efficiency, there will be no work for anybody. There are idealists who claim this is the ultimate nirvana, where we all will do what we want to do, and only what we want to do (usually that is not work) – for all of our days.
Figure 2: The author, moments before moving from the front of the dry erase board.
Indeed, I do that already, because I’m retired. However; the latest discoveries in the optical and electronic disciplines are cause for great concern. IMO, the nirvana that is forecast will never be realized, and instead a dystopia will be the ultimate result of maximum efficiency.
The Laser :
The laser was invented in the fifties, and refined to a usable device in the sixties. By the mid 2000s, it had morphed into a device capable of performing fantastic operations, including the ability to move physical molecules of matter. Yes – light can move matter! So called “laser tweezers” now exist, and are used every day in bio-labs to move very small things (such as bacteria) in a way that avoids contamination. So, our progress in the petri dish has been enhanced by these things, and efficiency continues to improve.
Very recently, a means which enables the movement of larger amounts of matter has been discovered. While the tractor devices of the bio labs are restricted to small quantities of matter, newer devices that utilize twisted laser light (where the laser is a hollow core beam) can transport larger amounts of material, more quickly. Tests have already proven that a thousand molecules per second can be transported via this new “twisted” technology. The material can be a chemical (molecule) of relatively large size.
This new technology is being touted as a means to deliver drugs. In fact, since the transport system is a laser, and a fiber optic tube is a transport path for lasers, drugs could be transported over something akin to the public network system! Yes, the internet could physically deliver drugs to people or companies. A doctor in a third world country could receive vital drugs over the (up to now) data-only internet fiber optics system. This is seemingly an insane idea, but technology in the very short term future will mostly seem insane to people such as myself, born long before computers and cell phones came onto the scene.
With the nuclear bomb, there was a negative association with the technology. Purportedly, nuclear power was a benefit that offset the negatives of the bomb. That, I suppose, might be a debatable statement. Currently, most countries are in the process of decommissioning their reactor plants, but will be left with the negative aspects of the bomb long after the plants are gone. It doesn’t seem like a “win” for humanity, does it? The bomb was built by increasing efficiency. The refinement process needed a certain level of efficiency, which didn’t exist at the beginning. In the end, engineers developed tools to increase the efficiency, and the bomb was the result. The job description of an engineer is to make things more efficient. Rarely do engineers invent – that job is left to the research people – who create an idea that is probably not practical. Practicality comes from the engineers. If a bridge collapses, that is inefficient, because a new one then has to be built. So, before the design element, and at the base of things, the engineer is an efficiency practitioner.
For nuclear energy, the bomb was the downside, as it wasn’t invented for its humanity saving graces. It was created for its catastrophic downside. The upside was a byproduct. What could be the downside of a twisted light, hollow core laser delivery system? The answer is simple – it’s a weapon. Consider that a twisted light, hollow core laser (not even a big one – but one that can be easily carried) – can deliver thousands of molecules per second to anyplace it can reach: many miles, or even many hundreds of miles, from surface level hand-carried devices, tower mounted devices, and satellite borne devices. Many substances could be used by a gas transporting laser: mustard gas (phosgene), chlorine, lead, ionized plasma, nerve agents, etc.
In the case of gas transporting lasers carrying molecules, the upside will be touted as beneficial to humans (the drug delivery thing, for example), and this will be the first perception of the public. This is a slight departure from the scene we witnessed relative to nuclear power development. But, the downsides of this new tech will be utilized. The worst possible applications of new technology are eventually used, almost without exception. While most weapons are readily detectable, the twisted light laser is not.
Murdering people becomes a whole lot easier with technology like this. Think about the polonium poisoning of those people in London, recently. This was purportedly done by foreign agents, leaving a trail and which allowed them (according to news releases) to be identified. It’s unknown if the identification was accurate, but think about the same act done with a new type of weapon: one that utilizes a blink of laser light shot from many miles away, on a hillside. The probability of identifying individuals using such technology is very small.
You could think that someone may see the very brief flash, and identify the culprit, but you’d be wrong. Many wavelengths of light are invisible to the human eye, including those that are currently used with fiber optics in the public network system. Alas, the twisted light, hollow core laser doesn’t need to transit a fiber optics cable. It works just as well when shot through the air.
Technology is becoming, to a much greater degree than in the past, truly twisted. It may not be the intent – to have twisted technology, since many inventions are made simply for the fame, glory, and even self fulfillment it affords the inventor. As technology becomes so much more deadly and *efficient* – such blind ambitions may not be the wise choice for humanity.
Regarding the picture in figure 1, I cropped the photo, moving the cutout in order to center the plume, and brushing the faint white lines that always follow the edges of a crop. In the picture, a flash seemingly emerges from the tray at the bottom of the board. Improbably, there appears to be a swirling “smoke” plume arising from the point of impact! The room was almost dark, with only a single window, and it was near twilight. The photos were shot with an SD14 in an infrared setup.
To be continued …