Printing Guns, Drugs, and DNA Weapons: Organized Crime Is Being Decentralized
Every time there’s a new technology, criminals immediately take advantage of it, explains Steven Kotler. It's only a matter of time before they find new, nefarious uses for 3D printing and synthetic biology.
Steven Kotler is an award-winning journalist, a New York Times bestselling author, and co-founder and director of research for the Flow Genome Project. His books include the non-fiction works The Rise of Superman, Abundance, A Small Furry Prayer, West of Jesus, and the novel The Angle Quickest for Flight. His works have been translated into over 30 languages. His articles have appeared in over 60 publications, including The Atlantic Monthly, Wired, GQ, Popular Science, and Discover.
His latest book, co-authored with tech CEO Peter Diamandis, is Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World.
Steven Kotler: If you look at kind of the three biggest criminal enterprises in the world right now, it’s arms dealing, drugs, and exotic animals — the exotic animal trade. Those are the three biggest illegal trades right now. Well we can use 3D printing to print guns already, right? That’s already possible. There are people working on a 3D printer for drugs, right? The idea is prescription pharmaceuticals — you could print them in 3D. It’s a chemistry set 3D printer. The off label use of this stuff is obviously going to be the manufacturer of drugs, right? Synthetic biology lets us create brand-new organisms from scratch so do you want your exotic parrot or do you want something that’s brand-new?
So what’s interesting about this — and some of this stuff is a little farther out — but over the next 20-25 years it means that the three largest criminal enterprises in the world are going to be available to anyone, right? With 3D printers, with a DNA typewriter, which his sort of an at-home synthetic-biology interface so anybody can program DNA. It means that we’re going to all the illegal drug trades we’re going to pull the rug out from underneath them and nobody has any idea what happens next, right? That’s never happened before. We’ve always had organized crime because there’s always been stuff that we couldn’t get that we wanted. Well pretty soon we’re going to be able to get whatever we want. This is kind of the weird side of the abundance idea, right? When you live in world of abundance, when we can use 3D printers and synthetic biology and when anybody can do it, it means that a lot of the illegal trades, right, the bottom’s just fallen out. And what happens then we have no idea.
Synthetic biology is progressing so quickly, right? All kinds of new weapons are now possible, right? One of the things I look at in Tomorrowland is the question of could you design a bioweapon, a synthetic bioweapon that targets the president’s DNA alone. It’s very, very difficult to protect DNA, right? It lasts a very, very, very long time. It’s a long-lived molecule and it’s everywhere, right. Every time you shake somebody’s hand, the president hands somebody a pen, they’re getting DNA samples along the way. The government is already taking steps to protect the presidential DNA, right? If the president goes into public and he drinks a beer out of a mug there is somebody there to grab that glass afterwards.
Hillary Clinton — and this was released in some of the NSA stuff that [Edward] Snowden released — told foreign diplomats that they should secretly collect DNA from foreign dignitaries. So the United States is already on the offense when it comes to genetics. I’d be very, very surprised if other countries weren’t doing the same back at us. And it’s going to become more and more of an issue. So, you know, right now we have to worry about all kinds of assassinations by bullets and by bombs and along those lines. With what’s coming — I can make a disease. I can make a disease that I spray into the air; you pass through it; nobody else gets sick and you get a slow neurodegenerative disease, say, that unfolds over a couple of years. Nobody even knows you’ve been attacked, right. They think you’ve just gotten sick. So we’re looking at a whole new kind of assassination and to think that, you know, terrorists aren’t going to be interested in this technology is ridiculous. Every time there’s a new technology, criminals immediately take advantage of it. And this is the next technology so we’re going to start seeing criminals get involved in it.
Tomorrowland author Steven Kotler posits a future in which the three biggest criminal enterprises in the world are supplanted by technologies such as 3D printing and synthetic biology. Would drug cartels exist in a world in which 3D-printed drugs become available? Could a DNA typewriter curb the demand for the illegal exotic animal trade? We don't know for sure. All we know is that these kinds of technology are fast approaching.
"Every time there’s a new technology," explains Kotler, "criminals immediately take advantage of it." Think about how the internet reshaped the ways criminals work. Now imagine they have the abilities to print any object and create artificial beings with a machine. Entire security apparatuses will have to shift their perceptions of the sorts of violent crime that could be possible.
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