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 executive director of Flow Research Collective. 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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Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.
- There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
- Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
- "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
A study finds 1.8 billion trees and shrubs in the Sahara desert.
- AI analysis of satellite images sees trees and shrubs where human eyes can't.
- At the western edge of the Sahara is more significant vegetation than previously suspected.
- Machine learning trained to recognize trees completed the detailed study in hours.
Why this matters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTkyODg5NX0.O3S2DRTyAxh-JZqxGKj9KkC6ndZAloEh4hKhpcyeFDQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="3770d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3c27b79d4c0600fb6ebb82e650cabec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Area in which trees were located
Credit: University of Copenhagen<p>As important as trees are in fighting climate change, scientists need to know what trees there are, and where, and the study's finding represents a significant addition to the global tree inventory.</p><p>The vegetation Brandt and his colleagues have identified is in the Western Sahara, a region of about 1.3 million square kilometers that includes the desert, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahel" target="_blank">the Sahel</a>, and the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/subhumid-zones" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sub-humid zones</a> of West Africa.</p><p>These trees and shrubs have been left out of previous tabulations of carbon-processing worldwide forests. Says Brandt, "Trees outside of forested areas are usually not included in climate models, and we know very little about their carbon stocks. They are basically a white spot on maps and an unknown component in the global carbon cycle."</p><p>In addition to being valuable climate-change information, the research can help facilitate strategic development of the region in which the vegetation grows due to a greater understanding of local ecosystems.</p>
Trained for trees<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2MDQ3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk5NTI3NH0.fR-n1I2DHBIRPLvXv4g0PVM8ciZwSLWorBUUw2wc-Vk/img.jpg?width=980" id="e02c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="79955b13661dca8b6e19007935129af1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Martin Brandt/University of Copenhagen<p>There's been an assumption that there's hardly enough vegetation outside of forested areas to be worth counting in areas such as this one. As a result the study represents the first time a significant number of trees — likely in the hundreds of millions when shrubs are subtracted from the overall figure — have been catalogued in the drylands region.</p><p>Members of the university's Department of Computer Science trained a machine-learning module to recognize trees by feeding it thousands of pictures of them. This training left the AI be capable of spotting trees in the tiny details of satellite images supplied by NASA. The task took the AI just hours — it would take a human years to perform an equivalent analysis.</p><p>"This technology has enormous potential when it comes to documenting changes on a global scale and ultimately, in contributing towards global climate goals," says co-author Christian Igel. "It is a motivation for us to develop this type of beneficial artificial intelligence."</p><p>"Indeed," says Brandt says, "I think it marks the beginning of a new scientific era."</p>
Looking ahead and beyond<p>The researchers hope to further refine their AI to provide a more detailed accounting of the trees it identifies in satellite photos.</p><p>The study's senior author, Rasmus Fensholt, says, "we are also interested in using satellites to determine tree species, as tree types are significant in relation to their value to local populations who use wood resources as part of their livelihoods. Trees and their fruit are consumed by both livestock and humans, and when preserved in the fields, trees have a positive effect on crop yields because they improve the balance of water and nutrients."</p><p>Ahead is an expansion of the team's tree hunt to a larger area of Africa, with the long-term goal being the creation of a more comprehensive and accurate global database of trees that grow beyond the boundaries of forests.</p>
Water may be far more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.
- Scientists have long thought that water exists on the lunar surface, but it wasn't until 2018 that ice was first discovered on the moon.
- A study published Monday used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to confirm the presence of molecular water..
- A second study suggests that shadowy regions on the lunar surface may also contain more ice than previously thought.
Credits: NASA/Daniel Rutter<p>Still, it's not as if the moon is dripping wet. The observations suggest that a cubic meter of the lunar surface (in the Clavius crater site, at least) contains water in concentrations of 100 to 412 parts per million. That's roughly equivalent to a 12-ounce bottle of water. In comparison, the same plot of land in the Sahara desert contains about 100 times more water.</p><p>But a second study suggests other parts of the lunar surface also contain water — and potentially lots of it. Also publishing their findings in <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1198-9#_blank" target="_blank">Nature Astronomy</a> on Monday, the researchers used the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to study "cold traps" near the moon's polar regions. These areas of the lunar surface are permanently covered in shadows. In fact, about 0.15 percent of the lunar surface is permanently shadowed, and it's here that water could remain frozen for millions of years.</p><p>Some of these permanently shadowed regions are huge, extending more than a kilometer wide. But others span just 1 cm. These smaller "micro cold traps" are much more abundant than previously thought, and they're spread out across more regions of the lunar surface, according to the new research.</p>
Credit: dottedyeti via AdobeStock<p>Still, the second study didn't confirm that ice is embedded in micro cold traps. But if there is, it would mean that water would be much more accessible to astronauts, considering they wouldn't have to travel into deep, shadowy craters to extract water.</p><p>Greater accessibility to water would not only make it easier for astronauts to get drinking water, but could also enable them to generate rocket fuel and power.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Water is a valuable resource, for both scientific purposes and for use by our explorers," said Jacob Bleacher, chief exploration scientist in the advanced exploration systems division for NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in a statement. "If we can use the resources at the Moon, then we can carry less water and more equipment to help enable new scientific discoveries."</p>