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Future R&D Environments: A Report for the National Institute of Standards and Technology
In the current situation, however, the threats the United States and its allies face are less from sophisticated technologies adopted and used against us by state entities than they are from clandestine groups using technologies of modest sophistication. Under these circumstances, distinguishing equipment and technology of military use from those with a legitimate civilian purpose is much more difficult, particularly where biological systems are involved. The fermenters for growing useful microbes and pharmaceuticals look much the same as those for growing dangerous species.
Moreover, the threat posed by the possible misuse of genetic engineering to create highly virulent species is likely to increase public distrust of the use of those same techniques to improve the quality of food, the hardiness of plants, and the yield of crops. Therefore, if the threat of biological terrorism grows in the next decade, the application of genetically modified organisms for other purposes is likely to be severely restricted.
In sum, the challenge posed by dual-use technologies in the next decade is likely to be considerably different from the challenge in the past. The threat remains that sophisticated weaponry technology—for example, long-range, remote-guided missiles carrying nuclear warheads—will be misused; recent acts of terrorism remind us of the need to develop better defenses against low-tech, poormen’s weapons, including conventional explosives as well as biological and chemical weapons. For the scientific community, the challenge will be to develop approaches for recognizing, preventing, and combating the misuse of these dual-use technologies. Indeed, the ability to do so may turn out to be a necessary element in their widespread adoption.
There have already been some rudimentary efforts in this direction. For example, some experts have studied means of ascertaining the origin of chemicals or biologicals to help in tracing material while others are working on new sensors for detecting recent shifts in the use of fermenters, and political/economic programs have been initiated to minimize the likelihood that underfunded or underemployed scientists in the former Soviet Union will be tempted to cooperate with terrorist groups. More needs to be done, and it is likely that rather than separating military research from civilian research, a dual perspective will become a normal and continuing requirement for those working on a wide range of technological applications.