Nanoscale Research, Ethics, and the Military

Nanoscale Research, Ethics, and the Military

Timothy F. Murphy (University of Illinois College of Medicine, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-022-6.ch011
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Military researchers are working to exploit advances in nanoscale research for military uniforms, medical diagnosis and treatment, enhanced soldier performance, information and surveillance systems, and weaponry and guidance systems. These domains of research pose ethical questions in regard to the motives for this research, the way in which it is carried out, and its social effects, especially in regard to its medical aspects. Much of this research can be defended in the name of soldier protection and national defense, but close attention to the practice of research involving human subjects and nanoscale devices is nevertheless warranted because the military is governed in ways that sometimes put its overarching goals ahead of protecting the rights and welfare of individual soldiers. Moreover, the contribution of nanoscale interventions to a new kind of arms race should not be underestimated.
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Military Interest In Nanoscale Research

The military is looking to nanoscale research and technology in five main areas: (1) better information, (2) better weapons, (3) better uniforms, (4) better performance, and (5) better medical diagnoses and treatments.

Better Information

The military has an abiding interest in sensory mechanisms that can collect intelligence about the enemy and confirm whereabouts and status of its own personnel during operations.

Nanoscale technology might enable the creation of biochip implants could also be developed to ‘read’ sensory input directly – without introducing the possibility of error – by a soldier who misunderstands or misinterprets exactly what he is seeing (for example, what type of missile or jet is approaching). The military and intelligence agencies also have an interest in knowing whether and to what extend nanoscale technologies could enable them to ‘read’ people’s minds, for example, captured enemy soldiers. Some technologies currently exist that are able to predict roughly what someone is thinking. On a more developed scale, this kind of technology would be extremely useful in interrogating captured soldiers, to learn the status of current operations. These technologies could even bypass contentious debates about whether or not torture is permissible in order to gain information that might be needed to avert imminent loss of death. They could also:

  • Use biochips to track soldier movements in realm time via sensors.

  • Insert microcomputers to relay sensory input: ‘Read’ raw sensory data via biochips or other technologies. For example: read the visual input of a pilot, transmit that input to a remote location, check it against profiles of enemy jets and make decisions about how to respond.

  • Use microcomputers or biochips that evaluate health status of soldiers in real time (heart rate, temperature, secretions, etc.). Knowing the medical status of its personnel enables command to understand its strengths at any given time, or record and relay medical aspects of a soldier’s status. Desirable technologies of this kind are discussed in Better Medicine.

  • Use biochip implants to distinguish the certainty of statements made by people under interrogation, which could eliminate need for harsh interrogations and torture of any kind.

  • Create animal cell / computer hybrids for detection purposes. For example, connect animal olfactory cells to biochips to detect biochemical agents.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Uniforms: This is a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization or group.

Weapons: This is a technique or tool used to defeat an opponent or defend against an opponent.

Medical Diagnostics: This refers to methods for identifying a medical condition or disease.

Nanoscale Technology: This is an area of nanotechnology concerned with standard size tools used to create simple structures and devices.

Military Necessity: This is a legal notion used in international humanitarian law to govern decisions about the use of military power.

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