Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Next Atomic Bomb

Battleships were once the most destructive weapons on earth, not so long ago.
"...after the next war, sure as Hell, they’ll be using spears!"

They could level cities from far off coast, and strangle a nation's sea trade.

So fearsome were they that treaties were made to limit their design. (The treaties were soon violated.)

As a '70s kid, this reminds me of the flurry to curtail nuclear weapons. It's only now that I realise how unexceptional armament-disarmament was.

It's not as if nuclear weapons directly superseded battleships either. They had already lost supremacy earlier in the same war.

My grandfather's first memory of World War 2 was not the fall of Singapore, but the shock wireless news that HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse had been lost to Japanese air power, proving that Pearl Harbor was not a fluke.

Each generation considered the apex weaponry of their time apocalyptic enough to warrant coordinated regulation. There is no indication that the arms race, or the arms-control race, will stop.

As discussed with my brother today, we believe nuclear fission to be the ultimate weapon because we have not witnessed what comes next. Our bias is reinforced by seeing leaders fight the last war. History shows this does not last.

The next A-Bomb may or may not be a botnet, grey goo, or weaponised memes. We just don't know. All we can do is explore the possibilities we consider, while keeping enough slack in our system to cope with the outcome that we don't.

The technology that supplants the atomic bomb will not only do so militarily, but force economic, psychological, and cultural change. It will be as exciting as the atomic age.

And what of the once-feared battleship?

Yes, they fell ignominously further, displaying vulnerability to the Exocet and suicide Zodiac. But before we beat our old losers into ploughshares, we saw during Operation Desert Storm that they made excellent platforms for cruise missiles. And though electronic countermeasures have improved, they will have difficulty countering gauss guns, launching supersonic precision-targeted slugs from where cannons once fired.

There are investing lessons in there somewhere.

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