Monday, October 9, 2006

Google’s supremo stunned the British Conservative party’s annual conference — and thousands of politicians in Western democracies — when he said the next step in cyberspace was the “truth predictor.” Within five years, new software will allow voters anywhere to check in real time the probability that political statements are factually correct.

“Think about having every one of your voters online all the time, inputting ‘is this true or false?’ ” said Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman and chief executive officer. The software will put a serious crimp on the many politicians running for election or re-election with a steady diet of speeches peppered with untruths. This could make politics unrecognizable, hopefully for the better. But the electronic truth squad may provide only a brief respite of enlightenment before yet another gigantic leap in human evolution.

Fred C. Ikle, one of America’s foremost strategic thinkers, in his latest book “Annihilation from Within” (Columbia University Press), sees the ever-faster advances in brain science and computers merging to build superhuman intelligence systems. Brain-computer-interface (BCI) research projects are proliferating among universities in the G-8 major industrial countries and China. And when this quest succeeds, Mr. Ikle says it will trump the latest supercomputers (already up to 73 trillion operations per second) and the best human experts.

In a nanosecond of history, the evolution that took millions of years from primates to Homo sapiens will jump into the unknown. Homo connectus will relegate the obsolete nation-state and its dysfunctional institutions to artifacts of history, quaint but useless. This gigantic leap of history will “obliterate all previous notions about military power, pose a fundamental challenge to all religions, and eventually upend human civilization.”

Thus, it previews the annihilation of a country’s political order from within.

At 107 pages, Mr. Ikle’s tome is a quick, expertly crafted, fascinating read, at once forward-looking and historical. It covers a wide variety of topics from how science and the political order have been marching out of step to different drummers, from Galileo to the birth of Homo connectus, to the triggering of an act of terrorism employing a weapon of mass destruction, an event that in turn could hoist an unscrupulous dictator to supreme power.

Today’s Global War on Terror, says Mr. Ikle, is fixated on the remnants of al Qaeda, the killing in Iraq and Afghanistan, the danger of new terrorist attacks in the U.S. and friendly countries, the nuclear program in Iran and related dangers, all of which he looks at in the rearview mirror of history. Because once a couple of clandestinely delivered nuclear bombs have shattered the political order of a country from within, political leadership of every major nation will suddenly find itself in a world without guideposts.

As Mr. Ikle sees it, the war on terror is only a tactical response to tactically clever attacks. “It does not prepare us for a strategically cunning use of WMD that is designed to annihilate our government from within,” he writes.

One of the grim scenarios, penned by the theoretician of the early 1980s Reagan defense buildup: “An aspiring dictator who is an insider endowed with political charisma and extraordinary strategic vision might have his henchmen obtain a couple of nuclear weapons. With a carefully timed use of these weapons the sudden nuclear devastation would cause great shock and widespread despair. The morning after, the new dictator could exploit this despair and political crisis to grab total power — much like Lenin exploited the misery and chaos of war-ravaged St. Petersburg.”

From decade to decade, modern science coupled with the technological revolution has become a self-sustaining force that sets it apart from all other fields of human endeavor. But, says Mr. Ikle, no such momentum is discernible in society, government and international affairs. “Disparate faiths in the world remain deeply divided” and “irreconcilable disagreements often lead to … the extraordinary savagery and cruelty of religious wars.”

Are rows over cloning and the therapeutic uses of stem cells preliminary skirmishes in a titanic global struggle over the ineluctable power of biotechnology and computer science to “alter the innermost sanctuary of our existence, the mind that makes us human?”

Religious resurgence, Mr. Ikle notes, has “spread through Africa, lit fires throughout the Muslim world, and can be observed in the United States.” And for mankind he foresees that “its cultural split will become wider, unless the calamity of annihilation from within forces societies to close the chasm between the two modes of human activity. Short of such an upheaval, the societal and religious modes of human activity cannot catch up with the ceaseless momentum of science.” By clinging to government structures designed for 4 million in the age of nanotechnology with 300 million people, institutions are as useless as Model-T Fords in a NASCAR race.

Mr. Ikle notes the growth of computer capabilities during the last 50 years has been greater than the growth of the brain’s intellectual capability during hundred thousands of years. The quest is now on for superhuman intelligence. Its attainment, says Mr. Ikle, will revolutionize all prior considerations about national security. The door would then be open to a fundamental transformation of the human condition. “We can no more imagine the political order of this new world,” he writes, “than a group of chimpanzees in the forest can comprehend what goes on among humans in a nearby village.”

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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