The War on Terror, like any war, provides the opportunity for certain technologies to be developed at an accelerated pace. The problem is that we seem to depend on the rather glib assertion that without freedom there is no prosperity. This is fine so long as government is concerned with prosperity. But how long do people have to wait in societies where an élite puts the power to rule ahead of prosperity? As George Orwell put it in Hommage to Catalonia: “We don’t grasp it’s [totalitarianism’s] full implications, because in our mystical way we feel that a régime founded on slavery must collapse. But it is worth comparing the duration of the slave empires of antiquity with that of any modern state. Civilisations founded on slavery have lasted for such periods as four thousand years.”
With this thought in mind, from Tech Central Station:
Chemical detectors may provide, by the way, the greatest advance in counter-insurgent capabilities. Biochips will make it possible for self-directed UAVS to seek out explosives, including those used in small arms, and chemical and biological agents. They will also enable the identification and tracking of thousands or even millions of individuals in a monitored area based on their “smell.”
It is inevitable that military and police agencies will be able to monitor and create detailed and exhaustive virtual records of any location, whether it is along a security barrier or the entire town of Fallujah. If insurgents are not prevented from carrying out attacks, they will be backtracked in a recorded virtual world and then, when identified, arrested or eliminated remotely using smart weapons along the lines of Frank Herbert’s flying hypodermics. Even those who plant bombs or send and equip suicide bombers will be vulnerable to detection and removal.
There will, of course, be enormous privacy concerns as these technologies come online, and guerrillas/terrorists will do their best to use off-the-shelf products to stay in the tech arms race. It should also be pointed out that tyrants will enjoy many of the same advantages that democracies have over insurgents, and their ability to transfer tech capabilities to third parties constantly seeking to “hack” our system will remain a critical security concern.
History has shown, however, that the conditions needed for real tech innovation exist in direct proportion to the degree of freedom enjoyed by a populace. Democracies with relatively free markets, like the United States and Israel, will therefore accrue increasingly important advantages over those that would replace liberty with coercion. What is not clear, however, is to what extent free societies will allow the use of these technologies to counter Islamists and other advocates of tyranny, both domestically and internationally.