Does Cold Fusion Imply a Surveillance Society?

Now that I have your attention… 🙂

Recently a friend posted to a mailing list about Yet Another Cold Fusion Experiment whose results will soon be in. Unlike most people, my worry is not that these experiments will all fail, but rather that one will succeed.

As the amount of energy available per dollar goes up, the amount of destructive power available per dollar goes up too. When the amount of destructive power required to destroy the world is available for an amount of money obtainable by an insane person, then we have a problem.

That line surely exists; the only question is how close we are to it. My thesis is that, wherever we are now in relation to that line, the development of cheap cold fusion brings us dramatically closer to it.

One of the nice properties of expensive energy is that you know who to watch. Only states and other really big actors can afford, say, nuclear weapons, so all the other states and big actors can watch each other and make a move if someone starts going over the edge.

(Note you rarely see someone get very close to the edge, because they know what would happen if they did.)

But if energy is cheap, there are too many people to watch. Thus I think it’s possible that cheap energy implies a surveillance society.

Sorry to be so grim. If I’m missing a way out, please comment. But right now, the risks of cheap energy look to me much greater than the benefits. (Perhaps it’s important to distinguish between energy that can be “surged” and energy that is cheap but can only come in at a certain maximum rate? That might help; I don’t know.)


  1. So, you’re not worried about quantum computing and quantum tunneling, which in different ways might make surveillance trivially easy? Motivation to dominate seems always available to the domineering classes; they’re willing to cancel any conceivable liberty for the sake of safety. It’s the cost of execution that restrains them, not the cost of crime.

  2. Karl, I would agree if the cost of energy actually was the gating factor for destructiveness, but it really isn’t any more. Instead, destructive information in the form of code, molecules, or genes (and how to put them together) are the keys to large-scale destruction now.

    And we already live in an era of cheap information.

    The resources to create StuxNet to take out the Natanz facility apparently took a nation-state to muster, but now that genie is out of the bottle and chunks of it are proliferating in toolkits usable by script-kiddies.

    Soon, garage biohackers will be able to create new pandemics as easily as McVeigh built a kerosene-and-fertilizer bomb in a van.

    I don’t know when nanotech will mature to the same level, but eventually it will be just as easy to unleash an out-of-control self-reproducing disassembler.

    Under these circumstances, how exactly does cheaper energy pose a significant risk, when destruction and death can be unleashed through far subtler means?

  3. @Michael: Those are excellent points. I had thought that energy consumption is part of the preparations for a certain kind of destructiveness, e.g., you need some kilowatts to keep all those centrifuges spinning. But biowarfare needn’t take much energy. I’m not as worried about cyberwarfare, because it’s so much easier to defend against, and because heterogeneity (a natural byproduct of innovation) reduces systemic vulnerability anyway.

    @Jack: Whoa! Can you point me to some references? I wasn’t aware that quantum computing or quantum tunneling necessarily had surveillance implications, except that (in a worst-case scenario) they might make today’s public-key cryptography methods obsolete. I can only presume that they would make other encryption methods possible at the same time. But maybe you’re referring to some other danger entirely?

    @anyone: Gotta love how the old “@jrandom” syntax for indicating who you’re replying to (in a blog post comment that replies to multiple previous comments at once) can now be confused with Twitter’s @jrandom syntax for identifying unique users (which is fast become the Internet’s global user namespace, not that anyone planned it that way, except perhaps for Twitter). Yay for standards!

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