Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Still working on the upcoming Thought Infection ebook as well as a really thought provoking next post for the Decentralization and Future World order series. For now just a short thought about a possible scary application for an emerging technology, weaponized focusing of wireless power.
Some of you may have heard about Steve Perlman’s startup which is pursuing the use of computed constructive interference of radio waves to greatly increase signal strength and throughput for wireless networking. In demonstrations of the technology Perlman has shown that it can easily transmit super high definition video to many handheld devices simultaneously, something that even 4G networks would struggle to do today (see here). News has recently been released that the so-called pCell technology is set to launch a demonstration network in the San Francisco area. The network will be able to offer speeds fast enough to compete with traditional wired internet with enough throughput to allow unlimited data as well.
While the launch of this network is extremely exciting and bodes well for the future of 5G wireless service what really has me excited is another as of yet unproven application of the computed constructive interference of radio waves. It has been suggested that using a similar technology to pCell, it might be possible to efficiently beam power directly to a particular device (see a great post on the subject here)
Let me say that again, it might be possible to beam power over a large range directly to a device.
To say that this would be a game changer is more than an understatement. Blanketing an area with a few of these power transmitting antennas could potentially lead to a few of the following science-fictionesque scenarios:
- Drones that need to carry only a minimal battery for backup purposes could allow the delivery of almost anything by drone. Imagine getting your groceries delivered by drone.
- Electric cars that do not require expensive batteries.
- Cell phones and other devices that do not ever have to plugged in.
- High power implanted medical devices.
- “Wireless” laproscopic surgery.
- Cheap electric air travel?
If it can be done (relatively) efficiently and safely then beaming power directly to where it is needed, when it is needed would instantly change the world. My question is, if you could use this technology to focus power anywhere within range of a few radio antennas at any time could this be used as a weapon? I am not sure how much power could be realized in the absence of a specific receiver antenna, but if power could be directed to any point in space regardless of antenna presence this would lead to a pretty scary weapon (perhaps this would need to use microwaves rather than radio waves?).
Of course any of the above technological applications for wireless power could be applied as scary weapons, but the potential that you could just focus power anywhere in space represents would be more than a bit concerning. It would mean the ability to simply cook the brains of your enemies who are anywhere within range of your antennas. No need to line your enemy up in your sights any more, simply send out a nanodrone swarm to map the combat area and zap anyone who your deem to be of threat.
On one hand, this kind of technology could lead to the ultimate smart weapon system, allowing those who wield it to exactly and selectively eliminate just those individuals who are of threat. Depending on exactly how focused this energy can get, it could even be envisioned that specific targeting could allow sub-lethal application to incapacitate rather than kill targets. If you could really accurately target the technology, it might even be possible to zap the right brain cells to pacify or otherwise change the thinking of target populations (time to get out those tinfoil hats everyone!).
On the other hand though this kind of technology would deliver unprecedented power into the hands of those who wielded it. Imagine a world where military, police, or hackers could take control of the wireless power infrastructure and simply kill anyone at will within that sphere of control. That is a pretty powerful tool for whoever wields it to tell you what to do and how to do it.
The killer apps of wireless power are clearly compelling enough that we need to pursue this technology, but at the same time it raises concerns about the darker side of its application. If living in a magic bubble of wireless power is going to also mean conceding absolute control to whoever controls the network, then that is a bargain I am not sure I want to make.