Background Material for Chapter 1
This appendix provides definitions of the 26 key technologies listed in Box 1-1 in Chapter 1 of this report. The definitions, arranged here in alphabetical order, are quoted from a 2001 study sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency (OTI IA, 2001). In that study, a panel of experts identified three tiers of technologies (see Box 1-1 in Chapter 1) likely to impact national security by the 2015 time frame.
Advanced Materials: Development of materials, generated at the micro level, that are the building blocks for stronger, more efficient physical structures of all sizes. These materials are not inherently mechanical systems (such as MEMS) but are building blocks that can be combined to produce physical systems of greatly increased physical strength or other highly desirable attributes (e.g., electrical conductivity).
Alternative Energy: Development of energy from a source that can be replenished or that replenishes itself, such as solar and wind energy, and is generally environmentally less harmful than ‘traditional’ energy sources. This excludes fuel cells and nuclear power. Electrical energy—once generated—may be used in a variety of applications including transportation, manufacturing, or energy weapons applications.
Brain-Machine Interfaces: Development of computers with wide-ranging interfaces that will ultimately include pointing, gesturing, and other forms of communication, allowing substantive human-computer interactions without the need for physical contact. This will require complex integration of speech recognition, natural-language processing, speech analysis, knowledge-based reasoning ability, and speech generation.
Cloned or Tailored Organisms: Organisms that are genetically modified to produce repeatable characteristics. These may be animals or plants used as source material for medical purposes or food sources. Productivity associated with plant and livestock production is significantly increased in these products.
Directed Energy (Microwave): Development of high-power directed energy systems (excluding lasers) that allow for the coherent (no diffusion) transmission of energy (at the “megawatt” level) in the radio
frequency (RF) spectrum. These may be used as weapons or as alternate (nonwire-based) methods of energy transmission, including transmission of energy to and from space.
Distributed Energy: Development of small-scale, efficient, stationary, energy-generation technologies that use a variety of fuels and technologies (natural gas, solar energy, and fuel cells). These generation systems are distributed in homes, businesses, and workplaces such that existing large conventional power generation systems are secondary. The resulting energy grid has much higher levels of reliability and efficiencies because of fewer transmission losses.
Distributed-Grid-Based Processing Systems: A type of computing in which different components and objects comprising an application can be located on different computers connected to a network. It requires a set of standards that specify how objects communicate with each other. Distributed computational systems, in combination with multiagent software, can achieve extremely high processing levels.
Efficient Software Development: Development of significant enhancements in algorithm designs and development, testing, and production of software such that the human labor and time required for developing complex code are greatly reduced and a much more efficient use is made of computer processing capability.
Fuel Cells: Development of efficient, safe, cost-effective hydrogen, natural gas, or other, not yet identified, fuel cells. These devices would produce electricity through chemical processes. Fuel cells are in limited use today in a variety of applications, such as automobiles.
Gene Therapy: The treatment of disease by either replacing damaged or abnormal genes with normal ones or providing new genetic instructions to help fight diseases such as cancer.
High-Power Lasers: Development of high-power directed energy lasers that allow for the coherent (no diffusion) transmission of energy (at the “megawatt” level) in the “laser” portions (Infrared [IR], near IR, visual) of the RF spectrum. These may be used as weapons or as alternate (nonwire-based) methods of energy transmission, including transmission of energy to and from space.
Hypersonic/Supersonic Aircraft: Development of propulsion, fuels, and materials to allow for sustained routine military hypersonic and/or commercial supersonic flight. This would allow transcontinental movement of personnel, weapons, and equipment in far less time.
Image Understanding: This consists of automatic target recognition and machine vision. It involves achieving rapid and accurate pattern recognition of shapes using machine-processed sensor data, then using the recognized pattern to identify and track objects. Such systems provide high reliability for machine (weapon) recognition of shapes and objects and enable the military to identify, assess, and track targets.
Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS): MEMS technology is the integration of mechanical elements, sensors, actuators, and electronics on a silicon substrate. Current applications include ink jet printer heads, sensitive pressure and mass sensors, accelerometers for airbag deployment, and MEMS-based moving mirrors as switches to fiber-optic telecommunications networks. Future devices could be based on polymers, with their raw materials far less expensive and less equipment intensive for manufacturing than current materials. The most promising area for application of polymer MEMS is in biomedicine.
Molecular Electronics (or “moletronics”): Electronic transport through individual molecules. Speculative applications include low-power logic in circuits, simplified high-speed memory, and cellular automata and neuromolecular networks in computers or other information technology devices.
Multilingual Voice Recognition: Development of computer systems that can recognize spoken words in various languages. Such systems can be distributed so that language no longer becomes a barrier in human interactions.
Nanotechnology: The ability to measure, manipulate, and organize matter on a nanoscale—1 billionth to 100 billionths of a meter. This will lead to dramatic changes in the way materials, devices, and systems are understood and create major developments in areas such as computer efficiency, human organ restoration, and “designer” materials.
New-Generation Nuclear Power Plants: Development of safe, environmentally improved, and cost-competitive electrical power generation from nuclear processes (fission and possibly fusion).
Next-Generation Space Shuttle System: Development of propulsion, fuels, and materials for routine sustained military and/or commercial travel into space. This may be a fully reusable two-stage-to-orbit vehicle with Concorde-like flight operations.
Optical Communications: Development and use of optical signal generation, amplification, switching, and transmission of communications data. A complete “optical pipe” enhances the efficiency (speed and volume) of communications streams.
Performance-Enhancing Drugs: Development of mental and physical performance-enhancing drugs such that human physical or cognitive ability is increased in a clearly measurable way (more than 10 percent) across the entire age spectrum.
Regenerative Medicine (including tissue engineering): Development of procedures to grow human and animal organs, skin, and cartilage for health-care purposes and for the production of food, clothing, and many other products. Includes development and manipulation of laboratory-grown molecules, cells, tissues, or organs to replace or support the function of defective or injured body parts.
Sensor Webs: Development of complex arrays and networks of sensors that could be used both in space for strategic needs and at the lowest echelons for urban warfare. One example would be the deployment of a large constellation of synthetic aperture radar imaging satellites to provide nearly real-time worldwide coverage. All information from sensors is relayed to a central uplink, where information is uploaded into a computer and analyzed.
“Smart” Materials (organic and inorganic): Development of materials that have internal sensing and adjustment mechanisms such that they can repair themselves if damaged or if structural integrity is threatened or reduced. Organic materials for control of biological systems (sewage treatment and photo-synthesis) have self-contained feedback mechanisms to respond to changes in the environment so the overall process is sustained or improved.
Ubiquitous Water Generation: Development of economical, clean, safe, potable water. This water has been through the flocculation, filtration, disinfection (via chlorine or ozone), and fluoridation processes. The technology includes developments in desalinization; such techniques may or may not depend on development of new energy sources.
Wireless Communications: A control system or communications system in which electromagnetic or acoustic waves transmit a flow of data or a signal through air or space instead of through wire or cable. In most cases, RF or IR signals are used. Typical wireless equipment used today are wireless local area networks, global positioning systems, cellular telephones, personal pagers, cordless computer accessories like IR mice and keyboards, home entertainment remote controls, garage door openers, and two-way walkie-talkies. Portions of systems with a large geographic influence may continue to use fiber and cable.
OTI IA (Office of Transnational Issues, Intelligence Analysis). 2001. Global Technology Scenarios Through 2015: America’s Game to Lose. OTI IA 2001-083. CIA Analytic Report. November.