There was an instance a few years ago where I was advocating cryptocurrency to a government official. The question that came back to me was: “but can’t it be used illegitimately for X?”
I thought to myself: well, it certainly is dual use.
Most breakthrough technologies have always been dual use. Long before SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket, inspiring young kids to go into engineering (I see way more NASA t-shirts on kids these days)…
The technology was developed for the Nazi V2 missile program, designed to spread terror on London in the waning days of WWII…
Well before we used high powered telescopes to capture breathtaking pictures of black holes…
We were using telescopes to spot missile fields in the Soviet Union…
I thought about dual use technologies after seeing CNN’s new reporting of scientists’ views on the origin of COVID. Amazingly, several (including the former CDC director) go on the record saying it likely originated in a government lab.
(It does seem people talk more honestly when they are no longer affiliated with the US government…)
This isn’t to say that their hypothesis is true. I have no idea. This is also not to single out a country because certainly the US and the Soviet Union engaged in this type of dangerous bioweapons work for many decades.
But their research had a dual use — by understanding why viruses can structurally become more contagious, we can enhance our treatments and prepare for future pandemics we can’t imagine.
These technologies always go both ways. After all, before crypto became a fundamentally important asset class, it was used to purchase drugs on the darkweb. And we haven’t even really started yet.
Dual use technologies: sometimes we control it well, sometimes we don’t.
And if we can’t? Well, that’s going to be a lot of tough noogies for all of us.