Foresight Update 49

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A publication of the Foresight Institute

Foresight Update 49 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5


Guest Viewpoint:
Law Enforcement and Emerging Technology

by Captain Thomas J. Cowper, New York State Police

Foresight Institute Senior Associates understand, probably better than most, the dangers as well as the benefits associated with the emergence of powerful new technologies. Throughout our history mankind has reaped great rewards from on-going technological progress. It has also grappled with the turmoil of the resulting social, cultural and economic changes. This trend will undoubtedly continue in the future. Nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and other new technologies bring with them tremendous benefits that include advances in the standard of living, increases in human lifespan, and prosperity unimagined in previous eras. At the same time they pose some serious questions for and about humanity and create significant potential dangers that have to be addressed. Some of these technologies have the power to divide people, communities, and nations, and create tensions that may inevitably lead to great conflict and turmoil in the coming years. If the emergence of nanotechnology and AI over the next several decades is to take place peacefully, openly and ethically it must do so within nations that embody those same characteristics, maximizing both individual liberty and collective security.

A nation's police forces play a central role in helping to create the peaceful and open social environment conducive to economic prosperity and continued technological progress. As such, they will face unprecedented challenges in the coming decades, walking a fine and sometime ambiguous line between protecting constitutional freedoms and providing domestic security and homeland defense, acting either as a catalyst for progress and prosperity or a hindrance to it. Spurred on by the exponential advancement of radical new technologies, the world is experiencing change at an ever increasing rate, changes that will effect societies, cultures, and religions, and alter the fundamental concept of what it means to be human. These changes are being enthusiastically embraced by some and stridently resisted by others, creating new opportunities for serious and violent conflict between widely divergent groups who at the same time are attempting to foster and hinder technological progress. And the police are at the forefront of this conflict, arbiters for the rights of technophiles and the fears of technophobes.

Within the rapidly changing geopolitical and social landscape of the 21st Century the free world's police agencies will continue to operate - enforcing existing laws, responding to calls for assistance, investigating crimes against people and property, and helping to enhance overall public safety and domestic security within our communities and nations, all while striving to maintain historic constitutional freedoms and individual liberties. Accomplishing this very difficult mission effectively is impossible without a thorough understanding of emerging technologies - their capabilities, limitations, benefits and dangers.

The events of September 11th, 2001, add to the potential threat of powerful technologies and increase the importance of police participation in future technological developments. Weapons of Mass Destruction events, bio-terrorism, and gray-goo scenarios perpetrated by terrorists or criminals may result in a social backlash against further development and calls for severe governmental restrictions on nanotechnology research, delaying or even preventing the attainment of its potential benefits to humanity.

Police departments historically lack the resources and personnel to devote significant time or investment in considering future/emerging technologies, making them slow to adapt to the resulting changes and to incorporate them into operational policing. But the rate of technological advancement today and the potential power of nanotech, biotech and AI no longer allows us the luxury of waiting for these technologies to mature before gaining a thorough knowledge and understanding of their capabilities. Lack of knowledge about our changing world and ignorance of the emerging technologies helping to reshape our societies will make it difficult to operate rationally and effectively in the future. Falling farther and farther behind the technological power-curve could make traditional police agencies increasingly less relevant to the communities they serve, fostering undesirable alternatives for fulfilling the predominant role of policing our free democracies. Without a continuing and concerted effort to understand these emerging technologies and embrace the dynamic nature of existing social systems resulting from accelerating change, we will continue to see an increase in private security serving a limited community of affluent patrons and a larger domestic role for military forces bolstering the real or perceived ineffectiveness of civilian police agencies. Both trends, compelled by public uncertainty and fears of terrorism in the wake of September 11th, run counter to the creation and maintenance of enduring and widespread peace and prosperity in civilized nations.

It is important for police officers and their agencies to understand emerging technologies for several reasons:

  1. Police officers have to be able to anticipate its use by terrorists and criminals and thereby thwart its use against our nations and communities;
  2. Police agencies need to understand emerging technologies in order to incorporate their use into police operations when necessary; and
  3. Police agencies need to understand emerging technologies into society to be able to effectively deal with the social changes and cultural impacts that inevitably result.

Continued police apathy and ignorance of nanotech, biotech and AI, and the potential changes they will bring to our communities and way of life, will only add to the turmoil, making law enforcement a part of the problem and not part of the solution.

About the author

Recognizing the important role that police will play in the process of continued technological advancement and social change, New York State Police Captain Thomas J. Cowper attended the latest Foresight Institute Senior Associates Gathering, April 26-28. Captain Cowper has been a Senior Associate for two years.

In addition to his affiliation with the New York State Police, Captain Cowper is also a member of two organizations that recognize the need for law enforcement to be involved in understanding how the future may unfold. The first of these, the Society of Police Futurists International (PFI), has been interested in the changing social landscape and the emerging technologies reshaping our world since the organization's formation in 1991.

Made up of active and retired members of the policing profession, academics, and members of the private sector interested in the future of policing, PFI's goals include:

Recently, PFI and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collaborated to form a "Futures Working Group" (FWG) to leverage the strengths of both organizations and to examine and promote innovation in policing, including strategies concerning the future. Consisting of approximately 15 members from PFI and staff from the FBI Academy, the FWG has implemented a variety of projects in collaboration with other organizations and academic institutions engaged in futures research and technology development. Pabout/FWG will continue to pursue opportunities to further cooperative efforts and understanding between law enforcement and organizations such as the Foresight Institute.

Tom Cowper has a BS Degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology and a Masters Degree in Public Administration. He has been a police officer for 19 years and has spoken in a variety of law enforcement forums regarding future technology, social change and its impact on policing. His e-mail address is For more information on PFI or the FWG, contact Tom or visit the PFI website ( An FWG website will soon be available at

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Foresight Update 49 - Table of Contents


Web Watch.49

by Gina Miller is operated by QuaNTeq, LLC co-founded by Steve Lenhert, former nanotech guide at The site distributes publications, offers a good introduction to nanotechnology and features a Nano Encyclopedia that often includes images and references within the definitions. Nanotech articles and PDF archives are available for download. Try to find the two quizzes when you are done reading the introduction! is the website of The NanoBusiness Alliance. Register online at the site for NanoBusiness Spring 2002, become a member, visit the messageboard, read various newsbriefs, look up upcoming events or receive nanobusiness news in your email box. For more on NanoBusiness Alliance see Update 48. is a rather large collection of links created by transhumanist and extropian Ziana Astralos. Websites include everything from scientific news stories, robots, computers, nanotechnology pages and other futuristic themes. Order recommended books with direct links to Redirect to for purchasing movies with transhumanism-related concepts. Also access a list of links, Magazines, T.V., humor, and mailing lists.

Center for Nanotechnology, NASA Ames Research Center,, has an extensive gallery of movie clips of Carbon Nanotube simulations. You may also download images including the "worlds tiniest nanopencil" and PDF or PowerPoint files of presentations. (A previous NASA Ames Nanotechnology website , now moved to, was reviewed in Update 26.) is a popular finance messageboard service. Type in a symbol and talk about a stock with other online users. The interesting thing about this particular medium is that users seem to invent their own symbols to umbrella topics. Join Raging Bull for free and type in NANOTECH as your stock symbol you will then join a discussion to which you can post and/or read messages about nanotechnology. Messages posted span topics from current news articles, new companies, investments and products.

Nanotechnology Science & Technology Institute located at organizes events such as the Nanotech 2003 conference, and publications like technical proceedings and an email list. This site features links, papers and news hyperlinked to other websites and current nanotechnology breakthrough articles.

Marshall Brain's How Stuff Works website features a section on nanotechnology The pages are a colorful introductory primer on the subject with graphics, forums to login to and a website to further one's education on the subject. How Stuff Works is an online and print syndication, with books, videos and magazines of various information.

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Senior Associates Program

The Senior Associates Program has been established to provide steady support for the research projects of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, and for the education and communication projects of the Foresight Institute, enabling long-term planning and commitments, and providing seed money for new efforts.

The Senior Associates Program supports vital research and education in molecular nanotechnology. It enables individuals to play a key role in advancing this technology and its responsible use through their individual or corporate contributions.

By pledging an annual contribution of $250 to $5,000 a year for five years, Senior Associates join those most committed to making a difference in nanotechnology. Benefits of becoming a Senior Associate include special publications, online interaction, and special meetings. Senior Associates will also beta-test Foresight's Web Enhancement debate software.

Foresight Institute and Institute for Molecular Manufacturing are nonprofit organizations; donations are tax-deductible in the U.S. to the full extent permitted by law. Donations can be made by check from a U.S. bank, postal money order, VISA, or Mastercard. Credit card donations may be sent by fax.

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Foresight Update 49 - Table of Contents | Page1 | Page2 | Page3 | Page4 | Page5

From Foresight Update 49, originally published August 2002.