008Invisibility spray available in Boots

Blue sky Policy Alert 008

FP7 themes health agro ict nano energy environment transport ssh space security
ERA goals mobility infrastucture rtd institutions knowledge sharing  joint programming  cooperation 
Author(s)Anthony Walker, Joe Ravetz, Rafael Popper, Thordis Sveinsdottir
Contributor(s)Anna Kononiuk, Denis Loveridge, Andrej Magruk, Dorota Pawlak, Sally Randles, Ozcan Saritas, Phil Shapira, Alexander Sokolov
ManifestationRapid development
Potential impacts in Europe
infrastructures
Major
people's lives
Critical
legislation & regulation
Major
economy & business
Moderate
defence & security
Critical
government & politics
Negligible
environment & ecosystems
Negligible
science & technology
Critical
Importance for EUModerate
Strategic attentionby 2030 Minor  by 2050 Moderate
Type of impactExtremely positive
Inspired byEC research on Nanosciences(Selfassembling and self-organisation)
Related toFP7 project: ENSEMBLE
Keywords, , , , ,
 

 

Wild card

This wild card relates to a situation whereby and invisibility spray is developed and the technology refined until it becomes available in most retail outlets and is affordable for the general public. Initially, this is seen as fun, however there are strong implications for security and the military as applications for warfare are exploited.

 

Surprises ("wild" scenario features)

This wild card was inspired by ongoing research projects and ideas in FP7 regarding breakthroughs in the development of metamaterials and engineered 3-D materials that can reverse the natural direction of visible and near-infrared light rendering target objects ‘invisible’. It is clear that the ‘wild’ nature of this event is the further development of the technology so it can be used on human beings and also being readily available. Although this may seem like a harmless technology, there are radical implications, for instance, there would be a need for an ‘invisibility detector’ and security systems would have to be radically changed (to counter potential applications in espionage). This could open up a new market and provide a large boost to any private invisibility detection services. The potential to transfer this technology to other applications is huge. War would be revolutionised with the attack of the invisible soldiers, criminal activity rises as people are unable to be seen and cars and vehicles are invisible. In fact, there would be a need for a new traffic management system. In parallel with potential applications would be the radicalisation of social networks, and possible new communication techniques would be required. What would this mean for the fashion industry? Could this lead to the collapse of the fashion economy? Further questions regarding the long term safety of users are unanswered, and new legislation required.

 

Possible interpretations

There are numerous conditions that make this Wild Card important – ranging from technological applications to implications on society. For instance, the social quest for the ‘body beautiful’ would be removed, and greater confidence established for people traditionally seen as ‘different’, with more emphasis based on senses other than sight. Heightened awareness of smell and sound becomes apparent, and people could possibly become addicted to the phenomenon of being invisible causing a shift in attitude towards fellow humans. Clearly one of the interpretations and applications for this would be for use in warfare. Whoever developed this technology first would have a distinct advantage, and terrorist and criminal activity would rise until people are afraid to leave their own home without the fear of being attacked. Certainly, there would a need for legislation and regulation regarding the use of such technology.

 

Key actors

Key actors related to this wild card, include:
  • Scanners or "early warners" as anti-stealth technology and systems developers as well as public/private defence and security R&D organisations.
  • Shapers (i.e. enablers/inhibitors) : military and security organisations are obvious enablers as the potential for an invisible nanosoldier becomes a reality. Similarly, criminal and terrorist groups would be very keen to exploit the fact they could be invisible.
  • Stakeholders positively or negatively impacted include then the manufacturing industry if a spray in a can become readily available. This Wild Card, should it occur would also require legislation and policy requirements to ensure human rights are not affected.

 

Potential impacts

This Wild Card has the potential to bring about a number of significant impacts. It is uncertain as to whether these would be positive or negative, and there a number of things that are impossible to predict. However, there would be huge implications for controlling traffic systems and thousands of cameras/CCTV security systems would be rendered obsolete in a very short period of time, as there is a new need to detect ‘invisibles’. There is the potential for new types of crime to emerge and the effects on society have the potential to be significant. New means of communication would be required whilst being invisible and there could be a fundamental damage to social networks.

 

Potential actions

There is already initial research underway regarding the development new kind of materials by bottom-up approach. Novel ideas are further being developed in attempts to make things invisible. For that reason, a number of early actions (pre-wild card) and early reactions (if the wild card occurs) should be considered:

  • Policy actions

    Early actions: Legislation definitions, Regulations; Technology risks, risk analysis; Cooperation in funding between governments and military – otherwise maybe the weapons end only in the hands of armies; Claims to ban it for public use and military

    Early reactions: Regulations, health and safety - long lasting effects

  • Business actions

    Early actions: Cooperation, technology and applications transfer; Money for self assembly research

    Early reactions: Control on business in this area – otherwise high risks

  • Research actions

    Early actions: Possible social implications, Paradigm shift in public attitude; FP7 project Ensemble - self organised materials for/with extreme electromagnetic properties; Countermeasures; Adapting current research (technology); Glasses to see the invisibles.; Surveys of stakeholders, public, R&D attitude; Stakeholders and analysis; (post it crosses boundaries between before and after); Technology mapping, Risk analysis (post it crosses boundaries between before and after).

    Early reactions:

 

Weak signals

There is already research ongoing on metameterials and composite materials with extraordinary properties enabling them to bend light around objects. There is certainly the potential to advance this technology and as such there are a number of signals or observables warning us about the probability of occurrence of such a wild card. Interestingly, invisibility is a phenomenon that has been talked about for many years through various media. In the 19th Century H.G. Wells wrote about the invisible man, and popular rock band Queen had a hit with the invisible man in the 1980’s. More recently, the global success of the Harry Potter franchise has brought the vision of an invisibility cloak to a worldwide audience. Further signals include: (1) First experimental evidence in microwave have already been demonstrated based on transforming optics; (2) Panasonic announces spray-on wallpaper electronically controlled which changes physical appearance of walls; (3) Stealth technology is at the pre-invisibility stage; and (4) Military authorities are increasingly interested in this technology.

There are also a number of growing trends that could be an indication of the future possibility of this wild card including: Research on new security systems; Military advancements in stealth; and breakthroughs in ‘invisibility cloak’ research.

Disclaimer: The wild card presented in this brief may not happen at all or in the near future. iKNOW is a new EU funded research project aimed to explore surprising events (wild cards) and emerging issues (weak signals) potentially shaping or shaking the future of Europe and the world.