And here, on a paragraph by paragraph basis, is why:
The history of technology shows a progression of doing more and more with less and less. What happens if we extrapolate this trend? Could this be why we seem to be alone in the Universe?
If you extrapolate a trend without any understanding of where the trend comes from or how it operates, you get meaningless and absurd results. Consider what happens if you take some measurements of a cyclic phenomenon where the sample set is smaller than the cycle period, or where the inter-sample time is longer than the cycle period. You will either see an apparantly linear trend (rising or falling depending almost entirely on luck/random chance) or an apparantly randomly distributed set of values. If you don't understand the mechanics behind a phenomenon, you can't meaningfully extrapolate from limited data (and, as far as we can tell from the author's argument, the size of his sample set is less than or equal to one).
Every improvement in our technology has allowed us to do more with less. Once it took thousands of men decades to build a cathedral. Today we can put up a building the same size in a few months with a few dozen people.
Here we have an argument based on a circular definition of improvement. By the author's definition, technology N+1 is only an improvement over technology N if it provides an increase in efficiency. It doesn't help any that there is no mention of what sorts of resources are being considered for the purposes of efficiency calculation.
Our destructive power has followed a similar trend. The time was when destroying a city required an army. Now it requires merely a few dozen men. Behind those men is a huge technological infrastructure, of course, but the actual execution is simple.
Here the author demonstrates exactly how flimsy his arguments really are. Does it really make a difference if the army required to destroy a city is located in the city at the time, or mustered thousands of miles away a few months or years earlier. That army still had to be provisioned and managed. The work still couldn't be done by only a few dozen men.
The simple fact is that modern technological culture can't be maintained by a small group of people: it is dependant on a vast army of millions of people working at all levels to provide goods and services that feed the mechanism. Without all the support structure, the 'god-like' knowledge of nuclear fission, nanotechnology, or biochemistry is just so many words and figures.
This brings us back to the question of doing 'more' with 'less': Two thousand years ago a small handfull of men with simple bronze or iron weapons, could muster an army that could bring the greatest cultures of europe and asia to their knees. How much effort do you think a similar feat would take today? I'd say that Alexander and Ghengis Kahn had the better deal on this score.
Some time during the 1960s the human race gained the ability to destroy itself. At the time assembling this destructive power required the all the industrialised nations of the world to put it at the top of their priority list. Today it could be done by any one of those nations if the others did not do anything about it.
In fact, any one of the top five economic powers has had the ability to assemble this kind of destructive power since the mid-fifties. The rest of the world, however, is so dirt poor and so badly educated and organized, that even with active help from other nations, assembling a working nuclear weapon is still a major undertaking.
Modern technology is fiendishly expensive. It requires all sorts of support structure -- both physical and intellectual -- and tends to break down if that infrastructure is not perfectly maintained.
As technology improves in the future we can expect this trend to continue. New discoveries will make it easier to both build and destroy.
Well, aside from the inference that technology can improve in the past I have to wonder about what might become of technologies specifically targeted at making 'it' more difficult to destroy. The current president of the U.S.A. seems to think that such things are possible (anti-missile defenses) and I can think of a few other discoveries that have had similar effects (radar, kevlar, fire-resistant materials). Again, we are faced with the author's circular and self-serving definitions, not with any matters of actual fact.
Eventually we will discover a technology which allows a small group, or perhaps even an individual, to assemble a device which will destroy civilisation, or perhaps even the planet. I don't know what this technology will look like. Maybe it will be an engineered virus, or perhaps a nanobot. Or it may be some principle or concept that would be as strange to us as a television would be to a Victorian steam engineer.
The precise form does not matter. Call it the Omega Technology. Sooner or later we will develop the Omega Technology.
Here we have pure and undiluted fantasy. I might as well say "Eventually we will discover a technology which allows faster than light travel." The author explicitly declaims any knowledge of what this magical technology might look like, but is clearly convinced that it will have no shortcomings or possible defenses. If the history of technology has shown us anything it is that no technology is perfect, and all technological solutions must bend to practical realities.
Even if we accept that this fabled 'Omega Technology' is a certainty, the author leaves the time period in which we can expect it to arise completely open ended. With an upper bound of billions of years, why should we even care?
So could the world survive if any small group could assemble a doomsday machine? I doubt it. If it can be done then someone somewhere will do it. They might do it to hold the world to ransom, or to demand that their ideal government be put in place, or just because they think that humanity is a Bad Thing. Someone will do it. Probably lots of people will do it. And sooner or later it will be set off, and the world will end.
Here the author makes the unfounded assumption that anything he can't personally imagine is, by necessity, impossible. Fortunately, human imagination, in the mean, has proven far more limited than physical reality. In this case, the author is blinded by his desire to prove his own thesis.
The author also assumes that self-preservation is a very weak human instinct. A suicide bomber who is willing to kill himself and twenty strangers may be much less sanguine about pulling the trigger if those twenty strangers are replaced with his entire family or all of his friends. The fact that modern technological devices require the input of hundreds or thousands of people just in order to get built, means that there are likely to be many more cool heads involved in the process. This was (and is) the logic behind the insanity of Mutually Assured Destruction.
Many people have wondered where all the aliens are. The universe is big, and there has been plenty of time for many civilisations to arise and become star-faring. Surely we are not the first.
I suspect that indeed we are not. On countless worlds strange creatures have evolved sentience, discovered fire, wondered what the stars were, and then found out what the stars were. And then they found the Omega Technology.
Finally, the author shows his full (if paltry) hand, and, in the process, tramples all over Occam's razor. His argument is so powerfull, so all encompassing, that even explains one of the greatest mysteries of all time: where are all the little green men?
Of course, the obvious answer to this question isn't nearly as sexy as an Omega Technology, doomsday weapons and a lifeless universe: All the little green men are sitting at home doing something usefull and productive!
Rather than positing some magical doomsday device, we could simply assume that interstellar travel is too costly or dangerous to ever be worthwhile. If faster than light travel is, in fact, impossible, and if the interstellar medium is as dirty as it appears (bits of rock, dust and gas everywhere, high levels of ionizing radion streaming about, etc.) then it is easy to imagine that travel between stars is extremely hazardous. Any super-intelligent culture would more readilly Dyson spheres, ring-worlds, orbital habitats, or even entirely new planets, before it tried flinging perfectly good people and materials off into the aether.
More likely, however, is that industrial cultures like ours are simply not very long lived. They consume lots of resources and require a great deal of commitment from their members. A brief overview of history proves the point: History is dotted with technologically effective cultures that either collapsed under their own weight or were invaded from without and dismantled for loot. The human race continued on quite nicely even though the cultures themselves were destroyed.
The same is probably true of all the little green men out there on other planets. Their advanced technological cultures just couldn't keep it up long enough to send representatives to many of the surrounding start systems and they collapsed back into some more barbarous state (possibly a more relaxed state as well, but that's beside the point).
We can probably expect something similar to happen in the next several hundred years or so, without the intervention of some exotic Omega Technology. The destroyer will be something far more mundane and far less deadly: greed, sloth and fanatacism.
While the author is, I am sure, banking on the existance of human greed and fanatacism as the means by which the Omega Technology will be utilized, he is, oddly, ignoring the fact that these same forces tend to mitigate against technological progress over the long run. If these forces are loosed on the world, it is far more likely that they will bring a cease to the rapid technological progress to which we have become accustomed in recent centuries, than that they will be the engine that constructs and wields the Omega Technology.