The Last Sword Maker
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Chapter 1


  Cover design by Sean Thomas

Here is the prologue and first chapter of my upcoming novel.


Author’s note:
The innovations in genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology described in this book are consistent with forecasts made by leading scientists.

In 2003, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC, opened its Institute for Nanoscience. The laboratory is at the forefront of a global effort by governments and private companies to develop advanced weapon systems using nanotechnology and other “cross-disciplinary opportunities.”

Finally, all historical information about the People’s Republic of China and Tibet is accurate.


What need is there for responsibility? I believe that the horrifying deterioration in the ethical conduct of people today stems from the mechanization and de-humanization of our lives, a disastrous byproduct of the development of the scientific and technical mentality.  We are guilty.  Man grows cold…faster than the planet he inhabits.

                                                                                    —Albert Einstein


The Letter

In August 2018, Nobel laureate and biochemist Bill Eastman hosted a conference for some of the greatest minds in science at the Millennium Institute in San Francisco. The theme of the conference was the anticipated growth in technology over the next half century. The predictions of the attending scientists—who ranged from physicists to geneticists, to computer scientists—prompted Eastman to draft a letter to the president, warning him of the possible dangers from emerging technologies. “We are in the early stages of a technological transformation that will dwarf the Industrial Revolution,” he wrote. “A revolution that will change economies and societies in ways that are difficult to imagine today.” The letter, modeled after Albert Einstein’s 1939 letter to President Roosevelt warning him about the possibility of an atomic bomb, was signed by Eastman and twenty-seven other leading scientists. It described how the combination of genetics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology (manufacturing on an atom-by-atom basis) would enable the creation of microscopic machines smaller than a single cell.

As soon as 2030, these three sciences will merge. Advances in nanotechnology will make the construction of these microscopic devices possible, while innovations in genetic engineering will enable them to make copies of themselves. Finally, developments in artificial intelligence will guide them with computers that exceed human intelligence. While these tiny devices will have tremendous benefits—including the ability to greatly prolong life by entering the bloodstream to fight disease—they can just as easily be designed as a new breed of biological weapon.

Eastman predicted a new arms race between the major powers as each strove to tap into the military applications of the new science. But his most sobering predictions came after the arms race was over.

Unlike other weapons of mass destruction, which are extremely difficult to make, these devices will be cheap and simple to acquire. . . . Instead of rogue states and terrorist groups developing nuclear or biological weapons, we will have small groups or even individuals (such as those who create computer viruses today) capable of engineering viruses that can target people with a specific genetic trait.

The letter stressed that while the invention of new biological weapons was a foreseeable possibility, these microscopic devices would be so versatile, and evolve so rapidly, that thousands of other hazardous scenarios would arise that we cannot even fathom today. To prepare for these contingencies, Eastman called for the creation of a new government agency to regulate their development. He concluded, “We must accept the likelihood that the future will be a place where a few clever individuals will gain access to astonishing power.”

While the letter caused a stir within the scientific community, media attention was sparse. Only a few major papers bothered to cover the story, and many prominent scientists—including some who had attended the Millennium Conference—denounced Eastman and scoffed at his predictions, calling him paranoid.

It was 2018, after all, and with so many doomsday predictions come and gone, the world had grown skeptical. Still bruised by the global recession and under the constant bombardment of news about terrorism, climate change, and rogue nuclear powers, people were too exhausted for yet another pending catastrophe. Besides, most people believed that the answers to the world’s problems would come by turning toward science, not away from it. Humankind had learned, and had the lesson reinforced many times, that its future would be all the brighter the more its progress was intertwined with its dominion over nature—the atom, the cell, the genome.

But in a college dorm room overlooking the Charles River, a twenty-year-old college sophomore named Eric Hill happened upon a summary of the letter in the Boston Globe. For reasons he could not quite explain, it enthralled him. Over the next few weeks, he scoured the Internet, reading everything he could about Eastman and his predictions. He quickly noticed that while Eastman’s detractors dismissed his dystopian vision, none of them questioned his predictions for technological change. No one disputed that artificial intelligence would eventually exceed human intelligence, or that the human body would soon be integrated with intravascular microscopic devices. Eric knew there was something important here. Bill Eastman, the man who had accurately predicted the rise of biotechnology a generation ago, had a new vision of the future. And while the inventions he foresaw might not be realized for decades, their antecedents were already being designed in universities and laboratories across the globe.

A month after the letter’s publication, Eric made the change. He switched his major to chemistry with a concentration in systems analysis. At that moment, he could not have imagined just how far he would rise, or how his life and Eastman’s would come together. How, despite their best efforts, Eric’s work would help bring Eastman’s worst nightmares to fruition.




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©2018 by Brian Nelson