Herman Khan. About Doomsday machine.
(From “On thermonuclear war”), p. 144-155
Not Look or Be Too Dangerous
I would like to start this section on "not looking or being too dangerous" with somecomments on the strategic theory of three conceptualized devices, which I will call theDoomsday Machine, the Doomsday-in-a-Hurry Machine, and the Homicide Pact Machine.Discussing these idealized (almost caricaturized) devices will both focus attention on the mostspectacular and ominous possibilities and
clarify a good deal of current strategic thinking.
ADoomsday weapons system might be imaginatively (and entirely hypothetically) described asfollows: Assume that for, say, $10 billion we could build a device whose only function is todestroy all human life.
The device is protected from enemy action (perhaps by being putthousands of feet underground) and then connected to a computer which is in turn connected, bya reliable communication system, to hundreds of sensory devices all over the United States. Thecomputer would then be programmed so that if, say, five nuclear bombs exploded over theUnited States, the device would be triggered and the earth destroyed. Barring such things ascoding errors (an important technical consideration) the above machine would seem to be the"ideal" Type I Deterrent. If Khrushchev should order an attack, both Khrushchev and the Soviet population would be automatically and efficiently annihilated. (The emphasis is deliberate. Thisdeterrent is more efficient since in most practical cases deterrents destroy populations—notdecision makers.)Even though it is the ultimate in Type I Deterrence, the Doomsday Machine is anunsatisfactory basis for a weapon system. It is most improbable that either the Soviet or U.S.governments would ever authorize procuring such a machine. The project is expensive enough soit would be subject to a searching budgetary and operational scrutiny—a scrutiny which wouldraise questions it could never survive.Before considering these questions, let us discuss how one might adapt the DoomsdayMachine to Type II and Type III Deterrent purposes. For reasons that will become clear, I wouldlike to call this model the Doomsday-in-a-Hurry Machine. The computer would be given all thefacilities it would need to be "well informed" about world affairs. We could then unilaterallylegislate into existence a
Sovet (or Chinese) Criminal Code.
3 While I would not care to guess the exact form that a reasonably efficient Dooms-day machine would take, I would be willing to conjecture that if the project were started today and sufficiently well supported one could have such a machine by1970. I would also guess that the cost would be between 10 and 100 billion dollars. Even then it might not be possible to destroygroups of especially well-prepared people, The mechanism would use most likely not involve the breaking up of the earth, butthe creation of really large amounts of radioactivity or the causing of major climatic changes or, less likely, the extreme use of thermal effects.
This would list in great detail all the acts which the Soviets were not allowed to commit.The Soviets would then be informed that if the computer detects them in any violations it will blow up the world. The logicians (and some so-called practical men) might then believe that wehad solved all of our deterrence problems. After all, we will now have drawn a line across whichthe Soviets would not dare to cross. We could relax forever our interest in defense and turn our attention to other matters.Unfortunately, the world is not that simple. First, the Soviets would rush to build their ownmachine. There would be a rather hectic race to publish first. This race to publish first involvesmore than prestige. There almost has to be an incompatibility between the two sets of rules, since