Emma Brehany

A Dangerous Duo: Advancing Technologies and Stagnant Mental Illness Levels

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Humans are creating new technologies capable of mass destruction. These technologies are becoming cheaper, more accessible and easier to use.  This combined with the current, inefficient “treatments” for mental illness (which merely manage symptoms rather than truly fix the underlying problem) poses a serious threat to the United States. All it will take is one seriously mentally ill person with violent tendencies getting their hands on these technologies to inflict mass casualty that will subsequently bring social, economic, military and government forces crumbling down. Since halting technological innovation is unrealistic, the United States must take steps to mitigate the toll mental illness imposes on society. This paper examines the current problematic situation where advancing technologies that can be used for sinister purposes is compounded by the lack of true progress made in treating mental illness. From there, it proposes a series of steps the United States can take to reduce the threat level and ultimately eradicate it.

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Rylie White

An Emerging Threat: The Impact of Hypersonic Weapons on National Security, Crisis Instability, and Deterrence Strategy

INTRODUCTION
In the 20th century, the nuclear bomb was viewed by the public as one of the single largest threats to human existence; even in the past few years, media and expert discussions involving national security greatly focus on the threat of global nuclear conflict. However, technological advancements in hypersonic flight have given rise to an entirely new class of weapons that will exacerbate this threat to international peace and security. In 2017, Air Force General John Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command reported that China and Russia are “aggressively pursuing” hypersonic weapons and, when discussing United States missile defense, stated, “We don't have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”

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Zachary Eldredge

Synthetic Biology for Space Exploration

Introduction: The Challenges of Space Settlement

On December 11, 2017, President Trump issued Space Policy Directive 1, which outlined new long-term exploration goals for the United States government’s human spaceflight programs. It stated, “the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.” To realize a goal of long-term utilization, humans will have to go beyond short expeditions to the Moon or Mars and begin constructing infrastructures and systems that will allow for permanent human presences in space.
One of the most challenging aspects of long-duration space operations will be creating an outpost that is as self-sufficient as possible. Shipments of important materials from Earth will likely be difficult and cost-prohibitive. The more that a permanent human outpost can rely on itself to meet material needs, the less strain will be placed on the Earth-outpost supply lines. An illustrative example is provided by the physical constraints on spaceflight – every kilogram of payload delivered to Mars will require the launch of 99 kilograms of fuel. Ideally, a space outpost will tend as much as possible towards “material closure.” Material closure, as an ideal, means that an outpost would neither take in matter from its surroundings nor emit waste elsewhere. Although perfect material closure is probably not possible, it is a useful design principle for space outposts.
Life support systems, the creation of a maximally independent biosphere capable of sustaining human life, will be key in a space outpost. This is a significant undertaking – on Earth, chemical elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur are all continually exchanged between the atmosphere, lithosphere, and the biosphere in complicated, self-regulated flows that make life possible. Recreating systems to serve as substitutes on a distant world is a tall order. The biosphere created must be able to sustain life of many different complexities ranging from microbes to plants to, most importantly, the human inhabitants of the outpost. Unlike on Earth, where chemicals can take thousands of years to go through the biogeochemical cycles and large quantities are stored in the oceans and crust, an isolated, artificial biosphere must operate with relatively fast cycles and small reservoirs.2 For an example of what can go wrong, one need look no further than the experience of Biosphere 2 in the 1990s, an attempt to construct a self-contained biosphere that ultimately failed for a variety of reasons. One key factor is that oxygen within Biosphere 2 fell to 14% of the atmosphere (from 21% on Earth generally) due to the presence of excessive photosynthetic bacteria in the soils. Clearly small oversights can wreck the careful balance of a biosphere.
Beyond life-support, a space outpost’s self-sufficiency also relies on it being able to meet its own material needs as much as possible. Modern industrial and chemical practices rely on a vast, often globalized supply chain that will be difficult to extend to an interplanetary range, especially during early stages of an interplanetary outpost. Therefore, alternate means of manufacturing will need to be developed. This is especially true for a few important sectors: materials, medicines, and useful organic chemicals. Materials will be required to replace, repair, and expand on-site facilities, possibly with 3D-printing technology. Medicines will be required to treat any number of difficult-to-foresee medical problems that could arise in crew members, especially for long-term missions. Useful organic chemicals such as solvents or reagents may be in conducting scientific work in space, one of the most prominent drivers of early exploration.
In all of these cases, a main thrust of the program ought to be emphasizing flexible, general-purpose solutions. New capabilities will be needed as the mission continues and new needs arise. The need for adaptability can come from both accidental and deliberate shifts. Accidental shifts may be required by unforeseen circumstances, for instance, as in Biosphere 2, the ecological system may require adjustments that were not prepared for. Deliberate shifts occur as missions continue, lasting months and years: goals and therefore requirements may be changed and therefore an outpost’s needs will change along with them.

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Claire Spina

The Future of Gene Editing: Building a Competitive U.S. Strategy

Executive Summary

It is not difficult to imagine a future in which the major military powers are all capable of deploying genetically enhanced super soldiers. The challenge is to imagine a future where the U.S. is not one of these powers. Foreign powers may not be the only threats either. Insurgents within the U.S., self-modified using kits like the ones that are already on the market in 2018, could threaten to destabilize the country from the inside. The seeds of this future are already being planted. With the regulatory framework we have now for human genomic modification, the U.S. is already falling behind on an international stage because it is locked into a place where it cannot proceed. Clinical trials in gene modification have reached more advanced phases elsewhere, particularly in China. The path to leveling the competition will require a system that has been developed with the specific challenges of gene modification in mind, as well as funding focused on improving the baseline of gene editing technology.

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Naomi Rinaldo

Do The Crime, Your Data Is Mine

INTRODUCTION

Violent extremism plagues the entire world disrupting cultures, economies, and harming individuals on a daily basis. The motivations to organize and execute these acts vary widely, making the solution elusive. Combating the radicalization of individuals is complex, as there is not a single variable or identifier. Once radicalized, there has been little success in rehabilitation and restricting the recruitment of others. The following document discusses a two-part approach to stopping the spread of violent extremism within the United States prison systems and better understanding the mechanisms of radicalization in order to potentially identify those who are susceptible to violent ideology conversion.

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The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is an independent, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit public policy research institute. The Institute identifies and aggressively shepherds discussion on key science and technology issues facing our society. From these discussions and forums, we develop meaningful science and technology policy options and ensure their implementation at the intersection of business and government.

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