What are concrete historical examples of powerful technological secrets?

post by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-05-01T02:22:37.870Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW · No comments

This is a question post.


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answer by Elizabeth (elizabeth) · 2019-05-01T23:31:05.981Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Post-WW2, the allies sold enigma machines to developing countries, without mentioning they had broken the code.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enigma_machine

Note: some people speculate the purchasing countries knew this and accepted the risk (https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/5cpqrc/after_ww2_the_uk_government_sold_enigma_machines/).

answer by Elizabeth (elizabeth) · 2019-05-01T23:26:37.096Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The British kept radar secret during WW2, and attributed pilots' ability to shoot down planes in the dark to vitamin A.

Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-wwii-propaganda-campaign-popularized-the-myth-that-carrots-help-you-see-in-the-dark-28812484/

answer by habryka · 2019-05-01T02:23:01.106Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Dangerous biotechnology
    • Cultures of dangerous pathogens (seems a bit weird to call this a secret, but it has a lot of attributes of secrets)
    • Tools and knowledge to build better gene-editing technology
    • Concrete applications of existing technology that could be highly dangerous
  • Chemical weapons
  • Drone manufacturing technology?
  • Methods of terrorism
    • Potential critical weakpoints in infrastructure
    • Other terrorism ideas
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-05-01T02:23:23.044Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Originally posted by Ruby)

"Drone manufacturing" might be unnecessary or something, or more accurately, you can figure out how to manufacture a drone so long as you can obtain one. I believe many systems can be reverse-engineered.


Though maybe less algorithms and training data. Google's current search engine algorithm might actually be secret? I've heard it is supposed to be, but I don't know.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-05-01T02:23:31.584Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, that's the reason why governments try really hard to prevent foreign powers getting access to their drones and airplanes and other technologies.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-05-01T02:23:47.576Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Originally posted by Ruby)

Have "tools and knowledge to build better gene-editing technology" been kept secret? I had the impression developments were paraded out at conferences and in papers, etc.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2019-05-01T02:23:55.781Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My sense is that there is significant government research here that is being kept confidential, with parallel private sector research that is mostly public

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