Humans have dreamed of weaponised lasers since HG Wells first mooted them. Should we be careful what we wish for?

You can thank HG Wells for the idea of a ray gun. Weaponised lasers, microwave beams, particle beams and so on … Wells’s Martian death rays in 1897’s War of the Worlds sparked the concept.

Twenty years later one Albert Einstein offered a proof of concept in 1917, and then Charles Townes finally made one (OK, a laser) in 1951. Star Trek injected further vim to the fantasy of handheld zappers with its phasers, followed by the blasters of Star Wars – enough appetite to stimulate real military research – remember Ronald “Ray gun” and his Star Wars programme?

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