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Just Think of the Potential!

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"Forgive me, Mr. President, but I am a man of science, not of war! I intended the Giant Death Ray to be used for good, not evil!"
Professor Death, That Mitchell and Webb Look

Also called simply "Potential Applications".

Breaks down into three closely intertwined subtropes:

  • Think of the Military Potential!
  • Think of the Lives We Could Improve!
  • Think of the Money We Could Make!

Just Think of the Potential is a trope often used to justify the existence of a dangerous situation and/or provide motivation for a disinterested antagonist, such as a corporation.

A character or characters with vision, sometimes representing a large organization, encounters a new, esoteric technology, and suddenly realizes all the Potential Applications it could be put to. The technology can come in any form — maybe a Mad Scientist just constructed a group of Ridiculously Human Robots, maybe astronauts have brought back a Black Box filled with Imported Alien Phlebotinum, maybe genetics researchers have dreams of Monster Organ Trafficking, or maybe biologists from an Animal Wrongs Group have just discovered Killer Rabbits in the Amazon.

Sometimes happens before the story starts and is implied. Generally then results in one of two plot developments, occasionally both:

  1. The technology proves to be blatantly dangerous, but the potential for unintended consequences will be entirely ignored. It will be allowed to run rampant, possibly further developed, and the antagonists — who are staunch believers in the Potential Applications — will try to prevent any attempts by more sensible characters to stop the disaster by destroying the technology (or just stopping until they can make sure they've identified and can deal with potential dangers). Expect things to Go Horribly Right as a result.

  2. The technology has just become a MacGuffin, and the antagonists will Lie, Cheat, and Steal (and probably Kill, too) to get it. Alternately, whoever realizes what the technology is worth grabs it and runs — often having no idea how dangerous it really is. If the protagonist is the scientist responsible for the technology, they may have to run for their lives or destroy their life's work to safeguard humanity — possibly both.

At least one of the subtropes is always present, and often more. If the bad guys are an organization, they always believe in either the Military Potential or the Commercial Applications; if they are a lone Mad Scientist, they can be misled into thinking there are better uses. The good guys almost always believe in the Peaceful Applications or that the technology shouldn't be used at all. The bad guys will more than likely fail to see legitimate uses for monetary potential. The interplay between the subtropes is therefore often used to illustrate An Aesop.

Ultimately, the Potential Applications are rarely realized during the story, and very often turn out to have been a phantom. Even if the technology really could have been used peacefully, it will usually be destroyed by the heroes to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands — ensuring that even when he isn't, Reed Richards Is Still Useless. Now, if the people involved in the research don't care about the potential applications, it's because they do it For Science!. Just don't think of the other potential applications. This is why the Disposable Superhero Maker is disposable in the first place.

Truth in Television, in Real Life, many dangerous things do indeed have beneficial applications that often see widespread use. It helps that making a doomsday device out of one is nowhere near as simple as it is in fiction, and that getting an army of loyal subjects to support your agenda of destroying the world they live on with it is even more ridiculously difficult.


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    Comic Books 
  • Inverted in Doctor Strange: The Oath when Strange retrieves an elixir that can cure all diseases (particularly the inoperable brain tumor about to kill his associate Wong). A corrupt pharmaceuticals company steals it from him, claiming that The World Is Not Ready; Strange counter-argues that other advances in medicine seemed like magic at first but were adopted and the world is better for it.
  • The Extremis arc of Iron Man flavors this with a little What the Hell, Hero?. Yet another government-sponsored project to create super soldiers, the Extremis virus can be programmed to make people wholly new, nigh-invulnerable, superpowered bodies; naturally, it also drives them insane if it doesn't kill them in the process. Tony Stark shuts the whole operation down... though not before he's used it on himself, enough to heal fatal injuries he took fighting such a super soldier and turn him into a Technopath. In the aftermath, he's gleeful about his newfound efficiency, productivity and response time, and is frustrated that his friends can't see why turning himself into even more of an emotionally distant workaholic cyborg is awesome.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), Charles Hedgehog, Sonic's dear Uncle Chuck, devised the roboticizer as a means to temporarily turn a person into a robot to keep people alive until they can be saved. However, Robotnik got a hold of it first and sabotaged it so that when Charles was forced to put his brother (and Sonic's dad) Jules in it, it turned him into a mindless robot, forcing Chuck to give it up in disgrace. Robotnik, however, takes it and turns it into the weapon to initiate his coup.
  • Spider-Man:
    • In various continuities, Dr. Connors is convinced that his new invention can regrow lost limbs — but mostly it just turns people into megalomaniacal giant lizards. Often, Spidey must convince Dr. Connors that his technology is too dangerous to save the day. Other times, he just beats the crap out of him.
    • A lot of fans point out that Peter's web fluid could make him a ton of money if he sold it. Cracked really gets into it.
  • In Spider-Man Noir, Dr. Otto Octavius conducts inhumane experiments on apes. Robbie Robertson is disgusted by what he sees in Octavius' lab, but Peter tells him the possibilities for humanity are endless. Robbie is adamant that Octavius' work is "the opposite of humanity".
  • Ultimate Marvel: This is a huge genre blind-spot for Nick Fury, who is normally quite The Chessmaster. This is the main justification for Joker Immunity in Ultimate Marvel — Nick Fury wants to keep super-freaks alive so he can study them and keep the United States in the lead in the superhuman arms race. However, this factor only works so far: after a pair of failed attempts to keep Dr. Octopus prisoner and study his mechanical arms, the next time he's captured, Fury orders for them to be dropped into a smelter, and good riddance. It still doesn't stop Otto going on another tentancle-y rampage later.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): After the Mass Awakening, mercenary groups, foreign governments and Mega-Corps are secretly invested in the Titan DNA market, and have been secretly buying Titan DNA (specifically Ghidorah's DNA) from Alan Jonah's paramilitary. Monarch actively tries to warn the world against messing around with Titans', especially Ghidorah's, DNA for profit or science or even well-intentions, using the Many that have risen from Jonah's meddling with Ghidorah's tissue as an example of the consequences.
    • In this non-canon crossover post by the author, an alternate Vivienne Graham who traded places with Mark Russell when Ghidorah attacked them in Antarctica is disgusted that Monarch are keeping Ghidorah's severed head preserved after they got to it before Jonah would have, listing bio-medical research as one of the reasons it's being kept around. Both Abraxas-Vivienne and Abraxas-San agree with her that it isn't worth the risk after how dangerous Ghidorah proved itself to be during its rampage.
  • Inverted Fate: When performing the second cross examination of Dohj's evidence at Frisk's trial, Papyrus defense to Dohj corning them with the help of Privates 03 and 04 is that how could she be sure they where the real Privates 03 and 04 and not their evil doppelgangers from a parallel dimension. When Dohj questions how does that makes sense, only for Undyne to reveal that Papyrus has an interdimensional transporter (which Sans uses to drop socks into other dimensions), Dohj lampshades what a great achievement it is.
    Dohj: Wait, you have interdimensional travel? This... is literally the greatest scientific achievement in history. And your just casually mentioning it. Like it's some sort of tacky furniture.
  • Limitless Potential: Dr. Fujiwara seems to value X and the reploids mostly due to their military potential as weapons, albeit he sees this as a means to bolster his own career.
  • Resident Project: This is Annette Birkin's justification for experimenting with a virus that transforms those it infects into nigh-unkillable mutant rage monsters. She even uses the trope phrase.
    Claire: Potential for man-eating monsters? That are nearly unkillable because they heal from just about anything?
    Annette: Yes. Think about what you just said! The Hollows have uncanny healing abilities. The Urahara vaccine proved that the facility for healing is not irrevocably tied to the more damaging aspects of the virus. Despite the name, the Panimmunity treatment doesn’t answer everything. We’ve always been on the edge, chasing one half-step behind the latest disease that new planets or terrorists with a grudge have to throw at us. If we can find out how Hollow healing works, and incorporate it… It wouldn’t be just diseases, either! Parasites, physical trauma… we could turn Panimmunity into a true panacea!
  • The Vow: During the Start of Darkness of Lord Shen, he accidentally creates explosive powder. Further experimenting on it gives him the idea of weaponizing it with his firework shooters as a way to proof his worth to the world and mark himself in history books. When Shen's fiancée Lady Lianne inquires what he is experimenting on so obsessively, he attempts to explain his invention's productive potentials to avoid scaring her, only to get carried on with his invention's potential in conquest. Shocked by this, Lianne tells this to Shen's parents, making them worried about how their son is taking their firework invention to directions they've sworn never to explore. It leads them to consult the Soothsayer who foretells The Prophecy that Shen overhears.

    Films — Animated 
  • Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio: The Podestà, impressed by Pinocchio's Resurrective Immortality, immediately gets the idea of recruiting him and make a Super-Soldier out of him.
  • Ultimate Avengers: Even after one Hulk rampage, Bruce Banner thinks he can solve the problem and use the Hulk for the benefit of mankind. Exactly what benefit an unstoppable rage monster is supposed to bring is unclear aside from the implication as a Super-Soldier (plus, just the ability to control the Hulk and keep him from going on a rampage would be a benefit in and of itself), but regardless, it only works temporarily before he loses control again.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alien:
    • The Weyland-Yutani corporation believes the Xenomorphs to have great Military Potential, repeatedly allowing their employees to get slaughtered by Xenomorphs in their attempts to study them. Since Weyland-Yutani stands to make money off of this, they are also Thinking of All the Money They Could Make. It is implied, subtly in the movie and more overt in other sources, that the Xenomorphs were originally used as a biological weapon, either bred specifically for that purpose or captured somewhere, so it isn't as if Weyland-Yutani are operating without precedent. However considering the species that used them as a weapon were also driven to extinction by them, the trope is invoked even harder. This trope happens so often to the point where a Zero Punctuation review described it as part of the one plot that every media in the franchise uses, despite it being a disaster almost every time it's tried.
      Yahtzee: Okay, so the last sixty stupid evil guys who tried to control the aliens all got their brains spread out on cream crackers, but I think their problem was not being stupid and evil enough.
    • The villains of The Rage War trilogy of books actually succeed in weaponizing the aliens, which forces the human military to form an Enemy Mine with the Yautja.
    • Many of the Aliens comics feature this trope as well, but there's actually a reason given: the Xenomorphs (especially the queens and the Queen Mother) have a Hive Mind which can influence humans into doing their bidding. It helps that Weyland-Yutani and other evil future corporations are in a mindset favorable to the hive mind.
  • The Blob (1988): The Blob's origins are changed from an extraterrestrial beast to a mutated germ bioweapon. Its creator never expected it to become a macroscopic predatory organism, but he's delighted by the result and muses of its possible application as a weapon of mass destruction against the Soviet Union. He's willing to sacrifice the entire town and his own men in order to capture it.
  • In Danger!! Death Ray, a scientist truly that believes his death ray can and should be used only for peaceful purposes. (Presumably, the term "death ray" would be a misnomer.) He is immediately kidnapped by a group of evil people who want to use the ray for evil purposes, to the surprise of no one in the theater.
  • In Danger Diva, the main reason Calvin Yamachi tries to go through with the mind transfer against Stanley's request is for the potential it can offer humanity, as well as the allure of a Nobel Prize.
  • The Big Bad gives this speech to Luthan at the end of Extreme Measures as a justification for his inhumane experiments on the homeless. The kicker is that the discovery does indeed hold enormous potential for all of humanity (they have learned how to regrow nerve cells but haven't yet learned to stop the growth), but the cost is what causes the protagonist to reject the notion.
  • Godzilla:
    • In Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, the JSDF accidentally manages to obtain a Baby Godzilla (he hatches from an egg they thought belonged to Rodan) and decide to keep and study it so that they can find any weaknesses the adult Godzilla may have. The adult Godzilla shows up, and he's very angry. The JSDF wisely decides that it would be far safer if Baby Godzilla were to stay with his "daddy".
    • In Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, a few of the heroes try to use Mind Control telepathy to control Godzilla, feeling that it would be far better than trying to destroy him. Inevitably, it doesn't work.
    • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): A one-scene case occurs in the official novelization. It indicates Monarch are dissecting Margygr and the MUTO pair's remains at Castle Bravo for animal gene therapy purposes due to their DNA having many useful traits. However, it's implied that while Monarch is only interested in Peaceful Applications, Mark is still horrified, and despite Mark's own personal bias in the matter, it's easy to feel he's right to be a little wary.
  • A somewhat more mundane version is Discussed between Lambeau and Sean in Good Will Hunting, two professors arguing over how much the troubled Child Prodigy Will should be encouraged to pursue his natural talent for math. Lambeau believes Will could be the next Jonas Salk or Albert Einstein, while Sean retorts that Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) was also a child prodigy.
  • In Hollow Man, the most obvious application for the invisibility technology is said to be as a tool for the military. Even if you assume it's the writers and not the scientists who didn't think of the limited potential for naked, unarmed soldiers who can be detected with thermal goggles, they don't give much thought to the potentially horrific misuses of invisibility (eg. murder) until they have first hand experience.
  • In Jason X, Jason is finally captured by the Feds after having killed a couple hundred people over the years. Some military folks actually want to keep Jason alive so that they can figure out how to reproduce his invincibility. Horror movie (and horror movie Affectionate Parody) slaughter ensues. In their defense, they did try executing him a dozen times first.
  • Jurassic Park:
    • Jurassic Park (1993): John Hammond constantly insists that the park will change the world and blow people (as well as science) away. He's right on that account.
      "How can we stand on the brink of discovery, and not act?"
    • Jurassic World: Hoskins thinks that the raptors, which Owen has demonstrated can be trained to follow commands, would make fantastic weapons for the military, being more versatile and less vulnerable to compromise than drones. Owen points the flaw in this logic: a drone won't eat you if it's hungry.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In the Iron Man Films, Tony Stark builds a miniature arc reactor to power his electromagnet to save his life, and then the IM Mark I to escape the Ten Rings. After that, he keeps the tech close to his chest (so to speak) because he knows the government, and his dad's old partner, would use its power against his wishes.
    • In The Incredible Hulk (2008), Dr. Samuel Sterns takes such an interest in Bruce's irradiated blood because of its potential applications in the eradication of diseases. He even seems to genuinely mean it, though, having said that, he also doesn't object to Blonsky's demands to infuse him with the blood and turn him into the Abomination.
    • In Ant-Man this is the response of Cross and Hank's colleagues with regards to the Pym Particle. Cross in particular sees its potential in warfare and markets it as such. Hank tries very hard to keep it secret because he understands the potential all too well.
  • This is the excuse Lamar gives in Minority Report, to justify the exploitation of three children, the experimentation and deaths of several others, the murder of a woman, and the attempted framing of John Anderson.
    Lamar: Think of all the lives that little girl has saved, think about all the lives she will save...
  • Predator 2: Keyes wants to capture the titular alien alive to put its advanced alien technology to use improving humans' weaponry.
  • In the various RoboCop installments, Omni Consumer Products is so focused on making money that it rarely builds its killer robots with proper safeguards.
  • In Self/Less, Albright views shedding as a means to allow great people to extend their time on earth. He completely believes that it's worth the cost of killing people for their bodies for the process.
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow: Dr. Alan is working for a pharmaceutical company that believes the zombie powder can be used as a safe anesthetic; something that might prevent patients from dying on the operating table as the result of anesthetic shock.
  • Short Circuit starts with a demonstration of how effective Johnny 5 and his "brothers" are as mechanical warriors in an attempt to gain more money and military interest for their mass production. After Johnny 5 "malfunctions", his creator Newton Crosby (Ph.D.) attempts to convince his boss of the advantages to capture the robot alive and study what made it go "rogue" in the first place, and how it's affected it. In Short Circuit 2, when the street hustler Fred Ritter realizes how much money the self-aware robot Johnny 5 is worth, he immediately tries to trick him into being sold to a corporation. On top of that, a major subplot of the movie is one of Johnny 5's creators trying to start a business selling toy versions of the robot, a rare instance of the good guys trying to make money off of the technology.
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the science team working on the Genesis Device see it simply as "instant terraforming, just add water", and consider it to be the ultimate salvation to problems of overpopulation and food supply. Plenty of other people see an entirely different potential... one that doesn't even have the nasty side effects of other superweapons, as it leaves verdant worlds behind in its wake. David seems aware of the Genesis Device's potential less-than-altruistic uses.
  • The money version is in The Stone Tape, in which a think-tank established to invent new forms of memory storage to compete with the Japanese market realise they're in a Haunted Castle and decide to study the phenomena, regarding the ghost as a Living Memory imprinted into the foundations. It doesn't end well.
  • TRON: Legacy: Back in 1989, Flynn was all but raving about how the world inside the computer (and especially the Isos) would revolutionize "science, medicine, religion". Unfortunately, his administrative program disagreed with him, took over the Grid, trapped him, and made plans to take over the human world because we're imperfect.

  • The Belgariad: Happens too late in The Malloreon when one Alchemist laughs about a colleague who tried to transmute lead into gold, accidentally made indestructible glass instead, and destroyed his notes and quit the field in disgust. The main characters then point out that a recipe to make Indestructium out of sand would have been worth more than all the gold in the world.
    Beldin: Never mind, you're a pure scholar, remember? You're not interested in money, are you? [the alchemist's hands start to shake]
  • Even though it causes the deaths of two people, the titular character of The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling still can't help but see the potential applications of his disintegrator gun.
  • Zig-zagged in The Day of the Triffids. Triffid oil is more effective than any other oil, and triffid "flesh" can be used as feedstock — and the latter fact cuts both ways. However, Triffids are dangerous only because of their poisoned stinger, which could be easily chopped off... but then they would produce a slightly worse oil, so they're kept dangerous for the sake of oil quality. However, the Triffids only became a major threat to human survival after a severe Class 1 to borderline Class 2 Apocalypse How for which they were not directly responsible.
  • Part of the epistolary story in Devolution includes an interview with the protagonist Kate's brother Frank, a former tech company attorney deeply skeptical of Silicon Valley techno-utopianism who blames it for the failure of the high-tech Greenloop community where Kate lived. He describes the Silicon Valley motto of "move fast and break things" as fueled by a faith in this trope, and recounts a time when he went to a conference in Menlo Park where a man showed off how he had hacked his hand to play the piano. The man tells the audience to "think of the possibilities", specifically citing how this technology, applied to a whole exo-suit, could help disabled and elderly people walk again. Frank raises a possibility of his own: somebody hacking the exo-suit after you put it on and forcing you to grab a gun and shoot up a preschool.
    Frank: He looked like I'd just kicked over his sandcastle. He hadn't wasted one neuron on that thought, because, in his mind, it was just that. A waste. All positivity all the time. Learn to fly, even if it's in the Hindenburg.
  • Discworld:
    • Multiple books state that Unseen University's real purpose is to provide wizards with an environment where they have little inclination to do serious magic. Wizard wars are a horrible thing, so it is better for everyone if powerful wizards spend their days lazing about rather than trying to come up with more powerful spells.
    • Leonard of Quirm compulsively sketches the blueprints for lethal weaponry alongside his more artistic works, complete with lists of needed materials and assembly instructions. Naturally, he's sure no one would ever actually use them against people, although some might be helpful against wild animals or for moving mountains out of the way.
    • Parodied in The Last Continent when Ponder ruminates on the potential of interdimensional portals, and the Senior Wrangler tries to bring him back down to Earth:
      "When you've been a wizard as long as I have, my boy, you'll learn that as soon as you find anything that offers amazing possibilities for the improvement of the human condition, it's best to put the lid back on and pretend it never happened."
    • Urn's "applied philosophy" invention of steam mechanics in Small Gods. Urn's ideas of potential include grinding mills and propulsive mechanisms. Simony's involve a lot more fire and vengeance.
  • Frankenstein: Victor Frankenstein believes this about the idea of artificial people. Things go downhill quickly. This is probably the Ur-Example, making this trope Older Than Steam.
  • In Harry Potter, Dumbledore reveals he saw potential in the Deathly Hallows but chides himself for his foolishness in not realizing that Grindelwald merely wanted to use them for evil.
  • In Jago and Swellhead by Kim Newman, the Institute for Psi Tech (IΨT) is a government-funded organization doing paranormal research. Its main failing is that, as the name suggests, it approaches the paranormal with the question "What technological applications can we derive from this?" instead of, for instance, "What are the chances that playing around with this will get everyone killed?" In Jago, the head honchos hold off from intervening in the situation they're monitoring even as it snowballs into a disaster with a massive death toll; stuck in the middle of it, one of the on-site observers says sourly that he's not sure even now it won't be considered a success according to IΨT's terms of reference — Just think of the military potential...
  • In Jurassic Park, John Hammond is convinced that the technology to clone dinosaurs is a gold mine. In the movie, he just wants to make children happy. In both versions, both of the above-mentioned likely plot developments come into play: The park is stocked with dinosaurs that are incredibly dangerous, and a corporate spy lets the dinosaurs loose as part of a plan to steal the technology that made them.
  • Ceciel rants about this in the Knight and Rogue Series when she reveals her research to give humans magic. She talks about how many people it would help if she gave healers magic. Michael thinks of how many people it would harm if criminals got her research.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Boromir believes that the One Ring has the potential to destroy the Big Bad. It does, in the hands of a sufficiently powerful and strong-willed person, just with the minor side effect of the person becoming just as evil and dangerous as Sauron in the process.
  • In the Doris Lessing short story No Witchcraft for Sale, a colonial Rhodesian family's African cook saves their son from blindness from snake venom with the use of a local plant root. However, when the family tries to persuade him to tell them which plant it was so he can sell it to a pharmaceutical company, he refuses, as it is sacred knowledge. This causes some tension with his employers.
  • Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Admiral Delgado thinks this way about time-travel, believing it could be used to prevent disaster. He even nearly uses the exact phrase trying to convince Kirk around to his way of think. Cut to a few months later, and Kirk's first encounter with the Guardian of Forever, and Kirk — thoroughly traumatized after what happened — decides to hell with the possibilities. Delgado remains firmly convinced for another decade or so, until he nearly erases the entire timeline.
  • Subverted in the Vorkosigan Saga novel Ethan of Athos when the title character meets a runaway telepath fleeing a black ops clean-up crew. Said telepath, who has been bred for applications in espionage and interrogation, is astonished when the first thing through Dr. Ethan Urquhart's head is how wonderful such an ability would be when dealing with pre/non-verbal patients. Ethan effectively explains that what the average person answers when asked "What are the potential implications of this new ability/technology?" is "What would I do if I had this new ability/technology?"
  • Warhammer 40,000 Expanded Universe:
    • In the Ciaphas Cain novel Caves of Ice, this is how the techpriests respond to Cain's demand that the uncovered Necron tomb must be collapsed ASAP. It doesn't help that they intentionally had a refinery constructed on that particular site so they could dip their grabby mechadendrites into the tomb. This error, like many, is self-correcting.
    • In Eisenhorn: Xenos, Inquisitors Molitor and Schongard are radicals who believe that studying the Necroteuch could teach the Inquisition new ways to fight the forces of Chaos. As such, they're furious when they learn that Eisenhorn destroyed the Necroteuch and try to have him censured.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Alien Nation, the characters take down a doctor who's killing Newcomers and using their organs to retard aging in his human clients. George thinks that his discovery should be shared — maybe if something good can be made out of this, the victims won't have died for nothing. Matt isn't having any of it and tosses all the data into a fire.
    Matt: Never bet on the goodness of the human race.
  • This is how some corrupt governments (mainly Earth and Centauri) in Babylon 5 regard dealing with Shadows: sure, they're immensely powerful Social Darwinists, but think of all the nifty technology/military aid! Probably subverted in that both actually get their promised cut from the Deal with the Devil before it bites them lethally in the ass.
  • Half of the products of Veridian Dynamics, from Better Off Ted, makes end up being dangerous and unsafe to their consumers. Instead of making them safer, their usual response is to sell them to the military as weapons. The other half of their products are intended for military applications from the start.
  • Doctor Who: "The Power of the Daleks" is built around this trope. A Dalek spaceship turns up on a colony planet and the chief scientist is amazed by the technical sophistication of it, and the Daleks themselves. It doesn't end well.
  • The bread and butter of Dollhouse, the premise of which involves technology used to erase and imprint memories and personalities in the people being used as "dolls". The main story of the first season contains but one dark hint about it, but the potential applications are all up in the story's business by the second season. Oh, believe us, they're no empty threat.
  • In Jekyll, the villains frequently try to convince Jackman of the potential that his unique and bizarre physiology has for the world, as well as the potential to make them all very rich.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
      • Ian Quinn's New Era Speech to his investors is full of the wonders his company could achieve with gravitonium (and the stupid amounts of profit they could make).
      • Discussed in one episode. Students at S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Science and Tech Academy are routinely given a lecture on "Potentiality" — which they refer to as "The Talk" — to remind all the super scientists-in-training to consider the potential for misuse, evil, and other problems that can come from their discoveries.
      • Lucy says this almost word-for-word to Eli when she's trying to explain all of the good the Darkhold could be used to do, such as curing world hunger.
    • Jessica Jones (2015): This is Jeri Hogarth's reaction to Kilgrave when Jessica begins to enlighten her about his Compelling Voice powers. It's also Foreshadowing: Jeri thinks she can control the danger posed by Kilgrave, and attempts to use him for her own ends. Jessica herself genuinely does very briefly consider attempting to reform Kilgrave to use his powers for good, since his ability is so powerful it could be used to really change the world for the better. Sensibly, given Kilgrave's rampant sociopathy, she ultimately decides this is a stupid idea and attempts to take him out without bothering to wait for his sudden but inevitable betrayal.
    • Luke Cage (2016): Dr. Bernstein is obsessed with the potential applications of his experiments, such as immortality and eternal youth.
  • Spoofed in the second host segments of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Danger!! Death Ray" (see the Films — Live-Action folder for the film itself) when Tom Servo gets his own "peaceful death ray" but can't resist turning it on Crow for a laugh. Crow has to admit that it's a pretty good gag... at least, until his eyeballs catch fire.
  • Primeval:
    • In the third season, Christine Johnson and her subordinates are attempting to control the anomalies in order to turn Future Predators (the extremely dangerous evolved bats) into soldiers. The unspoken implications are blatant throughout the season, and the second-last episode of the season has Big Bad Helen Cutter outright blame Christine for the death of the human race before feeding her to a Future Predator... which might almost come off as a Karmic Death.
    • It is clear that Helen is batshit (pun intended) insane. She keeps accusing random people of causing the apocalypse, and then allies with Leek, who's keeping Future Predators (among others) as slaves. She then shoots her husband Nick, who came back to rescue her from an explosion she caused. Helen's final solution for preventing the apocalypse — erasing the human race by killing the early hominids in the distant past.
    • The fourth season reaffirms this premise when a billionaire takes over sponsorship of the project as he sees the potential in all the scientific data they gather on the portals. The season finale strongly hints that his experiments will cause the apocalypse because they really do not understand that well how portals really work and certain quirks they exhibit can have even more disastrous consequences than usual.
  • In SeaQuest DSV, the SeaQuest crew raid an old outpost where a UEO scientist performed inhumane experiments on a Dagger (genetically engineered humans bred to be soldiers). The experiments eventually killed the Dagger, but also gave him special abilities like limb regeneration. Captain Bridger gives the research data to Dagwood, the SeaQuest's Dagger janitor. He tells Dagwood that the research could benefit his people, but he is the only one who has the right to decide if the potential benefits were worth the ghastly means of obtaining the data. As Dagwood reviews the data, he sees a hologram of the deceased test subject recorded before the experiments began praising the scientist for teaching him how to read and write (a ploy to gain his trust). The recording ends with the Dagger calling the scientist his friend. Dagwood, enraged by the scientist's manipulation and betrayal of the Dagger, destroys the data.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • This line of thought is the entire point of Stargate SG-1. One of the core missions of the Stargate Command is to find and adapt alien technology that Earth can use, primarily for defense against alien threats. Several times, devices or organisms encountered in the series as Monsters of the Week come back later, being used deliberately and successfully by the good guys. It's not always easy, but on the whole, the SGC's mission is a success in Stargate SG-1.
    • It's in Stargate Atlantis that this trope tends to be played straight, with new energy sources or anti-Wraith weapons almost uniformly resulting in disaster.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before", most of the high-ranking officers on the Enterprise are nervous about Gary Mitchell's rapidly growing psychic powers, but Dehner invokes this trope in order to keep him on the ship.
      Dehner: No one's been hurt, have they? Don't you understand? A mutated superior man could also be a wonderful thing. The forerunner of a new and better kind of human being.
    • As detailed in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Omega Directive", the Omega Molecule is one of the most dangerous things in the universe. A single Omega Molecule going unstable will permanently damage subspace (crippling space travel) with an explosion big enough to wipe out an entire Borg fleet. The reason why people keep trying to create one anyway is because its potential is well-known: a stable Omega Molecule can provide practically limitless power. The Borg seek the Omega Molecule (or, as they call it, Particle 010) because they see it as a symbol of perfection. To them, it's an icon, although they don't ignore its potential either.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look parodies this notion with a seemingly Mad Scientist called Professor Death who creates increasingly bizarre Doomsday Devices, such as the Giant Death Ray, the Armoured Scorpion of Death, the Mind Controlling Death Ants, and the Doom Melon. All of these have mundane and harmless purposes (the Giant Death Ray, for example, was designed for scanning grocery barcodes) and he is horrified anytime someone brings up their military potential; whenever this happens, he immediately tries to destroy them, shouting that they were "Meant to help Mankind, not destroy it!"

  • Dr. Wily in The Megas has shades of this, seeing the machines as both his tools and his 'children'.
  • Dr. Wily also tries to convince Dr. Light of this in The Protomen. Light isn't convinced, but he turns on the machines anyway.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This trope is mocked in the Mage: The Ascension supplement Technomancer's Toybox, most specifically with the "X117 Death Ray (Intended for Purely Peaceful Purposes)":
    Dr. Lightwell has retreated from the world in disgust at the abuse his invention has been put to, although he was never able to explain satisfactorily just what peaceful purposes a Death Ray could be used for.
  • In the Magic: The Gathering universe, we have the Simic Combine from the plane of Ravnica. Combining blue's thirst for knowledge and green's love for life, they strive to create new species and predators with transmutation magic and splicing DNA of various creatures together. Also goes in hand with Well-Intentioned Extremist.

    Video Games 
  • Alan Wake: Dr. Hartman urges Alan to do this in regard to the reality-warping powers of Cauldron Lake.
  • Bill of Another Code wants to sell the title machine to the highest bidder to make a tidy profit, something his partner Richard Robins is fully against. Which is why Bill presents himself to Richard's daughter Ashley as being Richard so that he can use her to collect the keys and gain access to the machine's source code.
  • Bloodborne: Let's just say that the plot wouldn't have happened at all, or at least the way it did, if several (questionably titled) scholars from Byrgenwerth College didn't decide to study the Great Ones by establishing a religion around the Old Blood. All in the hopes of becoming Great Ones themselves, of course.
  • In the Dead Space series, the Brethren Moons use this trope to manipulate humanity and every other race that existed before it in the galaxy. Their Markers seem like the answer to their victims' prayers since said races are usually running low on resources and the Markers generate practically unlimited energy. The poor saps study and manufacture more Markers, all the while slowly succumbing to the Markers' insidious influence. Humans have also dabbled in this within the Dead Space universe with utilities and power tools most commonly. The Plasma Cutter that serves as the main weapon for Isaac Clark is just meant to be an industrial cutting to not a weapon and most weapons available in the first game are slightly modified power tools. The Stasis and Kinesis system also have all manner of combat applications which seem to be known to Earth Gov, given that their soldiers are equipped with Stasis modules.
  • Doom:
    • Nearly anything the United Aerospace Corporation tinkers with. As noted in the Backstory, they had good intentions, but the lack of grasp regarding the nature of Mars and its moons left them unprepared against the demonic forces that are present there.
    • The use of Argent Energy in Doom (2016) has the UAC grabbing this trope with both hands and running with it. The main problem with the matter is that the energy in question comes from Hell, and gets the attention of the demons, leading to the events of the game proper. In Doom Eternal, not only do we learn that the events of the game were manipulated by the Deagic Council that ruled Sentinel Prime, the Night Sentinel Homeworld, and the Khan Maykr, but that the Sentinels went through the same thing Earth did in regards to the energy, and that it's made of the souls of Hell's victims, tortured and robbed of hope before being converted into the energy in question.
  • Avernus' research in Dragon Age: Origins which comes from horrific experiments on his fellow Grey Wardens involving blood magic to discover the true power of the Taint that the Wardens possess. The Warden has the option to kill him for his crimes, let him live but force him to constrain himself to ethical research in future, or let him continue experimenting as he wishes. Additionally, you can choose to make use of the results of his previous research yourself unlocking several new abilities for your character powered by the taint, or you can destroy the results of said research. This itself is a morally grey decision, as Avernus' research could potentially allow the Wardens to no longer die from the Taint in 30 years, allowing them long and productive lives, as well as becoming even more effective warriors against the Darkspawn. It's a matter of deciding whether the potential benefits are worth letting a man who butchered and electrocuted his fellow Wardens to death during his experiments go unpunished.
  • Fallout: The Enclave, the secret government cabal which caused World War III, contracted Vault-Tec to create the vaults for human experimentation on some of the last remaining American survivors, and generally wants to re-conquer the United States so they can return it to the dystopian endless totalitarian 1950s, are usually split into three groups: scientists who want to use their advanced, people-tested (on) technology to shape the world in their image (for better or worse), soldiers who like killing stuff with advanced technology and trust the rest of the Enclave to make the world right again, and a group of psychopaths who genuinely believe causing rampant, pointless death and destruction is the purpose of human progress. Unfortunately, that last group makes up most of Vault-Tec, as seen with Doctor Braun and Overseer Barstow.
  • Front Mission 3 gives you the MIDAS, standing for Matter Irradiation Dissociative Acceleration System. It's a nuclear weapon that reduces everything to gold atoms when in contact with water within a couple of miles. However, said device is originally designed to be a clean energy alternative to nuclear reactors, but according to files in many military websites inside the game that you can hack yourself, militaries consider it really useful due to its "modifiable output". And then it is revealed that the first device that wiped out half of a huge city is not only operating in half power but is just a copy of it. It is later revealed in Front Mission 5 that there existed a second MIDAS — a certain Mass Interparticle Dissociation Antiproton Synthesizer. And it is also revealed that this is the original MIDAS, and that the MIDAS from 3 was simply a derivative technology meant to supply enough power for it to just function at all. The original MIDAS is not only many times stronger than the derivative MIDAS, but it is powered by anti-matter such that its creator Emir Kramskoi theorizes it could wipe out Alaska if it exploded.
  • In Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Dr. Kleiner speaks this exact line when the Borealis, an Aperture Science research vessel (see above) which disappeared completely is discovered (specifically, "Just think of the potential for humanity!"). Eli Vance rather reasonably mentions in response what happened the last time they didn't properly think of the consequences, but Kleiner isn't dissuaded.
  • Invoked by name in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis by Nazi agent Klaus Kerner upon realizing the explosive potential of Orichalcum:
    Kerner: Think of the potential! Imagine bullets made with this material! No, must think bigger, like Americans! Think... bombs!!!
  • Mass Effect:
    • A sidequest can have you justifying holding a dead soldier's body for tests along these lines (Think of the Lives That Will Be Saved).
    • It's also the main MO of Cerberus, experimenting on every especially dangerous species or tech (Rachni, Thorian Creepers, Thresher Maws and Husks in the first game, biotics in the second novel and second game, reaper and collector tech in the second game — the Illusive Man downright says "Think of the potential" in the latter case — and geth in the Overlord DLC) for possible military application.
    • In the third game, Javik says that a Cerberus-analogue did the exact same thing during his Cycle, and when they became indoctrinated for their troubles, their interference was the main reason the Protheans failed to deploy the Crucible. The implication is that the Reapers intentionally leave their tech lying around for suckers like Cerberus to study, confident in the knowledge that it's only a matter of time before they become indoctrinated since individual minds could never match the wills of the Reapers who each possess the collective willpower of entire races.
  • Mega Man: Dr. Light thought long and hard about the potential of his last creation, Mega Man X, and sealed him away in a capsule to be awoken in the future. The reasons vary between the original SNES title and the PSP remake. The original states it was to run a 30-year diagnostic to ensure X wouldn't go berserk, Dr. Light having seen such events many times, and these would be realized later with Copy X, a technically perfect copy of X without any of the experience or maturity of the original. The remake rewrites this, as per the creator's original plan, to where X is already safe, but Dr. Light feels that humanity isn't mature enough to handle someone like X. Dr. Light avoided this trope. Dr. Cain on the other hand...
  • Happens quite often in the Metroid series.
    • The eponymous creatures are the most advanced and most deadly predators in the known universe, so naturally the Space Pirates want them for their military potential as biological weapons. The Galactic Federation also falls into this trap, at first for purely benevolent reasons - the Metroids have incredible energy storage and processing capabilities, due to the way they feed - but later in the series, they start researching the Metroids' potential as weapons as well.
    • In the Metroid Prime Trilogy the semi-living energy-producing substance called Phazon fills this role for both the Space Pirates and the Federaton, although the GF at least smart enough to realize how dangerous it is and help Samus destroy it, even if they do take advantage of it in the meantime. The Space Pirates meanwhile jump head-first into attempting to weaponize it as both a tool for battle and for bio-research, no matter how many times their test subjects die in the process or go insane and start murdering everything in reach. It gets even worse when they try to kill two birds with one stone and use Phazon to control and mutate Metroids, unknowing of the fact the eponymous Metroid Prime/Dark Samus is the ultimate end result of that line of thinking which ultimately took control of the Pirates herself via Phazon-induced mind manipulation and nearly conquered the galaxy before Samus destroyed all Phazon.
    • Also happened with the X Parasites in Metroid Fusion. Towards the end of the game, the Federation decides the X could have some use as weapons, and orders Samus to stop fighting them and leave the space station the X had infested. Samus had other ideas.
    • In Metroid: Other M, Adam Malkovitch wrote a report on the Metroids warning the Federation higher-ups against trying to weaponize Metroids, because they are way too dangerous. Most of the higher-ups agreed with the assessment, but a few ignored the warning and used the information in the report to start a Metroid weaponization project. The events in the game quickly prove this was a bad idea.
  • Nocturne: Rebirth: The Big Bad, Khaos, wants to use the powers of time and space to destroy the world and rebuild it to its state from 10 years ago in order to change his past for the better. He offers to share this power with the protagonists by pointing out its potential to improve their pasts, such as undoing the Reformed, but Rejected protagonist's atrocities. Strangely, the protagonists reject the plan not for any potential danger (which the game never considers), but because they feel that it's wrong to reject their pasts and instead want to focus on their futures.
  • Done ridiculously in Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh. The company that Curtis works for has managed to open a portal to another dimension. One of their emails notes that the military is not interested in this, so they use it to trade substances with the aliens on the other side in order to synthesize a weight loss drug. It's also a subtly addictive antidepressant. They'd probably make a few billion with it.
  • In Portal, this plus Inventional Wisdom is the backbone of Aperture Science's Mad Scientist approach to research and quoted nearly verbatim by founder Cave Johnson in Portal 2, who has no use for safe science and considers anyone with moral or ethical constraints to be a wimp. The triumphant example of this is The Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, which arose from government-funded research into making a better shower curtain. GLaDOS, the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System that runs the Enrichment Centre and flooded it with a deadly neurotoxin was originally a fuel system de-icer. Overkill is Aperture Science's specialty, due both to competing with Black Mesa and its founder being completely batshit insane. It should be noted that some Aperture inventions, such as the aforementioned Handheld Portal Device, actually have a ton of incredibly useful potential civilian applications... and no indication that any of them ever even occurred to anyone at Aperture.
  • Resident Evil:
    • Umbrella Corporation saw the zombie-creating T-Virus as a potential pharmaceutical. It brings dead cells back to "life", after all. It gets out of control. Cue Zombie Apocalypse.
    • This is obviously not the case by Resident Evil 5, in which Oswell Spencer explicitly comes out and says that all the founding members of Umbrella just wanted to rule the world as gods. The pharmaceutical business was a front for the bio-weapons research.
    • The medicinal explanation is from the Resident Evil Film Series. Wesker's entire plan of betrayal in the first game was to use the STARS members as mooks to gather combat data on the Super Soldiers and other assorted monsters they'd created.
  • Penelope's downfall in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is triggered by her seeing potential in Bentley, wanting to use his skills to design weapons of mass destruction and sell them to terrorists and rouge nations, making billions of dollars from global suffering and taking over the world, and having no empathy for life in general. This goes way beyond the morality of the Cooper Gang, who only steal from villains, and they kick her out in retaliation. It doesn't help that she never loved Bentley, only wanting to control him, and tried to murder his two best friends.
  • In Subnautica: Below Zero, the Alterra Corporation finds a still-living sample of the Kharaa bacterium frozen on planet 4546-B, and immediately start researching it. For once, they genuinely don't seem to want it as a bioweapon, but rather for potential medicinal applications. Still, this is portrayed as a monumentally stupid idea, considering this bacterium wiped out the entire Architect civilization, so the player character decides to destroy the remaining bacteria.
  • The Mana Cannon of Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Phantasia is rediscovered, on average, every two thousand years or so, and every time it is rediscovered, it either wipes out the civilization that rediscovered it, or fails miserably, coming dangerously close to wiping out the civilization that rediscovered it. It's a weapon that makes nukes look safe, with what seems like a ninety percent chance of backfiring horribly... but think of the military potential such a powerful Wave-Motion Gun has!
  • Trauma Center:
    • In Under the Knife 2, a medical researcher realizes that while incredibly deadly, GUILT creates some amusing reactions in people before it becomes active. Sure, there's that whole problem that barring mutations that exist in a very small portion of the populace, GUILT will eventually brutally murder the host, but all that's needed is a way to manipulate the GUILT so that it won't harm anyone, regardless of whether they're a natural host or not. They fail, but it's not like anyone couldn't see that one coming, given that the whole series is about operating on such super-parasites.
    • Also shows up in Trauma Team. A pathology professor discovers a ridiculously virulent form of ebola in his adopted daughter, one that upon reaching its final stage of development proceeds to destroy everything inside the infected: skin, blood vessels, and the bacteria and viruses within them. Given that his daughter somehow managed to survive with it in her without dying, he reasoned that he could figure out how to replicate this, and thus have an ultimate form of chemotherapy: Sure, you'd have to replenish all the beneficial bacteria inside the patient later, but the infection would also wipe out whatever malignant diseases were inside them as well. In this case, it's not so much that he failed, but he accidentally got infected with the disease before he could finish, and out of fear that the disease could spread, he killed his daughter to make sure it would die along with his research. He fails, for several reasons.
  • This is the main reason for private industry funding the archaeological studies of the D'ni city in Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. Strangely, the government itself seems to have passed on the opportunity to develop teleportation, access to unlimited resources, and devices that can instantly communicate over any distance.

  • In Dragon Mango, Square One has come up with a number of very creative, very evil uses for a number of the inventions developed by Dr. Chocolate Explosion. Inventions that were originally intended for completely benign purposes.
    • Her Humongous Mecha was originally intended to give Square One a way to do work in the Polluted Wasteland surrounding the city, allowing them to recover more resources. Square One gets the idea to use them as weapons of war against the revolutionaries. By making said mecha restricted to Only the Pure of Heart, she was able to limit the damage they could do, but they were still able to work around it by manipulating Unwitting Pawns.
    • The Polluted Wasteland surrounding Square One was caused by an accident with Chaos Magic, which occasionally leaks into the city and sickens the occasional citizen. Dr. Chocolate Explosion tried to invent a Healing Vat that could be used to extract the chaos magic from the patient and store it where it could be disposed of safely. It didn't work, because extracting chaos magic just makes the remaining chaos magic in the patient's body grow stronger. It turns out that the living victim's body acts as a filter, effectively changing the extracted chaos magic into stable and usable Magitek power. As such, the rulers of Square One get the idea to repurpose it to mutate victims with chaos magic and harvest the resulting energy, allowing the city to be Powered by a Forsaken Child.
  • Freefall: One transhumanism enthusiast thinks that a Brain/Computer Interface's potential to control the user is a benefit, since people could "outsource" use of their bodies for undesirable or specialized tasks. Florence, an Artificial Intelligence who's had her free will compromised before, offers a much more sober view of the potential for abuse.
    Al: Well, I'm sure with appropriate legal protections and...
    Nettie: Al, when a genetically engineered artificial intelligence says you've taken it too far, you've taken it too far.

    Web Originals 
  • The US military in Fine Structure thinks this way about superheroes.
  • Kane Pixels' The Backrooms: After their organisation opens a portal into the titular Backrooms, higher-ups at the ASYNC Foundation devise the "A-Space" project: a massive scheme to use the infinite space of the Backrooms to solve storage and housing shortages. Unfortunately, their desire to make buckets of cash from this causes them to ignore rapidly mounting evidence that messing around with the Backrooms is a truly terrible idea.
  • One recurring problem in the SCP Foundation is new employees thinking of the potential of various SCP objects. It usually ends poorly for everyone involved. It's not entirely discouraged though. Some objects have been researched properly enough that they no longer need SCP classification and they have been put to good use. By some, think a few dozen objects out of over five thousand.
  • Starwalker: All of the Starwalker crew (including Starwalker herself) in the early days of the experiments of the star step drive. See For Science!.
  • Several of Jobe Wilkins' projects in the Whateley Universe, like the project that provided food for starving people in an African nation. Two words: tumor beef. Yes, cows with massive, super-fast growing edible cancers. And Jobe wonders why he keeps getting censured by the United Nations.

    Western Animation 
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force:
    • Shake and Meatwad use Frylock's Matter Replicator to counterfeit dollar bills. Frylock kicks them out of his lab for using it so irresponsibly, then realizes that he could use the machine to feed the world... by continuing to counterfeit money with it and buying a restaurant chain.
    • In another episode, Frylock makes a Shrink Ray which can also make things bigger. Shake and Meatwad promptly misinterpret its uses and demand that Frylock "shoot [them] a pool in the back". Frylock points out that that's not what it does and tries to point out the ray's potential for medical purposes, etc., which just leads to Shake and Meatwad pointing out the "potential" of having a swimming pool in the backyard.
      Shake: Swimming.
      Meatwad: Diving.
      Shake: Marco Polo! I mean, can't you see the applications?
  • Arcane features a two-way debate on this matter in the conflict between Jayce and Heimerdinger. The young, idealistic Jayce (and his cohort Viktor) have begun developing "hextech" that could potentially revolutionize the future, fix many societal problems of today, and save countless lives (including the deathly-ill Viktor), but old, wisened Heimerdinger is extremely wary of magic's potential to also destroy everything, and that once hextech falls into the wrong hands, society will have even bigger problems to worry about.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • One episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender has a flashback in which Fire Lord Sozin (Prince Zuko's great-grandfather) tells Avatar Roku that he wants to share the Fire Nation's prosperity with the rest of the world via expansion (foreshadowing the infamous century-old war), and that together with him they could unite the entire world under the Fire Nation's glory forged thanks to their childhood friendship. When Roku tries to talk him out of such ambitions, Sozin responds that Roku should consider the possibilities of it, to which Roku states that there are none. Sozin is insulted Roku refuses to see things his way and views it as a personal betrayal, especially when they actually come to blows when Sozin tries to go ahead with the occupation years later and Roku threatens to kill him if he tries again. It culminates in Sozin, who arrived to help Roku stop an erupting island volcano years later truly wanting to help, seeing Roku collapse from inhaling toxic gas and refusing to help him before leaving him to die.
    • In Book Four of The Legend of Korra, Varrick is experimenting on some spirit vines in an attempt to turn them into an energy source. When he accidentally produces a Death Ray, he tries to shut down the project, but is stopped by Kuvira, who orders him to start making weapons on pain of death.
  • DC Animated Universe:
    • In the Superman: The Animated Series 3-parter "World's Finest", WayneTech and LexCorp have a joint contract to build unmanned exploration drones. Luthor tries to sell Wayne on this — to the point of bringing him to a room filled with modified versions outfitted for military applications. Wayne, who emphatically Doesn't Like Guns, is horrified and refuses.
    • This crops up in the Justice League episode "Metamorphosis". As a deceived and distraught Metamorpho is fighting the Justice League, Simon Stagg — his Corrupt Corporate Executive boss, fiancee's father, and the man responsible for turning him into Metamorpho in the first place — watches this from a distance and wonders aloud if his Metamorpho project could have military applications beyond just the original intent of allowing people to work in extremely dangerous environments.
    • A rather tragic example is the Batman Beyond villain Shriek, originally Walter Shreeve. He was formerly the head of a firm that was acquired by Derek Powers, but his attempts to convince Powers that his experiments in sonic technology have potential for demolitions don't impress Powers. ("Dynamite is cheaper", says Powers.) Powers suggests that he turn the device into a weapon to assassinate Bruce Wayne (well, it's either that or lose his funding) and the resulting failure drives Shreeve insane, and also deaf. (Ironically, what later happens costs Powers more money than it ever could have saved him.)
  • In the Fangface episode "Dinosaur Daze", a Terrifying Tyrannosaur emerges from Beneath the Earth to go on a rampage across Arizona. Prof. Ito, a local paleontologist, hopes to capture the dinosaur so it can be studied. In a rarity for this trope, he actually gets his wish, when a Shrink Ray reduces the creature to a more manageable size.
  • The plot of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy and Codename: Kids Next Door crossover "The Grim Adventures of the KND" is driven by this. Upon learning of the vast technological power that the Kids Next Door organization holds, Mandy is appalled that they haven't used any of it for world domination, so she's disguises herself as Numbah One in order to do just that.
  • Dr. Drakken of Kim Possible fame is an expert at finding the world-conquering potential of other people's inventions. Some other villains do this as well.
  • Subverted (as so many things are) in The Simpsons, as Dr. Frink admits that "Oh, well to be honest, the ray only has evil applications. You know my wife will be happy, she's hated this whole death ray thing from day one."
  • This is the direct cause for three of the supervillains (Dr. Viper, the Metallikats) and at least one Monster of the Week (Zed) in SWAT Kats existing in the first place.
  • This happens so much in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) that only Genre Blindness can explain why any inventor bothers to invent anything at all.
  • Dr. Venture of The Venture Bros. is a healthy mix of this and For Science!. In the pilot he's a lot closer to the pure trope, insisting that the "Ooh Ray" only has peaceful applications even after he uses it to melt a model city. Later, he becomes a lot more cynical, knowing all too well that the military can and will find a purpose to weaponize what he makes, and he seems to be disappointed when they don't. Inverted with his Walking Eye. He can't think of any applications (beyond "Walking Eye stuff") and hopes to sell it simply because it looks cool. The villains he showed it off too thought it was pretty neat, at least.
  • "The Light" in Young Justice (2010) have a habit of finding dangerous and/or horrifying technology that they will theoretically use to benefit humanity, although Psycho Serum mutagens, giant aggressive plants, mind-control chips, and weapons scavenged from the planet Apokolips seem more like typical supervillain plots rather than having genuine potential.

    Real Life 
  • Zig-zagged with nuclear physics. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually not as easy and cheap as you might think to turn a nuclear power plant into a source of weapons-grade fissionable materials, so a nuclear energy program is not an automatic ready supply of nuclear warheads. However, Uranium enrichment turbines can simply be run longer to create weapons grade Uranium (there are reactors that operate on non-enriched Uranium eliminating that concern) and some designs of reactor naturally produce weapons grade Plutonium. In general the simple equation "reactor = energy + bomb fuel" is vastly oversimplified and most reactors that are particularly good at one thing are bad at the other. Some of the early pioneers in the field of nuclear physics, conducting their work purely with the intent to broaden human understanding of the nature of the universe without much expectation of a practical application at all, might however have felt this way when they realized what they were capable of doing with the unique properties of certain atomic elements.
  • Nuclear weapons, on the other hand, have been subjected to this trope in at least two ways — for digging and propulsion:
    • Operation Plowshare. "Operation Plowshare ... was the overall United States term for the development of techniques to use nuclear explosives for peaceful construction purposes." What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Slightly Less Disturbing in Context: It wasn't until the mid-1950s that the scale of the public health hazard presented by radioactive fallout was fully appreciated, thankfully before it got beyond a few feasibility studies that were tending towards the conclusion that the whole idea was Awesome, but Impractical anyway.
    • Project Orion is a hypothetical nuclear-explosion-propelled spaceship design that (thankfully) has never gotten off the ground. The prototype (using conventional explosives) however, did fly, and proved it is a viable propulsion system. Orion is still one of the best drive systems we've devised, with one design capable of reaching 3.3% of the speed of light (36,000,000 km/h!) with 10 days of acceleration at the honestly bargain price $367 billion US.
    • During the months-long Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, scientists raised the possibility of sealing the leaking well with a nuclear explosion. It turns out that the USSR had already used this technique to cap underground natural gas spills, but it was ultimately ruled out in this case. (BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, reasoned that any attempt to stop it with explosives - nuclear or conventional - would be a last-ditch effort that prevented further alternatives.)
    • Soviet program of nuclear explosions for the national economy adhered to stricter safety regulations than Plowshare, used cleaner bombs and detonated 4 times more bombs. Still, the nukes proved less safe than expected — even for the deep underground ones there is a risk of radiation leak. When USSR declared a moratorium on nuclear tests in 1980s, it stopped peaceful explosions too. The purposes included:
      • Seismic probing of Earth (over 1/3 of all bombs).
      • Beating oil and gas out of rock (not unlike modern shale oil mining).
      • Creating underground reservoirs for gas or toxic waste.
      • Emergency extinguishing of gas fountains (less efficient than one might expect).
      • Digging channels and strip mines (unacceptable air and soil pollution, and conventional explosives proved cheaper at this scale).
  • Craig Venter's work to create a synthetic lifeform. When asked in an interview, he said that he believed everything would be made by synthetic microbes in the future, so at least he's thinking ahead to that extent. It could be positive, or it could be awful. He's treading really carefully.
  • DIYgenomics and BioCurious provide services for do-it-yourself scientists and citizen hobbyists in an effort to support the “garage biologist” movement. However, many are concerned about bio-terrorism and the difficulty government regulars will face in monitoring biological research conducted in the privacy of someone’s home.
  • Any and all scientific research done is either for its potential, or because the researcher wants to know why the world around him functions as it does (which often leads to potential later). Considering all the progress this had led to (economically, medically, socially, etc...) and the fact that the world is still standing, this trope does have its advantages.
    • Understanding how something works also provides a how-to guide (real or assumed) for destroying or exploiting it if the knowledge is made public. While the information itself is not inherently bad, it can give... ideas to less scrupulous people who would otherwise have not bothered. Scientists tend to respond to this by pointing out that we're not exactly short on methods of destroying or exploiting the world already.
  • The Brazilian Wandering Spider is the most venomous spider on Earth. Scientists are interested in its venom (or a component thereof) for its uses... as an erectile dysfunction drug! Yes, the bite of the world's most dangerous spider gives its male victims a bad case of wood in their last moments!
    • This isn't as far-fetched as it sounds: after all, another similarly lethal substance is regularly used to remove wrinkles...
    • And components of snake venoms (mainly pitvipers, including the Gaboon viper and copperhead) have potential medical applications as well. They are still rather dangerous to study, because you are, well, trying to get venomous snakes to bite the collection vessel and not you. And then figure out what can be used, in what quantity, versus what actually makes the venom venomous.
  • Drugs often turn out like this. LSD for example was first released as a way to have spiritual experiences and scientists wanted to test it to see if it could have medicinal uses. Of the course, the main issue is that when a drug is unregulated it can be used to exploit people or, as more amateurs try to get on the money train, the quality of the stuff degrades. Many issues are caused by unregulated drugs being, either being intentionally or not, "spiked" (read contaminated). Clinical studies on LSD started back up in 2009 after a 35ish year ban.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Potential Applications


You and I can do anything

At first, Sozin asks Roku to help him spread the Fire Nation's advanced civilization to other countries. However, he refuses to even listen to him beyond the first sentence.

How well does it match the trope?

4.77 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / WeCanRuleTogether

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