84. Quantum Surprise on the Battlefield?

[Editor’s Note:  In the following guest blog post, Mad Scientist Elsa B. Kania addresses quantum technology and the potential ramifications should the People’s Republic of China (PRC) win the current race in fielding operational quantum capabilities].

If China were to succeed in realizing the full potential of quantum technology, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might have the capability to offset core pillars of U.S. military power on the future battlefield.  Let’s imagine the worst-case (or, for China, best-case) scenarios.

The Chinese military and government could leverage quantum cryptography and communications to enable “perfect security” for its most sensitive information and communications. The PLA may look to employ ‘uncrackable’ quantum key distribution (QKD), which involves the provably secure exchange of keys in quantum states, over fiber optic networks for secure command and control, while extending the range of its quantum networks to more far-flung units or even ships at sea, through an expanding constellation of quantum satellites.

If China were to ‘go dark’ to U.S. intelligence capabilities as a result, then a new level of uncertainty could complicate U.S. calculus and assessments, while exacerbating the risks of surprise or misperception in a crisis or conflict scenario.

China’s massive investments in quantum computing could succeed someday in the decadal marathon towards a fully functional and universal quantum computer.

Liaoning Exercise in the West Pacific / Source: Flickr by rhk111

If developed in secret or operational sooner than expected, then these immense computing capabilities could be unleashed to break public key cryptography. Such asymmetric cryptography, which today is quite prevalent and integral to the security of our information technology ecosystem, relies upon the difficulty of prime factorization, a task beyond the capabilities of today’s classical computers but that could be cracked by a future quantum computer. The impact could be analogous to the advantage that the U.S. achieved through the efforts of American code-breakers ahead of the Battle of Midway.

Although there will be options available for ‘quantum-proof’ encryption, the use of public key cryptography could remain prevalent in older military and government information systems, such as legacy satellites. Moreover, any data previously collected while encrypted could be rapidly decrypted and exploited, exposing perhaps decades of sensitive information. Will the U.S. military and government take this potential security threat seriously enough to start the transition to quantum-resistant alternatives?

Future advances in quantum computing could be game changers for intelligence and information processing. In a new era in which data is a critical resource, the ability to process it rapidly is at a premium. In theory, quantum computing could also accelerate the development of artificial intelligence towards a closer approximation to “superintelligence,” provoking concerns of unexpected, by some accounts even existential, risks and powerful capabilities.

PLA Navy Kilo-Class Submarine / Source: Took-ranch at English Wikipedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12184725

Meanwhile, based on active efforts in the Chinese defense industry, the next generation of Chinese submarines could be equipped with a ‘quantum compass’ to enable greater precision in positioning and independence from space-based navigation systems, while perhaps also leveraging quantum communications underwater for secure control and covert coordination.

The PLA might realize its ambitions to develop quantum radar that could be the “nemesis” of U.S. stealth fighters and bolster Chinese missile defense. This “offset” technology could overcome the U.S. military’s advantage in stealth. Similarly, the ‘spooky’ sensitivity in detection enabled by techniques such as ghost imaging and quantum remote sensing could enhance PLA ISR capabilities.

In the aggregate, could China’s future advances in these technologies change the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific?

Su-27 Flanker fighter / Source: DoD photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen

For China, the potential to disrupt paradigms of information dominance through quantum computing and cryptography, while perhaps undermining U.S. advantages in stealth technologies through quantum radar and sensing, and even more actively contesting the undersea domain, could create a serious challenge to U.S. military-technological predominance.

Perhaps, but this imagining of impactful military applications of quantum technology is far from a reality today. For the time being, these technologies still confront major constraints and limitations in their development.

It seems unlikely that quantum cryptography will ever enable truly perfect security, given the perhaps inevitable human and engineering challenges, along with remaining vulnerabilities to exploitation.

At present, quantum computing, while approaching the symbolic milestone of “quantum supremacy,” faces a long road ahead, due to challenges of scaling and error correction.

Certain quantum devices, for sensing, metrology, and positioning, may be quite useful but could enable fairly incremental, evolutionary improvements relative to the full range of alternatives.

There are also reasons to consider critically when Chinese official media discloses (especially in English) oft-hyped advances such as in quantum radar – since reporting on such apparent progress could be variously intended for purposes of signaling or perhaps even misdirection.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) neutral-atom quantum processors — prototype devices which designers are trying to develop into full-fledged quantum computers  https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnistgov/5940500587/

Although China’s advances and ambitions should be taken quite seriously – particularly considering the talent and resources evidently mobilized to advance these objectives – the U.S. military may also be well postured to leverage quantum technology on the future battlefield.

 

Inevitably, the timeframe for the actual operationalization of these technologies is challenging to evaluate, especially because a significant proportion of the relevant research may be occurring in secret.

For that reason, it is also difficult to determine with confidence whether the U.S. or China is truly leading in the advancement of various disciplines of quantum science.

Moreover, beyond concerns of competition between the U.S. and China, exciting research is occurring worldwide, from Canada and Europe to Australia, often with tech companies and start-ups at the forefront of the development and commercialization of these technologies.

Looking forward, the trajectory of this second quantum revolution will play out over decades to come. Future successes will require sustained investments, such as those China is actively pursuing in the range of tens of billions.

As the Chinese military and defense industry start testing and experimenting with quantum technology, the U.S. military should also explore further the potential – and evaluate the limitations – of these capabilities, including through deepening public-private partnership.

As China challenges American leadership in innovation, the U.S. military and government should recognize the real risks of future surprises that could result from truly ‘made in China’ innovation, while also taking full advantage of the opportunities to impose surprise upon strategic competitors.

The above blog post is based on the recently published Center for a New American Security (CNAS) report entitled Quantum Hegemony? – China’s Ambitions and the Challenges to U.S. Innovation Leadership, co-authored by Ms. Elsa Kania and  Mr. John Costello.  Mad Scientist believes that this report is the best primer on the current state of quantum technology.  Note that quantum science – communication, computing, and sensing – was previously addressed by the Mad Scientist Laboratory as a Pink Flamingo.

Ms. Kania was proclaimed an official Mad Scientist following her presentation on PLA Human-Machine Integration at the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference at SRI International, Menlo Park, 8-9 March 2018.  Her podcast from this event, China’s Quest for Enhanced Military Technology, is hosted by Modern War Institute.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article belong to the author alone and do not represent the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, or the U.S. Army Training and Training Doctrine Command.

Ms. Kania is an Adjunct Fellow with the Technology and National Security Program at CNAS.

65. “The Queue”

[Editor’s Note:  Now that another month has flown by, Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present our June edition of “The Queue” – a monthly post listing the most compelling articles, books, podcasts, videos, and/or movies that the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Mad Scientist Initiative has come across during the past month. In this anthology, we address how each of these works either informs or challenges our understanding of the Future Operational Environment. We hope that you will add “The Queue” to your essential reading, listening, or watching each month!]

Source: KUO CHENG LIAO

1. Collaborative Intelligence: Humans and AI are Joining Forces, by H. James Wilson and Paul R. Daugherty, Harvard Business Review, July – August 2018.

 

Source: OpenAI

A Team of AI Algorithms just crushed Expert Humans in a Complex Computer Game, by Will Knight, MIT Technology Review, June 25, 2018.

I know — I cheated and gave you two articles to read. These “dueling” articles demonstrate the early state of our understanding of the role of humans in decision-making. The Harvard Business Review article describes findings where human – Artificial Intelligence (AI) partnerships take advantage of the leadership, teamwork, creativity, and social skills of humans with the speed, scalability, and quantitative capabilities of AI. This is basically the idea of “centaur” chess which has been prevalent in discussions of human and AI collaboration. Conversely, the MIT Technology Review article describes the ongoing work to build AI algorithms that are incentivized to collaborate with other AI teammates. Could it be that collaboration is not a uniquely human attribute? The ongoing work on integration of AI into the workforce and in support of CEO decision-making could inform the Army’s investment strategy for AI. Julianne Gallina, one of our proclaimed Mad Scientists, described a future where everyone would have an entourage and Commanders would have access to a “Patton in the Pocket.” How the human operates on or in the loop and how Commanders make decisions at machine speed will be informed by this research. In August, the Mad Scientist team will conduct a conference focused on Learning in 2050 to further explore the ideas of human and AI teaming with intelligent tutors and mentors.

Source: Doubleday

2. Origin: A Novel, by Dan Brown, Doubleday, October 3, 2017, reviewed by Ms. Marie Murphy.

Dan Brown’s famous symbologist Robert Langdon returns to avenge the murder of his friend, tech developer and futurist Edmund Kirsch. Killed in the middle of presenting what he advertised as a life-changing discovery, Langdon teams up with Kirsch’s most faithful companion, his AI assistant Winston, in order to release Edmund’s presentation to the public. Winston is able to access Kirsch’s entire network, give real-time directions, and make decisions based on ambiguous commands — all via Kirsch’s smartphone. However, this AI system doesn’t appear to know Kirsch’s personal password, and can only enable Langdon in his mission to find it. An omnipresent and portable assistant like Winston could greatly aid future warfighters and commanders. Having this scope of knowledge on command is beneficial, but future AI will be able to not only regurgitate data, but present the Soldier with courses of action analyses and decision options based on the data. Winston was also able to mimic emotion via machine learning, which can reduce Soldier stress levels and present information in a humanistic manner. Once an AI has been attached to a Soldier for a period of time, it can learn the particular preferences and habits of that Soldier, and make basic or routine decisions and assumptions for that individual, anticipating their needs, as Winston does for Kirsch and Langdon.

Source: Getty Images adapted by CNAS

3. Technology Roulette: Managing Loss of Control as Many Militaries Pursue Technological Superiority, by Richard Danzig, Center for a New American Security, 30 May 2018.

Mad Scientist Laboratory readers are already familiar with the expression, “warfare at machine speed.” As our adversaries close the technology gap and potentially overtake us in select areas, there is clearly a “need for speed.”

“… speed matters — in two distinct dimensions. First, autonomy can increase decision speed, enabling the U.S. to act inside an adversary’s operations cycle. Secondly, ongoing rapid transition of autonomy into warfighting capabilities is vital if the U.S. is to sustain military advantage.” — Defense Science Board (DSB) Report on Autonomy, June 2016 (p. 3).

In his monograph, however, author and former Clinton Administration Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig contends that “superiority is not synonymous with security;” citing the technological proliferation that almost inevitably follows technological innovations and the associated risks of unintended consequences resulting from the loss of control of military technologies. Contending that speed is a form of technological roulette, former Secretary Danzig proposes a control methodology of five initiatives to help mitigate the associated risks posed by disruptive technologies, and calls for increased multilateral planning with both our allies and opponents. Unfortunately, as with the doomsday scenario played out in Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach, it is “… the little ones, the Irresponsibles…” that have propagated much of the world’s misery in the decades following the end of the Cold War. It is the specter of these Irresponsible nations, along with non-state actors and Super-Empowered Individuals, experimenting with and potentially unleashing disruptive technologies, who will not be contained by any non-proliferation protocols or controls. Indeed, neither will our near-peer adversaries, if these technologies promise to offer a revolutionary, albeit fleeting, Offset capability.

U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, Source: Alex Wong/Getty Images

4. The US made the wrong bet on radiofrequency, and now it could pay the price, by Aaron Metha, C4ISRNET, 21 Jun 2018.

This article illustrates how the Pentagon’s faith in its own technology drove the Department of Defense to trust it would maintain dominance over the electromagnetic spectrum for years to come.  That decision left the United States vulnerable to new leaps in technology made by our near-peers. GEN Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has concluded that the Pentagon must now keep up with near-peer nations and reestablish our dominance of electronic warfare and networking (spoiler alert – we are not!).  This is an example of a pink flamingo (a known, known), as we know our near-peers have surpassed us in technological dominance in some cases.  In looking at technological forecasts for the next decade, we must ensure that the U.S. is making the right investments in Science and Technology to keep up with our near-peers. This article demonstrates that timely and decisive policy-making will be paramount in keeping up with our adversaries in the fast changing and agile Operational Environment.

Source: MIT CSAIL

5. MIT Device Uses WiFi to ‘See’ Through Walls and Track Your Movements, by Kaleigh Rogers, MOTHERBOARD, 13 June 2018.

Researchers at MIT have discovered a way to “see” people through walls by tracking WiFi signals that bounce off of their bodies. Previously, the technology limited fidelity to “blobs” behind a wall, essentially telling you that someone was present but no indication of behavior. The breakthrough is using a trained neural network to identify the bouncing signals and compare those with the shape of the human skeleton. This is significant because it could give an added degree of specificity to first responders or fire teams clearing rooms. The ability to determine if an individual on the other side of the wall is potentially hostile and holding a weapon or a non-combatant holding a cellphone could be the difference between life and death. This also brings up questions about countermeasures. WiFi signals are seemingly everywhere and, with this technology, could prove to be a large signature emitter. Will future forces need to incorporate uniforms or materials that absorb these waves or scatter them in a way that distorts them?

Source: John T. Consoli / University of Maryland

6. People recall information better through virtual reality, says new UMD study, University of Maryland, EurekaAlert, 13 June 2018.

A study performed by the University of Maryland determined that people will recall information better when seeing it first in a 3D virtual environment, as opposed to a 2D desktop or mobile screen. The Virtual Reality (VR) system takes advantage of what’s called “spatial mnemonic encoding” which allows the brain to not only remember something visually, but assign it a place in three-dimensional space which helps with retention and recall. This technique could accelerate learning and enhance retention when we train our Soldiers and Leaders. As the VR hardware becomes smaller, lighter, and more affordable, custom mission sets, or the skills necessary to accomplish them, could be learned on-the-fly, in theater in a compressed timeline. This also allows for education to be distributed and networked globally without the need for a traditional classroom.

Source: Potomac Books

7. Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict, edited by Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates; Foreword by GEN Stanley McChrystal, Potomac Books, May 1, 2018.

This book is fascinating for two reasons:  1) It utilizes one of the greatest science fiction series (almost a genre unto itself) in order to brilliantly illustrate some military strategy concepts and 2) It is chock full of Mad Scientists as contributors. One of the editors, John Amble, is a permanent Mad Scientist team member, while another, Max Brooks, author of World War Z, and contributor, August Cole, are officially proclaimed Mad Scientists.

The book takes a number of scenes and key battles in Star Wars and uses historical analogies to help present complex issues like civil-military command structure, counterinsurgency pitfalls, force structuring, and battlefield movement and maneuver.

One of the more interesting portions of the book is the concept of ‘droid armies vs. clone soldiers and the juxtaposition of that with the future testing of manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) concepts. There are parallels in how we think about what machines can and can’t do and how they think and learn.

 
If you read, watch, or listen to something this month that you think has the potential to inform or challenge our understanding of the Future Operational Environment, please forward it (along with a brief description of why its potential ramifications are noteworthy to the greater Mad Scientist Community of Action) to our attention at: usarmy.jble.tradoc.mbx.army-mad-scientist@mail.mil — we may select it for inclusion in our next edition of “The Queue”!