68. Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference Final Report

[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) co-hosted the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference with SRI International on 8–9 March 2018 at their Menlo Park campus in California. This conference explored bio convergence, what the Army’s Soldier of 2050 will look like, and how they will interact and integrate with their equipment. The following post is an excerpt from this conference’s final report.]

Source: U.S. Army photo by SPC Joshua P. Morris

While the technology and concepts defining warfare have continuously and rapidly transformed, the primary actor in warfare – the human – has remained largely unchanged. Soldiers today may be physically larger, more thoroughly trained, and better equipped than their historical counterparts, but their capability and performance abilities remain very similar.

These limitations in human performance, however, may change over the next 30 years, as advances in biotechnology and human performance likely will expand the boundaries of what is possible for humans to achieve. We may see Soldiers – not just their equipment – with superior vision, enhanced cognitive abilities, disease/virus resistance, and increased strength, speed, agility, and endurance. As a result, these advances could provide the Soldier with an edge to survive and thrive on the hyperactive, constantly changing, and increasingly lethal Multi-Domain Battlespace.

Source: The Guardian and Lynsey Irvine/Getty

In addition to potentially changing the individual physiology and abilities of the future Soldier, there are many technological innovations on the horizon that will impact human performance. The convergence of these technologies – artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality, brain-machine interface, nanotechnologies, and biological and medical improvements to the human – is referred to as bio convergence. Soldiers of the future will have enhanced capabilities due to technologies that will be installed, instilled, and augmented. This convergence will also make the Army come to terms on what kinds of bio-converged technologies will be accepted in new recruits.

The conference generated the following key findings:

Source: RodMartin.org

• The broad advancement of biotechnologies will provide wide access to dangerous and powerful bioweapons and human enhancements. The low cost and low expertise entry point into gene editing, human performance enhancement, and bioweapon production has spurred a string of new explorations into this arena by countries with large defense budgets (e.g.,  China), non-state criminal and terrorist organizations (e.g., ISIS), and even super-empowered individuals willing to subject their bodies to experimental and risky treatments.

Source: Shutterstock

• Emerging synthetic biology tools (e.g., CRISPR, Talon, and ZFN) present an opportunity to engineer Soldiers’ DNA and enhance their performance, providing  greater  speed, strength, endurance, and resilience.  These tools, however, will also create new vulnerabilities, such as genomic targeting, that can be exploited by an adversary and/or potentially harm the individual undergoing enhancement.  Bioengineering is becoming easier and cheaper as a bevy of developments are reducing biotechnology transaction costs in gene reading, writing, and editing.  Due to the ever-increasing speed and lethality of the future battlefield, combatants will need cognitive and physical enhancement to survive and thrive.

Source: Getty Images

• Ensuring that our land forces are ready to meet future challenges requires optimizing biotechnology and neuroscience advancements.  Designer viruses and diseases will be highly volatile, mutative, and extremely personalized, potentially challenging an already stressed Army medical response system and its countermeasures.  Synthetic biology provides numerous applications that will bridge capability gaps and enable future forces to fight effectively. Future synthetic biology defense applications are numerous and range from sensing capabilities to rapidly developed vaccines and therapeutics.

Source: Rockwell Collins / Aviation Week

• Private industry and academia have become the driving force behind innovation. While there are some benefits to this – such as shorter development times – there are also risks. For example, investments in industry are mainly driven by market demand which can lead to a lack of investment in areas that are vital to National Defense but have low to no consumer demand. In academia, a majority of graduate students in STEM fields are foreign nationals, comprising over 80% of electrical and petroleum engineering programs. The U.S. will need to find a way to maintain its technological superiority even when most of the expertise eventually leaves the country.

Source: World Health Organization

• The advent of new biotechnologies will give rise to moral, regulatory, and legal challenges for the Army of the Future, its business practices, recruiting requirements, Soldier standards, and structure. The rate of technology development in the synthetic biology field is increasing rapidly. Private individuals or small start-ups with minimal capital can create a new organism for which there is no current countermeasure and the development of one will likely take years. This potentiality leads to the dilemma of swiftly creating effective policy and regulation that addresses these concerns, while not stifling creativity and productivity in the field for those conducting legitimate research. Current regulation may not be sufficient, and bureaucratic inflexibility prevents quick reactive and proactive change. Our adversaries may not move as readily to adopt harsher regulations in the bio-technology arena. Rather than focusing on short-term solutions, it may be beneficial to take a holistic approach centered in a world where bio-technology is interacting with everyday life. The U.S. may have to work from a relative “disadvantage,” using safe and legal methods of enhancement, while our adversaries may choose to operate below our defined legal threshold.

Bio Convergence is incredibly important to the Army of the Future because the future Soldier is the Bio. The Warrior of tomorrow’s Army will be given more responsibility, will be asked to do more, will be required to be more capable, and will face more challenges and complexities than ever before. These Soldiers must be able to quickly adapt, change, connect to and disconnect from a multitude of networks – digital and otherwise – all while carrying out multiple mission-sets in an increasingly disrupted, degraded, and arduous environment marred with distorted reality, information warfare, and attacks of a personalized nature.

For additional information regarding this conference:

• Review the Lessons Learned from the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference preliminary assessment.

• Read the entire Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference Final Report.

• Watch the conference’s video presentations.

• See the associated presentations’ briefing slides.

• Check out the associated “Call for Ideas” writing contest finalist submissions, hosted by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

 

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”!

59. Fundamental Questions Affecting Army Modernization

[Editor’s Note:  The Operational Environment (OE) is the start point for Army Readiness – now and in the Future. The OE answers the question, “What is the Army ready for?”  Without the OE in training and Leader development, Soldiers and Leaders are “practicing” in a benign condition, without the requisite rigor to forge those things essential for winning in a complex, multi-domain battlefield.  Building the Army’s future capabilities, a critical component of future readiness, requires this same start point.  The assumptions the Army makes about the Future OE are the sine qua non start point for developing battlefield systems — these assumptions must be at the forefront of decision-making for all future investments.]

There are no facts about the future. Leaders interested in building future ready organizations must develop assumptions about possible futures and these assumptions require constant scrutiny. Leaders must also make decisions based on these assumptions to posture organizations to take advantage of opportunities and to mitigate risks. Making these decisions is fundamental to building future readiness.

Source: Evan Jensen, ARL

The TRADOC G-2 has made the following foundational assumptions about the future that can serve as launch points for important questions about capability requirements and capabilities under development. These assumptions are further described in An Advanced Engagement Battlespace: Tactical, Operational and Strategic Implications for the Future Operational Environment, published by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

1. Contested in all domains (air, land, sea, space, and cyber). Increased lethality, by virtue of ubiquitous sensors, proliferated precision, high kinetic energy weapons and advanced area munitions, further enabled by autonomy, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) with an increasing potential for overmatch. Adversaries will restrict us to temporary windows of advantage with periods of physical and electronic isolation.

Source: Army Technology

2. Concealment is difficult on the future battlefield. Hiding from advanced sensors — where practicable — will require dramatic reduction of heat, electromagnetic, and optical signatures. Traditional hider techniques such as camouflage, deception, and concealment will have to extend to “cross-domain obscuration” in the cyber domain and the electromagnetic spectrum. Canny competitors will monitor their own emissions in real-time to understand and mitigate their vulnerabilities in the “battle of signatures.” Alternately, “hiding in the open” within complex terrain clutter and near-constant relocation might be feasible, provided such relocation could outpace future recon / strike targeting cycles.   Adversaries will operate among populations in complex terrain, including dense urban areas.

3. Trans-regional, gray zone, and hybrid strategies with both regular and irregular forces, criminal elements, and terrorists attacking our weaknesses and mitigating our advantages. The ensuing spectrum of competition will range from peaceful, legal activities through violent, mass upheavals and civil wars to traditional state-on-state, unlimited warfare.

Source: Science Photo Library / Van Parys Media

4. Adversaries include states, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals, with non-state actors and super empowered individuals now having access to Weapons of Mass Effect (WME), cyber, space, and Nuclear/Biological/ Chemical (NBC) capabilities. Their operational reach will range from tactical to global, and the application of their impact from one domain into another will be routine. These advanced engagements will also be interactive across the multiple dimensions of conflict, not only across every domain in the physical dimension, but also the cognitive dimension of information operations, and even the moral dimension of belief and values.

Source: Northrop Grumman

5. Increased speed of human interaction, events and action with democratized and rapidly proliferating capabilities means constant co-evolution between competitors. Recon / Strike effectiveness is a function of its sensors, shooters, their connections, and the targeting process driving decisions. Therefore, in a contest between peer competitors with comparable capabilities, advantage will fall to the one that is better integrated and makes better and faster decisions.

These assumptions become useful when they translate to potential decision criteria for Leaders to rely on when evaluating systems being developed for the future battlefield. Each of the following questions are fundamental to ensuring the Army is prepared to operate in the future.

Source: Lockheed Martin

1. How will this system operate when disconnected from a network? Units will be disconnected from their networks on future battlefields. Capabilities that require constant timing and precision geo-locational data will be prioritized for disruption by adversaries with capable EW systems.

2. What signature does this system present to an adversary? It is difficult to hide on the future battlefield and temporary windows of advantage will require formations to reduce their battlefield signatures. Capabilities that require constant multi-directional broadcast and units with large mission command centers will quickly be targeted and neutralized.

Image credit: Alexander Kott

3. How does this system operate in dense urban areas? The physical terrain in dense urban areas and megacities creates concrete canyons isolating units electronically and physically. Automated capabilities operating in dense population areas might also increase the rate of false signatures, confusing, rather than improving, Commander decision-making. New capabilities must be able to operate disconnected in this terrain. Weapons systems must be able to slew and elevate rapidly to engage vertical targets. Automated systems and sensors will require significant training sets to reduce the rate of false signatures.

Source: Military Embedded Systems

4. How does this system take advantage of open and modular architectures? The rapid rate of technological innovations will offer great opportunities to militaries capable of rapidly integrating prototypes into formations.  Capabilities developed with open and modular architectures can be upgraded with autonomous and AI enablers as they mature. Early investment in closed-system capabilities will freeze Armies in a period of rapid co-evolution and lead to overmatch.

5. How does this capability help win in competition short of conflict with a near peer competitor? Near peer competitors will seek to achieve limited objectives short of direct conflict with the U.S. Army. Capabilities will need to be effective at operating in the gray zone as well as serving as deterrence. They will need to be capable of strategic employment from CONUS-based installations.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the following items of interest:

    • Join SciTech Futures‘ community of experts, analysts, and creatives on 11-18 June 2018 as they discuss the logistical challenges of urban campaigns, both today and on into 2035. What disruptive technologies and doctrines will blue (and red) forces have available in 2035? Are unconventional forces the future of urban combat? Their next ideation exercise goes live 11 June 2018 — click here to learn more!

52. Potential Game Changers

The Mad Scientist Initiative brings together cutting-edge leaders and thinkers from the technology industry, research laboratories, academia, and across the military and Government to explore the impact of potentially disruptive technologies. Much like Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable type (illustrated above), these transformational game changers have the potential to impact how we live, create, think, and prosper. Understanding their individual and convergent impacts is essential to continued battlefield dominance in the Future Operational Environment. In accordance with The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, we have divided this continuum into two distinct timeframes:

The Era of Accelerated Human Progress (Now through 2035):
The period where our adversaries can take advantage of new technologies, new doctrine, and revised strategic concepts to effectively challenge U.S. military forces across multiple domains. Game changers during this era include:

• Robotics: Forty plus countries develop military robots with some level of autonomy. Impact on society, employment.
Vulnerable: To Cyber/Electromagnetic (EM) disruption, battery life, ethics without man in the loop.
Formats: Unmanned/Autonomous; ground/air vehicles/subsurface/sea systems. Nano-weapons.
Examples: (Air) Hunter/killer Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) swarms; (Ground) Russian Uran: Recon, ATGMs, SAMs.

• Artificial Intelligence: Human-Agent Teaming, where humans and intelligent systems work together to achieve either a physical or mental task. The human and the intelligent system will trade-off cognitive and physical loads in a collaborative fashion.

• Swarms/Semi Autonomous: Massed, coordinated, fast, collaborative, small, stand-off. Overwhelm target systems. Mass or disaggregate.



• Internet of Things (IoT): Trillions of internet linked items create opportunities and vulnerabilities. Explosive growth in low Size Weight and Power (SWaP) connected devices (Internet of Battlefield Things), especially for sensor applications (situational awareness). Greater than 100 devices per human. Significant end device processing (sensor analytics, sensor to shooter, supply chain management).
Vulnerable: To Cyber/EM/Power disruption. Privacy concerns regarding location and tracking.
Sensor to shooter: Accelerate kill chain, data processing, and decision-making.

• Space: Over 50 nations operate in space, increasingly congested and difficult to monitor, endanger Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT)

GPS Jamming/Spoofing: Increasingly sophisticated, used successfully in Ukraine.
Anti Satellite: China has tested two direct ascent anti-satellite missiles.

The Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050):
The period marked by significant breakthroughs in technology and convergences in terms of capabilities, which lead to significant changes in the character of warfare. During this period, traditional aspects of warfare undergo dramatic, almost revolutionary changes which at the end of this timeframe may even challenge the very nature of warfare itself. Game changers during this era include:

• Hyper Velocity Weapons:
Rail Guns (Electrodynamic Kinetic Energy Weapons): Electromagnetic projectile launchers. High velocity/energy and space (Mach 5 or higher). Not powered by explosive.
No Propellant: Easier to store and handle.
Lower Cost Projectiles: Potentially. Extreme G-force requires sturdy payloads.
Limiting factors: Power. Significant IR signature. Materials science.
Hyper Glide Vehicles: Less susceptible to anti-ballistic missile countermeasures.

• Directed Energy Weapons: Signature not visible without technology, must dwell on target. Power requirements currently problematic.
Potential: Tunable, lethal, and non-lethal.
Laser: Directed energy damages intended target. Targets: Counter Aircraft, UAS, Missiles, Projectiles, Sensors, Swarms.
Radio Frequency (RF): Attack targets across the frequency spectrum. Targets: Not just RF; Microwave weapons “cook targets,” people, electronics.

• Synthetic Biology: Engineering / modification of biological entities
Increased Crop Yield: Potential to reduce food scarcity.
Weaponization: Potential for micro-targeting, Seek & destroy microbes that can target DNA. Potentially accessible to super-empowered individuals.
Medical Advances: Enhance soldier survivability.
Genetic Modification: Disease resistant, potentially designer babies and super athletes/soldiers. Synthetic DNA stores digital data. Data can be used for micro-targeting.
CRISPR: Genome editing.

• Information Environment: Use IoT and sensors to harness the flow of information for situational understanding and decision-making advantage.




In envisioning Future Operational Environment possibilities, the Mad Scientist Initiative employs a number of techniques. We have found Crowdsourcing (i.e., the gathering of ideas, thoughts, and concepts from a wide variety of interested individuals assists us in diversifying thoughts and challenging conventional assumptions) to be a particularly effective technique. To that end, we have published our latest, 2-page compendium of Potential Game Changers here — we would like to hear your feedback regarding them. Please let us know your thoughts / observations by posting them in this blog post’s Comment box (found below, in the Leave a Reply section). Alternatively, you can also submit them to us via email at: usarmy.jble.tradoc.mbx.army-mad-scientist@mail.mil. Thank you in advance for your contributions!

51. Black Swans and Pink Flamingos

The Mad Scientist Initiative recently facilitated a workshop with thought leaders from across the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, other Government agencies, industry, and academia to address the unknown, unknowns (i.e., Black Swans) and the known, knowns (i.e., Pink Flamingos) to synthesize cross-agency thinking about possible disruptions to the Future Operational Environment.

Black Swans: In Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s original context, a black swan (unknown, unknowns) is an event or situation which is unpredictable, but has a major effect. For this conference, we used a looser definition, identifying possibilities that are not likely, but might have significant impacts on how we think about warfighting and security.

Pink Flamingos: Defined by Frank Hoffman, Pink Flamingos are the known, knowns that are often discussed, but ignored by Leaders trapped by organizational cultures and rigid bureaucratic decision-making structures. Peter Schwartz further describes Pink Flamingos as the “inevitable surprise.” Digital photography was a pink flamingo to Kodak.

At the workshop, attendees identified the following Black Swans:

Naturally Occurring Disaster: These events (i.e., Carrington Event — solar flare frying solid state electronics, super volcano eruptions, earthquake swarms, etc.) would have an enormous impact on the Army and its ability to continue to operate and defend the nation and support national recovery operations. While warning times have increased for many of these events, there are limited measures that can be implemented to mitigate the devastating effects of these events.


Virtual Nations: While the primacy of Westphalian borders has been challenged and the power of traditional nation-states has been waning over the last decade, some political scientists have assumed that supranational organizations and non-state actors would take their place. One potential black swan is the emergence of virtual nations due to the convergence of blockchain technologies, crypto-currency, and the ability to project power and legitimacy through the virtual world. Virtual nations could be organized based on ideologies, business models, or single interests. Virtual nations could supersede, supplement, or compete with traditional, physical nations. The Army of the future may not be prepared to interact and compete with virtual nations.


Competition in Venues Other than Warfare (Economic, Technological, Demographic, etc.) Achieving Primacy: In the near future, war in the traditional sense may be less prevalent, while competitions in other areas may be the driving forces behind national oppositions. How does the Army need to prepare for an eventuality where armed conflict is not as important as it once was?


Alternate Internet — “Alternet”: A distinct entity, separate from the general commercial internet, only accessible with specific corresponding hardware. This technology would allow for unregulated and unmonitored communication and commerce, potentially granting safe haven to criminal and terrorist activities.

At the workshop, attendees identified the following Pink Flamingos:

Safe at Home: Army installations are no longer the sanctuaries they once were, as adversaries will be able to attack Soldiers and families through social media and other cyberspace means. Additionally, installations no longer merely house, train, and deploy Soldiers — unmanned combat systems are controlled from home installations -— a trend in virtual power that will increase in the future. The Army needs a plan to harden our installations and train Soldiers and families to be resilient for this eventuality.


Hypersonics: High speed (Mach 5 or higher) and highly maneuverable missiles or glide vehicles that can defeat our air defense systems. The speed of these weapons is unmatched and their maneuverability allows them to keep their targets unknown until only seconds before impact, negating current countermeasures.


Generalized, Operationalized Artificial Intelligence (AI): Artificial intelligence is one of the most prominent pink flamingos throughout global media and governments. Narrow artificial intelligence is being addressed as rapidly as possible through ventures such as Project MAVEN. However, generalized and operationalized artificial intelligence – that can think, contextualize, and operate like a human – has the potential to disrupt not only operations, but also the military at its very core and foundation.


Space/Counterspace: Space is becoming increasingly congested, commercialized, and democratized. Disruption, degradation, and denial in space threatens to cripple multi-domain warfare operations. States and non-state actors alike are exploring options to counter one another, compete, and potentially even fight in space.


Quantum Sciences: Quantum science – communication, computing, and sensing – has the potential to solve some intractable but very specific problem sets. Quantum technology remains in its infancy. However, as the growth of qubits in quantum computing continues to expand, so does the potentiality of traditional encryption being utterly broken. Quantum sensing can allow for much more precise atomic clocks surpassing the precision timing of GPS, as well as quantum imaging that provides better results than classical imaging in a variety of wavelengths.


Bioweapons/Biohacking: The democratization of bio technology will mean that super-empowered individuals as well as nation states will have the ability to engineer weapons and hacks that can augment friendly human forces or target and degrade enemy human forces (e.g., targeted disease or genetic modifications).


Personalized Warfare: Warfare is now waged on a personal level, where adversaries can attack the bank accounts of Soldiers’ families, infiltrate their social media, or even target them specifically by their genetics. The Army needs to understand that the individual Soldier can be exploited in many different ways, often through information publicly provided or stolen.

Source: ommbeu / Fotolia
Deep Fakes/Information Warfare: Information warfare and “fake news” have played a prominent role in global politics over the last several years and could dominate the relationship between societies, governments, politicians, and militaries in the future operational environment. Information operations, thanks to big data and humanity’s ever-growing digital presence, are targeted at an extremely personal and specific level. One of the more concerning aspects of this is an artificial intelligence-based human image/voice synthesis technique known as deep fakes. Deep fakes can essentially put words in the mouths of prominent or trusted politicians and celebrities.


Multi-Domain Swarming: Swarming is often thought about in terms of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), but one significant pink flamingo is swarming taking place across multiple domains with self-organizing, autonomous aerial, ground, maritime (sub and surface), and even subterranean unmanned systems. U.S. defense systems on a linear modernization and development model will not be capable of dealing with the saturation and complexity issues arising from these multi-domain swarms.


Lethal Autonomy: An autonomous system with the ability to track, target, and fire without the supervision or authority of a human in/on the loop. The U.S. Army will have to examine its own policy regarding these issues as well as our adversaries, who may be less deterred by ethical/policy issues.


Tactical Nuclear Exchange: While strategic nuclear war and mutually assured destruction have been discussed and addressed ad nauseam, not enough attention has been given to the potential of a tactical nuclear exchange between state actors. One tactical nuclear attack, while not guaranteeing a nuclear holocaust, would bring about a myriad of problems for U.S. forces worldwide (e.g., the potential for escalation, fallout, contamination of water and air, and disaster response). Additionally, a high altitude nuclear burst’s electromagnetic pulse has the potential to fry solid state electronics across a wide-area, with devastating results to the affected nation’s electrical grid, essential government services, and food distribution networks.

Leaders must anticipate these future possibilities in determining the character of future conflicts and in force design and equipping decisions. Using a mental model of black swans and pink flamingos provides a helpful framework for assessing the risks associated with these decisions.

For additional information on projected black swans for the next 20+ years, see the RAND Corporation’s Discontinuities and Distractions — Rethinking Security for the Year 2040.

49. “The Queue”

(Editor’s Note: Beginning today, the Mad Science Laboratory will publish 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 previous month. In this anthology, we will 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!)

1. Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War, by Paul Scharre, Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security.

One of our favorite Mad Scientists, Paul Scharre, has authored a must read for all military Leaders. This book will help Leaders understand the definitions of robotic and autonomous weapons, how they are proliferating across states, non-states, and super-empowered individuals (his chapter on Garage Bots makes it clear this is not state proliferation analogous), and lastly the ethical considerations that come up at every Mad Scientist Conference. During these Conferences, we have discussed the idea of algorithm vs algorithm warfare and what role human judgement plays in this version of future combat. Paul’s chapters on flash war really challenge our ideas of how a human operates in the loop and his analogies using the financial markets are helpful for developing the questions needed to explore future possibilities and develop policies for dealing with warfare at machine speed.

Source: Rosoboronexport via YouTube
2. “Convergence on retaining human control of weapons systems,” in Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, 13 April 2018.

April 2018 marked the fifth anniversary of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Earlier this month, 82 countries and numerous NGOs also convened at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva, Switzerland, where many stressed the need to retain human control over weapons systems and the use of force. While the majority in attendance proposed moving forward this November to start negotiations towards a legally binding protocol addressing fully autonomous weapons, five key states rejected moving forward in negotiating new international law – France, Israel, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Mad Scientist notes that the convergence of a number of emerging technologies (synthetic prototyping, additive manufacturing, advanced modeling and simulations, software-defined everything, advanced materials) are advancing both the feasibility and democratization of prototype warfare, enabling and improving the engineering of autonomous weapons by non-state actors and super-empowered individuals alike. The genie is out of the bottle – with the advent of the Hyperactive Battlefield, advanced engagements will collapse the decision-action cycle to mere milliseconds, granting a decisive edge to the side with more autonomous decision-action.

Source: The Stack
3. “China’s Strategic Ambiguity and Shifting Approach to Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems,” by Elsa Kania, Adjunct Fellow with the Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security, in Lawfare, 17 Apr 18.

Mad Scientist Elsa Kania addresses the People’s Republic of China’s apparent juxtaposition between their diplomatic commitment to limit the use of fully autonomous lethal weapons systems and the PLA’s active pursuit of AI dominance on the battlefield. The PRC’s decision on lethal autonomy and how it defines the role of human judgement in lethal operations will have tactical, operational, and strategic implications. In TRADOC’s Changing Character of Warfare assessment, we addressed the idea of an asymmetry in ethics where the differing ethical choices non-state and state adversaries make on the integration of emerging technologies could have real battlefield overmatch implications. This is a clear pink flamingo where we know the risks but struggle with addressing the threat. It is also an area where technological surprise is likely, as systems could have the ability to move from human in the loop mode to fully autonomous with a flip of a switch.

Source: HBO.com
4. “Maeve’s Dilemma in Westworld: What Does It Mean to be Free?,” by Marco Antonio Azevedo and Ana Azevedo, in Institute of Art and Ideas, 12 Apr 18. [Note: Best viewed on your personal device as access to this site may be limited by Government networks]

While this article focuses primarily on a higher-level philosophical interpretation of human vs. machine (or artificial intelligence, being, etc.), the core arguments and discussion remain relevant to an Army that is looking to increase its reliance on artificial intelligence and robotics. Technological advancements in these areas continue to trend toward modeling humans (both in form and the brain). However, the closer we get to making this a reality, the closer we get to confronting questions about consciousness and artificial humanity. Are we prepared to face these questions earnestly? Do we want an artificial entity that is, essentially, human? What do we do when that breakthrough occurs? Does biological vs. synthetic matter if the being “achieves” personhood? For additional insights on this topic, watch Linda MacDonald Glenn‘s Ethics and Law around the Co-Evolution of Humans and AI presentation from the Mad Scientist Visualizing Multi Domain Battle in 2030-2050 Conference at Georgetown University, 25-26 Jul 17.

5. Do You Trust This Computer?, directed by Chris Paine, Papercut Films, 2018.

The Army, and society as a whole, is continuing to offload certain tasks and receive pieces of information from artificial intelligence sources. Future Army Leaders will be heavily influenced by AI processing and distributing information used for decision making. But how much trust should we put in the information we get? Is it safe to be so reliant? What should the correct ratio be of human/machine contribution to decision-making? Army Leaders need to be prepared to make AI one tool of many, understand its value, and know how to interpret its information, when to question its output, and apply appropriate context. Elon Musk has shown his support for this documentary and tweeted about its importance.

6. Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg, Amblin Entertainment, 2018.

Adapted from the novel of the same name, this film visualizes a future world where most of society is consumed by a massive online virtual reality “game” known as the OASIS. As society transitions from the physical to the virtual (texting, email, skype, MMORPG, Amazon, etc.), large groups of people will become less reliant on the physical world’s governmental and economic systems that have been established for centuries. As virtual money begins to have real value, physical money will begin to lose value. If people can get many of their goods and services through a virtual world, they will become less reliant on the physical world. Correspondingly, physical world social constructs will have less control of the people who still inhabit it, but spend increasing amounts of time interacting in the virtual world. This has huge implications for the future geo-political landscape as many varied and geographically diverse groups of people will begin congregating and forming virtual allegiances across all of the pre-established, but increasingly irrelevant physical world geographic borders. This will dilute the effectiveness, necessity, and control of the nation-state and transfer that power to the company(ies) facilitating the virtual environment.

Source: XO, “SoftEcologies,” suckerPUNCH
7. “US Army could enlist robots inspired by invertebrates,” by Bonnie Burton, in c/net, 22 Apr 18.

As if Boston Dynamic’s SpotMini isn’t creepy enough, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) and the University of Minnesota are developing a flexible, soft robot inspired by squid and other invertebrates that Soldiers can create on-demand using 3-D printers on the battlefield. Too often, media visualizations have conditioned us to think of robots in anthropomorphic terms (with corresponding limitations). This and other breakthroughs in “soft,” polymorphic, printable robotics may grant Soldiers in the Future Operational Environment with hitherto unimagined on-demand, tailorable autonomous systems that will assist operations in the tight confines of complex, congested, and non-permissive environments (e.g., dense urban and subterranean). Soft robotics may also prove to be more resilient in arduous conditions. This development changes the paradigm for how robotics are imagined in both design and application.

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”!

For additional insights into the Mad Scientist Initiative and how we continually explore the future through collaborative partnerships and continuous dialogue with academia, industry, and government, check out this Spy Museum’s SPYCAST podcast.

44. Megacities: Future Challenges and Responses

“Cities now sprawl over large areas of the globe and contain almost two-thirds of the world’s population. These numbers will only increase. Some megacities will become more important politically and economically than the nation-state in which they reside…. Furthermore, the move of large numbers of people to large urban areas and megacities will strain resources, as these areas will become increasingly reliant on rural areas for food, water, and even additional power. From a military perspective, cities represent challenges, opportunities, and unique vulnerabilities.” The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2, in partnership with U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) and the Australian Army, facilitated the Multi-Domain Battle (MDB) in Megacities Conference on April 3-4, 2018 at Fort Hamilton, New York. Briefings and videos from this event are now posted on the Mad Scientist APAN Site’s MDB in Megacities Conference Page and the TRADOC G-2 Operational Environment Enterprise YouTube Channel.

To whet your appetite while we await publication of the preliminary results from the aforementioned conference, the Mad Scientist Laboratory has extracted and reiterated below key findings from the Mad Scientist Megacities and Dense Urban Areas Initiative in 2025 and Beyond Conference Final Report. This conference, facilitated in April 2016 by the TRADOC G-2, Arizona State University Research Enterprise (ASURE), Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), and the Army’s Intelligence Center of Excellence (ICoE), sought to ensure that no U.S. Army Soldier will ever be disadvantaged when operating in an urban environment. The future challenges and responses identified at this conference are presented below:

Future challenges that U.S. forces will face when operating in a megacity environment include:

Rapid growth in urban areas will produce more demand on the infrastructure and flow systems, more waste, and increased urban density.




• A major challenge of megacities is density (data, people, and infrastructure).






• The absence of clearly demarcated boundaries for the area of operations will be problematic.






• The Army will have to consider the rural and regional areas around megacities as well as the world-wide implications of operations within megacities.


• The proliferation of advanced weaponry, coupled with the rapid digital spread of information and ideology, allows anyone to be a threat and will lead to growing instability in many parts of the world.


• Changing infrastructure, subcultures, and places to “hide in plain sight” present a particular challenge to data gathering.




• Megacities are more susceptible to natural and manmade disasters when in close proximity to large bodies of water. Extreme water events caused by floods, hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis will exacerbate life threatening situations in areas of increased urbanization.


Urban vertical and subterranean warfare significantly complicate Army operations, freedom of movement, and force protection.




Disease in megacities can result in catastrophic, global outcomes. Infectious disease will interface with urbanization, impacting military missions (e.g. warfare, humanitarian missions, and force protection). Rapid growth of dense urban areas in developing countries will continue to push people into environments that put them in greater contact with animal reservoirs of disease. Denial, fear, misinformation, decontamination, and disposal are among the many factors future military forces may have to contend with.

(Note: many of these were highlighted at last week’s MDB in Megacities Conference)

Future Army Concepts and Doctrine should account for the following areas:

• Adoption of a city as a system of systems perspective will require adaptation of a significant portion of Army doctrine resulting in an urban analytic framework tailored to address the operational data layers found within urban centers, their environmental dynamism, and their state of connectedness.

• The dynamic nature of urban environments demands an expansion of traditional Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) thinking. IPB often fails to gain sight of the dynamics between the components of problems within an interactively complex system and is not conducive to an interactively complex Operational Environment. The basic definition of IPB often does not take into account how the variables explaining Dense Urban Areas are increasingly interconnected, offers little instruction on how to address a complex, multidimensional environment, and provides little operational advice or examples.

Megacities research needs to better address the likelihood of more lethal competitors. Current mental models are stuck on non-hybrid, warrior-like opponents.

• Changes in doctrine to enable the development of knowledge experts in megacities is needed where personnel are assigned to monitor cities.




Greater emphasis must be placed on strategically supporting, manipulating, and/or undermining the flows, infrastructure, and systems of the megacity, as opposed to current emphasis on kinetic, military tasks.




• The Army must change its thinking to focus more on rigorous big data-driven analysis, instead of relying largely on the same reductionist models that limit holistic thinking.




• The Army must change its attitude towards cyberwarfare and innovate new ideas and concepts for warfare. This is especially important in cities with high densities of smart technology where the Internet of Things (IoT) might provide a wealth of intelligence information.

• A shift in how medical data is defined, stored, captured, visualized, and shared is needed for more easily transportable semi-autonomous and autonomous Tactical Combat Casualty Care capabilities to support future missions. This will require a paradigm shift in the practice of operational medicine from an “art” that employs subjective measures to assess and treat, to a “science” based on employing objective quantifiable measures.

Faster technological iteration and adaptation is needed as opposed to large, long-term development, acquisition, and sustainment programs. Smaller, faster, and more flexible systems to supplement, or supersede, existing weapons and other systems with rapid prototyping, small automated production runs, remote software updates, and development and deployment to upgrade a soldier’s tools in months or weeks will be needed.

For additional insights regarding combat in urban terrain, please listen to the following podcasts, hosted by our colleagues at Modern War Institute:

The Battle for Mosul, with Col. Pat Work

The Future Urban Battlefield, with Dr. Russell Glenn

See Dr. Russell Glenn’s guest blog post, “Megacities: The Time is Nigh

Also see the TRADOC G-2 Operational Environment Enterprise (OEE) Red Diamond Threats Newsletter, Volume 9, Issue 1, January-February 2018, pages 18-21, for Manila: An Exemplar of Dense Urban Terrain. This article “illustrates the complex political and civil-military challenges that would impact potential operations or activities in megacities.”

Please also see Jeremy D. McLain’s article (submitted in response to our Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas) entitled, Full-Auto Teddy Bear: Non-Lethal Automatons and Lethal Human Teaming to Increase Overall ‘Lethality’ in Complex Urban Environments, published by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.






43. The Changing Character of Warfare: Takeaways for the Future

The Future Operational Environment (OE), as described in The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare , brings with it an inexorable series of movements which lead us to consider the following critical question:

What do these issues mean for the nature and character of warfare?

The nature of war, which has remained relatively constant from Thucydides, through Clausewitz, through the Cold War, and on into the present, certainly remains constant through the Era of Accelerated Human Progress (i.e., now through 2035). War is still waged because of fear, honor, and interest, and remains an expression of politics by other means. However, as we move into the Era of Contested Equality (i.e., 2035-2050), the character of warfare has changed in several key areas:

The Moral and Cognitive Dimensions are Ascendant.

The proliferation of high technology, coupled with the speed of human interaction and pervasive connectivity, means that no one nation will have an absolute strategic advantage in capabilities. When breakthroughs occur, the advantages they confer will be fleeting, as rivals quickly adapt. Under such conditions, the physical dimension of warfare may become less important than the cognitive and the moral. As a result, there will be less self-imposed restrictions by some powers on the use of military force, and hybrid strategies involving information operations, direct cyber-attacks against individuals and segments of populations, or national infrastructure, terrorism, the use of proxies, and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) will aim to prevail against an enemy’s will.

Integration across Diplomacy, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME).

Clausewitz’s timeless dictum that war is policy by other means takes on a new importance as the distance between war and policy recedes; but also must take into account other elements of national power to form true whole-of-government and, when possible, collective security approaches to national security issues. The interrelationship across the DIME will require a closer integration across all elements of government, and Joint decision-making bodies will need to quickly and effectively deliver DIME effects across the physical, the cognitive, and moral dimensions. Military operations are an essential element of this equation, but may not necessarily be the decisive means of achieving an end state.

Limitations of Military Force.

While mid-Century militaries will have more capability than at any time in history, their ability to wage high-intensity conflict will become more limited. Force-on-force conflict will be so destructive, will be waged at the new speed of human and AI-enhanced interaction, and will occur at such extended long-ranges that exquisitely trained and equipped forces facing a peer or near-peer rival will rapidly suffer significant losses in manpower and equipment that will be difficult to replace. Robotics, unmanned vehicles, and man-machine teaming activities offer partial solutions, but warfare will still revolve around increasingly vulnerable human beings. Military forces will need to consider how advances in AI, bio-engineering, man-machine interface, neuro-implanted knowledge, and other areas of enhanced human performance and learning can quickly help reduce the long lead time in training and developing personnel.

The Primacy of Information.

In the timeless struggle between offense and defense, information will become the most important and most useful tool at all levels of warfare. The ability of an actor to use information to target the enemy’s will, without necessarily having to address its means will increasingly be possible. In the past, nations have tried to target an enemy’s will through kinetic attacks on its means – the enemy military – or through the direct targeting of the will by attacking the national infrastructure or a national populace itself. Sophisticated, nuanced information operations, taking advantage of an ability to directly target an affected audience through cyber operations or other forms of influence operations, and reinforced by a credible capable armed force can bend an adversary’s will before battle is joined.

Expansion of the Battle Area.

Nations, non-state actors, and even individuals will be able to target military forces and civilian infrastructure at increasing – often over intercontinental – ranges using a host of conventional and unconventional means. A force deploying to a combat zone will be vulnerable from the individual soldier’s personal residence, to his or her installation, and during his or her entire deployment. Adversaries also will have the ability to target or hold at risk non-military infrastructure and even populations with increasingly sophisticated, nuanced and destructive capabilities, including WMD, hypersonic conventional weapons, and perhaps most critically, cyber weapons and information warfare. WMD will not be the only threat capable of directly targeting and even destroying a society, as cyber and information can directly target infrastructure, banking, food supplies, power, and general ways of life. Limited wars focusing on a limited area of operations waged between peers or near-peer adversaries will become more dangerous as adversaries will have an unprecedented capability to broaden their attacks to their enemy’s homeland. The U.S. Homeland likely will not avoid the effects of warfare and will be vulnerable in at least eight areas.

Ethics of Warfare Shift.
Traditional norms of warfare, definitions of combatants and non-combatants, and even what constitutes military action or national casus belli will be turned upside down and remain in flux at all levels of warfare.


– Does cyber activity, or information operations aimed at influencing national policy, rise to the level of warfare?

– Is using cyber capabilities to target a national infrastructure legal, if it has broad societal impacts?

– Can one target an electric grid that supports a civilian hospital, but also powers a military base a continent away from the battle zone from which unmanned systems are controlled?

– What is the threshold for WMD use?

– Is the use of autonomous robots against human soldiers legal?

These and other questions will arise, and likely will be answered differently by individual actors.

The changes in the character of war by mid-Century will be pronounced, and are directly related and traceable to our present. The natural progression of the changes in the character of war may be a change in the nature of war, perhaps towards the end of the Era of Contested Equality or in the second half of the Twenty First Century.

For additional information, watch the TRADOC G-2 Operational Environment Enterprise’s The Changing Character of Future Warfare video.

36. Lessons Learned from the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist successfully facilitated the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference on 8-9 March 2018 with our co-sponsor, SRI International, at their Silicon Valley campus in Menlo Park, California. With over 400 live and virtual participants, our first West Coast conference brought together World class expertise in biology and the tech convergences that will have a significant impact on the changing character of future conflict.)

Bioengineering is becoming easier and cheaper as a suite of developments are reducing biotechnology transaction costs in gene reading, writing, and editing. The Internet of Living Things (IoLT), operating across space and time, and the integration of bioengineering tools (e.g., Genome editing tools such as CRISPR, Talon, ZFN; molecular printers; and robotic strain engineering platforms), big data, high-powered computing, and artificial intelligence are facilitating this revolution. The resultant explosion in knowledge regarding the human body and the brain offers phenomenal opportunities to improve Soldier lethality and survivability. This will be accomplished through improved cognitive and physical skills, as well as maintaining the critical role of human judgement with the ever increasing machine speed we will find on the future battlefield.

1) Prototyping: Innovation has shifted from government demand signals and funding to the incredibly fast paced innovation in the private sector. Emerging products that enhance physical (e.g., Exoskeletons) and cognitive abilities (e.g., Pharmaceuticals) are almost entirely in the commercial sector. The military must determine what is applicable to warfighting and integrate from the commercial space to the defense sector. Prototyping and experimentation will be critical.

2) Personalized Warfare: The mapping of the human genome and the ongoing Human Brain Project offer unprecedented advances in medicine and the neurosciences, but also major vulnerabilities to Soldiers and the homeland. With advanced biological technology evolution comes a host of moral challenges, security vulnerabilities, and new threat vectors. In the future, protecting one’s genomic information will require safeguards similar to how we currently protect our digital identities. We will be more vulnerable to advanced bioweapons and information warfare available to states and non-state organizations.

3) Customization: Advances in biology offer much greater customization in medicine which could improve how quickly our Soldiers learn and how they handle stress and anxiety associated with combat zones. Human 2.0 will have direct Warfighter applications, providing Soldiers with sensory enhancements, human-machine teaming, brains plugged into the Internet of Battle Things (IoBT), and uploadable / downloadable memories. Customization of battlefield medical care will be enabled by advanced diagnostics worn by Soldiers (uniforms and equipment) and eventually embedded. In other countries, we can expect to see the customization of humans with genome editing children to increase height, improve intelligence, and expand creativity.

4) Competition: The democratization of this technology cannot be understated. We will compete with states, non-state groups, and super-empowered individuals who will have access to a full range of human enhancement capabilities and genetic editing tools. China is at parity with the US in this space, but more willing to take technologies to clinical trials.

5) Ethics: The full range of bio tools will be available in the US. They will initially be approved because of their disease curing properties and the ability to improve quality of life for an aging population. They will then be normed into our population. We can expect to see a Soldier enter a recruiting station after some kind of physical enhancement in the next decade, if not sooner. In the Deep Future, the concept of personhood will be challenged.

Mad Scientist is producing a range of products to transfer what we learned from the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference out to the Army. We will have videos of the conference presentations posted online here within 10 days, as well as several podcasts posted at Modern War Institute, starting on 28 March 2018. The Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference Final Report will be posted here within 45 days.

Note that the associated SciTech Futures Bio Convergence Game remains open until 16 March 2018 — share your ideas on-line about the future, collaborate with (and challenge) other players, and bid on the most compelling concepts in this online marketplace.

Read our Mad Scientist Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas finalists’ submissions here, graciously hosted by our colleagues at Small Wars Journal.

31. Top Ten Bio Convergence Trends Impacting the Future Operational Environment

As Mad Scientist Laboratory has noted in previous blog posts, War is an intrinsically human endeavor. Rapid innovations in the biological sciences are changing how we work, live, and fight. Drawing on the past two years of Mad Scientist events, we have identified a change in the character of war driven by the exponential convergence of bio, neuro, nano, quantum, and information. This convergence is leading to revolutionary achievements in sensing, data acquisition and retrieval, and computer processing hardware; creating a new environment in which humans must co-evolve with these technologies. Mad Scientist has identified the following top ten bio convergence trends associated with this co-evolution that will directly impact the Future Operational Environment (OE).

1) Bio convergence with advanced computing is happening at the edge. Humans will become part of the network connected through their embedded and worn devices. From transhumanism to theorizing about uploading the brain, the Future OE will not be an internet of things but the internet of everything (including humans).

2) The next 50 years will see an evolution in human society; we will be augmented by Artificial Intelligence (AI), partner with AI in centaur chess fashion, and eventually be eclipsed by AI.


3) This augmentation and enhanced AI partnering will require hyper-connected humans with wearables and eventually embeddables to provide continuous diagnostics and human-machine interface.


4) The Army will need to measure cognitive potential and baseline neural activity of its recruits and Soldiers.




5) The Army needs new training tools to take advantage of neuralplasticity and realize the full cognitive potential of Soldiers. Brain gyms and the promise of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) training sets could accelerate learning and, in some cases, challenge the tyranny of “the 10,000 hour rule.”

6) Human enhancement, the unlocking of the genome, and improving AI will stress the Army’s policies and ethics. In any case, potential adversaries are exploring using all three of these capabilities as a way to gain advantage over U.S. Forces. This is not a 2050 problem but more than likely a 2030 reality.

7) Asymmetric Ethics, where adversaries make choices we will not (e.g., manipulating the DNA of pathogens to target specific genome populations or to breed “super” soldiers) will play a bigger part in the future. This is not new, but will be amplified by future technologies. Bio enhancements will be one of the areas and experimentation is required to determine our vulnerabilities.

8) Cognitive enhancement and attacking the human brain (neurological system) is not science fiction. The U.S. Army should establish a Program Executive Office (PEO) for Soldier Enhancement to bring unity of purpose to a range of possibilities from physical/mental enhancement with wearables, embeddables, stimulants, brain gyms, and exoskeletons.

9) Chemical and bio defense will need to be much more sophisticated on the next battlefield. The twin challenges of democratization and proliferation have resulted in a world where the capability of engineering potentially grave bio-weapons, once only the purview of nation states and advance research institutes and universities, is now available to Super-Empowered Individuals, Violent Non-State Actors (VNSA), and criminal organizations.

10) We are missing the full impact of bio on all emerging trends. We must focus beyond human enhancement and address how bio is impacting materials, computing, and garage level, down scaled innovation.


Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference with SRI International at Menlo Park, California, on 08-09 March 2018. Click here to learn more about the conference and then watch the live-streamed proceedings, starting at 0840 PST / 1140 EST on 08 March 2018.


Also note that our friends at Small Wars Journal have published the first paper from our series of Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas finalists — enjoy!