99. “The Queue”

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present our October 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!]

1. Table of Disruptive Technologies, by Tech Foresight, Imperial College London, www.imperialtechforesight.com, January 2018.

This innovative Table of Disruptive Technologies, derived from Chemistry’s familiar Periodic Table, lists 100 technological innovations organized into a two-dimensional table, with the x-axis representing Time (Sooner to Later) and the y-axis representing the Potential for Socio-Economic Disruption (Low to High). These technologies are organized into three time horizons, with Current (Horizon 1 – Green) happening now, Near Future (Horizon 2 – Yellow) occurring in 10-20 years, and Distant Future (Horizon 3 – Fuchsia) occurring 20+ years out. The outermost band of Ghost Technologies (Grey) represents fringe science and technologies that, while highly improbable, still remain within the realm of the possible and thus are “worth watching.” In addition to the time horizons, each of these technologies has been assigned a number corresponding to an example listed to the right of the Table; and a two letter code corresponding to five broad themes: DE – Data Ecosystems, SP – Smart Planet, EA – Extreme Automation, HA – Human Augmentation, and MI – Human Machine Interactions. Regular readers of the Mad Scientist Laboratory will find many of these Potential Game Changers familiar, albeit assigned to far more conservative time horizons (e.g., our community of action believes Swarm Robotics [Sr, number 38], Quantum Safe Cryptography [Qs, number 77], and Battlefield Robots [Br, number 84] will all be upon us well before 2038). That said, we find this Table to be a useful tool in exploring future possibilities and will add it to our “basic load” of disruptive technology references, joining the annual Gartner Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies.

2. The inventor of the web says the internet is broken — but he has a plan to fix it, by Elizabeth Schulze, Cnbc.com, 5 November 2018.

Tim Berners-Lee, who created the World Wide Web in 1989, has said recently that he thinks his original vision is being distorted due to concerns about privacy, access, and fake news. Berners-Lee envisioned the web as a place that is free, open, and constructive, and for most of his invention’s life, he believed that to be true. However, he now feels that the web has undergone a change for the worse. He believes the World Wide Web should be a protected basic human right. In order to accomplish this, he has created the “Contract for the Web” which contains his principles to protect web access and privacy. Berners-Lee’s “World Wide Web Foundation estimates that 1.5 billion… people live in a country with no comprehensive law on personal data protection. The contract requires governments to treat privacy as a fundamental human right, an idea increasingly backed by big tech leaders like Apple CEO Tim Cook and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.” This idea for a free and open web stands in contrast to recent news about China and Russia potentially branching off from the main internet and forming their own filtered and censored Alternative Internet, or Alternet, with tightly controlled access. Berners-Lee’s contract aims at unifying all users under one over-arching rule of law, but without China and Russia, we will likely have a splintered and non-uniform Web that sees only an increase in fake news, manipulation, privacy concerns, and lack of access.

3. Chinese ‘gait recognition’ tech IDs people by how they walk, Associated Press News, 6 November 2018.

Source: AP

The Future Operational Environment’s “Era of Contested Equality” (i.e., 2035 through 2050) will be marked by significant breakthroughs in technology and convergences, resulting in revolutionary changes. Under President Xi Jinping‘s leadership, China is becoming a major engine of global innovation, second only to the United States. China’s national strategy of “innovation-driven development” places innovation at the forefront of economic and military development.

Early innovation successes in artificial intelligence, sensors, robotics, and biometrics are being fielded to better control the Chinese population. Many of these capabilities will be tech inserted into Chinese command and control functions and intelligence, security, and reconnaissance networks redefining the timeless competition of finders vs. hiders. These breakthroughs represent homegrown Chinese innovation and are taking place now.

A recent example is the employment of ‘gait recognition’ software capable of identifying people by how they walk. Watrix, a Chinese technology startup, is selling the software to police services in Beijing and Shanghai as a further push to develop an artificial intelligence and data drive surveillance network. Watrix reports the capability can identify people up to 165 feet away without a view of their faces. This capability also fills in the sensor gap where high-resolution imagery is required for facial recognition software.

4. VR Boosts Workouts by Unexpectedly Reducing Pain During Exercise, by Emma Betuel, Inverse.com, 4 October 2018.

Tricking the brain can be fairly low tech, according to Dr. Alexis Mauger, senior lecturer at the University of Kent’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Research has shown that students who participated in a Virtual Reality-based exercise were able to withstand pain a full minute longer on average than their control group counterparts. Dr. Mauger hypothesized that this may be due to a lack of visual cues normally associated with strenuous exercise. In the case of the specific research, participants were asked to hold a dumbbell out in front of them for as long as they could. The VR group didn’t see their forearms shake with exhaustion or their hands flush with color as blood rushed to their aching biceps; that is, they didn’t see the stimuli that could be perceived as signals of pain and exertion. These results could have significant and direct impact on Army training. While experiencing pain and learning through negative outcomes is essential in certain training scenarios, VR could be used to train Soldiers past where they would normally be physically able to train. This could not only save the Army time and money but also provide a boost to exercises as every bit of effectiveness normally left at the margins could now be acquired.

5. How Teaching AI to be Curious Helps Machines Learn for Themselves, by James Vincent, The Verge, 1 November 2018, Reviewed by Ms. Marie Murphy.

Presently, there are two predominant techniques for machine learning: machines analyzing large sets of data from which they extrapolate patterns and apply them to analogous scenarios; and giving the machine a dynamic environment in which it is rewarded for positive outcomes and penalized for negative ones, facilitating learning through trial and error.

In programmed curiosity, the machine is innately motivated to “explore for exploration’s sake.” The example used to illustrate the concept of learning through curiosity details a machine learning project called “OpenAI” which is learning to win a video game in which the reward is not only staying alive but also exploring all areas of the level. This method has yielded better results than the data-heavy and time-consuming traditional methods. Applying this methodology for machine learning in military training scenarios would reduce the human labor required to identify and program every possible outcome because the computer finds new ones on its own, reducing the time between development and implementation of a program. This approach is also more “humanistic,” as it allows the computer leeway to explore its virtual surroundings and discover new avenues like people do. By training AI in this way, the military can more realistically model various scenarios for training and strategic purposes.

6. EU digital tax plan flounders as states ready national moves, by Francesco Guarascio, Reuters.com, 6 November 2018.

A European Union plan to tax internet firms like Google and Facebook on their turnover is on the verge of collapsing. As the plan must be agreed to by all 28 EU countries (a tall order given that it is opposed by a number of them), the EU is announcing national initiatives instead. The proposal calls for EU states to charge a 3 percent levy on the digital revenues of large firms. The plan aims at changing tax rules that have let some of the world’s biggest companies pay unusually low rates of corporate tax on their earnings. These firms, mostly from the U.S., are accused of averting tax by routing their profits to the bloc’s low-tax states.

This is not just about taxation. This is about the issue of citizenship itself. What does it mean for virtual nations – cyber communities which have gained power, influence, or capital comparable to that of a nation-state – that fall outside the traditional rule of law? The legal framework of virtual citizenship turn upside down and globalize the logic of the special economic zone — a geographical space of exception, where the usual rules of state and finance do not apply. How will these entities be taxed or declare revenue?

Currently, for the online world, geography and physical infrastructure remain crucial to control and management. What happens when it is democratized, virtualized, and then control and management change? Google and Facebook still build data centers in Scandinavia and the Pacific Northwest, which are close to cheap hydroelectric power and natural cooling. When looked at in terms of who the citizen is, population movement, and stateless populations, what will the “new normal” be?

7. Designer babies aren’t futuristic. They’re already here, by Laura Hercher, MIT Technology Review, 22 October 2018.

In this article, subtitled “Are we designing inequality into our genes?” Ms. Hercher echoes what proclaimed Mad Scientist Hank Greely briefed at the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference last March – advances in human genetics will be applied initially in order to have healthier babies via the genetic sequencing and the testing of embryos. Embryo editing will enable us to tailor / modify embryos to design traits, initially to treat diseases, but this will also provide us with the tools to enhance humans genetically. Ms. Hercher warns us that “If the use of pre-implantation testing grows and we don’t address the disparities in who can access these treatments, we risk creating a society where some groups, because of culture or geography or poverty, bear a greater burden of genetic disease.” A valid concern, to be sure — but who will ensure fair access to these treatments? A new Government agency? And if so, how long after ceding this authority to the Government would we see politically-expedient changes enacted, justified for the betterment of society and potentially perverting its original intent? The possibilities need not be as horrific as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, populated with castes of Deltas and Epsilon-minus semi-morons. It is not inconceivable that enhanced combat performance via genetic manipulation could follow, resulting in a permanent caste of warfighters, distinct genetically from their fellow citizens, with the associated societal implications.

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”!

86. Alternet: What Happens When the Internet is No Longer Trusted?

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present a post by Mad Scientist and guest blogger Lt Col Jennifer “JJ” Snow, addressing the emergence of a post-internet world.]

The Internet of the 1990s was about choosing your own adventure. The Internet of right now, over the last 10 years, is about somebody else choosing your adventure for you.” – Cindy Cohn, Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation

The internet was designed in its earliest iteration to provide a new form of communication, a way for people to connect, to share information in real-time, to provide a positive tool for collaboration and learning. Looking back at those early ideas, many of the founding fathers of the internet express disappointment in what it has become: a place where privacy and people are abused, information is wielded like a weapon, nations and corporations alike battle each other and other nefarious actors in the digital shadows, and fake news dominates the taglines in hopes of grabbing the most dollars per click. In light of what technologists, ethical hackers, and the public view as a potentially irrecoverable situation, many are suggesting starting over and abandoning the internet as we know it in favor of alternative internet options or “Alternet.” [1]

These initiatives are nascent but are increasingly gaining traction as they offer users the option to manage their own identity and information online; choose what they do and don’t want to share digitally; provide transparency as a currency, meaning users can view rules, policies, and protocols openly at any time and see when changes are made real-time; and allow users to be their own data authority. While progress in this space will be slow but steady over the next two years, expect that “Alternets” will become a publicly recognized substitute to the big internet companies in five years and a commonplace feature of the web in 10 years as users become more disenchanted, distrustful, and decide they want greater control, attribution, or anonymity as needed, and desire an internet that meets their norms, cultural, and community preferences.

There are several interesting challenges that come with the fracturing of the internet in this manner.

First, Alternets will be more insular, require individual verification to join, and users will need to buy special equipment like a community specific encrypted router or use a particular variant of the blockchain to access the web.

Secondly, Alternets may serve to fracture the internet itself in interesting ways that could impact how data and users are able to digitally traverse the globe.

Third, Alternets will provide both the attribution many desire in social media to stop cyber bullying, scammers, and fake news, and the anonymity features that allow both dissident and terror groups to operate safely in virtual spaces. As with all technologies, there will always be opportunities for both positive and malicious use.

Fourth, the development and spread of Alternets may serve to further polarize various interests, organizations, and nations as like-minded communities will group together rather than strive to engage in constructive discourse, further reducing the opportunity for bridging entities to be effective negotiators.

Fifth, such online fracturing may also manifest physically in real life leading to conflict, both digital and physical, and may enhance the weaponization of cyber in new ways to include citizen cyber militia actively operating in defense of their communities and/or their nation or offensive attacks by nations operating from their own “Alternet” separate from the existing DNS system and not regulated and not easily targetable by competitor nations, thus limiting their ability to counterstrike and creating an overmatch situation. [2]

Current examples of “Alternets” that exist today include the private citizen efforts of the Metacurrency Project called Holo; the Russian independent internet for the BRICS block of nations; the PRC alternative which has also been installed in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Vietnam; BitDust, a decentralized, encrypted, anonymous storage and communication solution; Mastodon a decentralized, personally hosted, microblogging solution used in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia; and Hyperboria which was born out of the DarkNet and is an encrypted, distributed, peer-to-peer IPv6 network with Distributed Hash Table (DHT)-based source routing.

A full listing of “Alternet” projects and tools can be found in the footnotes. [3]

To learn more about the security ramifications associated with the rise of Alternets, read the following blog posts:

The Future of the Cyber Domain

Virtual Nations: An Emerging Supranational Cyber Trend, by Marie Murphy

JJ Snow is an Air Force Lt Colonel assigned as the U.S. Special Operations Command Innovation Officer and the J5 Donovan Group Future Plans and Strategy Deputy Director. In her current role, JJ serves as the government representative for technology outreach and engagement on behalf of the command and 756 interagency action officers spanning 40 different government agencies.

She is responsible for maintaining a network of non-traditional experts across industry, academia and ethical hackers/technologists to provide government with critical access, expertise and capacity across a broad spectrum of technologies to rapidly identify best of breed while also proactively responding to potential threat aspects of concern to Special Operations and national security. She supports senior government leadership in process innovation, innovation planning in big government, and the development of smart technology policy and advises senior government representatives on emerging disruptive technologies.

She holds a MS Degree in Defense Analysis with distinction from the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and a MA from American Military University in Strategic Intelligence with honors.


[1] Saldana et al., “Alternative Networks: Toward Global Access to the Internet for All.” IEEE Communications Magazine, vol. 55, no. 9, pp. 187-193, 2017.
Lafrance, Adrienne; “The Promise of a New Internet.” The Atlantic (10 JUN 2014)
Finley, Klint; “The Pied Piper’s New Internet Isn’t Just Possible – It’s Almost Here.” Wired (1 JUN 2017)

[2] Eric Harris-Braun, Nicolas Luck, Arthur Brock; “Holochain: Scalable Agent-Centric Distributed Computing.” Holo (15 FEB 2018)
Degurin, Mack; “Russia’s Alternate Internet.” NY Magazine (13 JUL 2018)
Sacks, Sam; “Beijing Wants to Rewrite the Rules of the Internet.” The Atlantic (18 JUN 2018)

[3] The following links are included to provide the reader with the options of exploring some additional alternative internet options that exist and are in use today. A big thank you to Ross Jones in recognition for his detailed GitHub Wiki on this subject which is captured in the last link concerning alternative-internet solutions and tools:  https://hyperboria.net/, https://github.com/redecentralize/alternative-internet

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.