203. “The Convergence” – An Army Mad Scientist Podcast

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce the premier episode of “The Convergence” podcast.  Please note that this podcast and several of the embedded links below are best accessed via a non-DoD network — Enjoy!]

The Army Mad Scientist Initiative is launching our very own podcast — “The Convergence.” After several years of successfully partnering on podcasts with West Point’s Modern War Institute, we were inspired to found our own with a distinct focus on divergent viewpoints, a challenging of assumptions, and insights from thought leaders and subject matter experts.

This podcast is another component of our wider effort to reach out to diverse groups and really open the aperture of our analysis and understanding of the operational environment. The purpose of “The Convergence” is to explore technological, economic, and societal trends that disrupt the operational environment and to get a diversity of opinions on the character of warfare. Like the Mad Scientist Laboratory and our conferences, the podcast will feature disruptive thinkers and world-class experts to expand the thinking and analysis of our Community of Action.

Dr. Sean McFate / Source: HarperCollins Publishers, photo by Will O’Leary

Our first episode features Dr. Sean McFate, foreign policy expert, author, and novelist. He is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC think tank, and a professor of strategy at the National Defense University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Additionally, he serves as an Advisor to Oxford University’s Centre for Technology and Global Affairs.

Source: HarperCollins Publishers

Dr. McFate’s newest book is The New Rules of War: Victory in the Age of Durable Disorder, which was picked by The Economist as one of their best books of 2019. It has been called “The Freakonomics of modern warfare.” In our podcast, Dr. McFate provides his opinions on the changing character of warfare, the rise of private military contractors, information warfare, and the effects these trends will have on the operational environment.

Dr. McFate’s career began as a paratrooper and officer in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, where he graduated from elite training programs such as the Jungle Warfare School in Panama and was also a Jump Master. He then became a private military contractor where, among his many experiences, he dealt with warlords in the jungle, raised armies for U.S. interests, rode with armed groups in the Sahara, conducted strategic reconnaissance for the extractive industry, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe, and helped prevent an impending genocide in east Africa.

Dr. McFate holds a BA from Brown University, MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a Ph.D. in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He lives in Washington, DC. For more information, see www.seanmcfate.com.

Click here to listen to Dr. McFate in our premier podcast episode of “The Convergence,”…

… stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory as we will be releasing a new podcast every other week with exciting and impactful guests,…

… listen to the following MWI podcasts with these Mad Scientists:

… and don’t forget to take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we glean from this survey regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

 

201. Brains and Brews

The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative recently partnered with the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) – Hampton Roads Agora (i.e., Greek for “a gathering place or assembly” and “the center of city life”) to have our first ever “Brains and Brews” event. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet with local entrepreneurs in the Defense Community at a local craft brewery in Norfolk, Virginia, to network and crowdsource thoughts on the Operational Environment (OE). Crowdsourcing is one of the ways the Mad Scientist Initiative envisions the future and this exercise let us connect with a diverse array of innovative individuals as well! Participants ranged from business developers, researchers, veterans, active-duty military, milspouses, students, and entrepreneurs.

This exercise was part of the Mad Scientist Initiative’s ongoing efforts to reach out to different communities to broaden our perspectives on the OE. This month we will host our first ever Global Perspectives of the Operational Environment event where we will have speakers from partner nations presenting their views on the OE. In November, we launched another crowdsourcing writing contest to obtain your insights on the future OE. Additionally, we’ll be engaging with The College of William & Mary in Virginia‘s fellows from the Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS) Program.

Amongst the fine libations quaffed and many engaging social interactions, we posed the following three questions with overlapping relevance to both the Mad Scientist Initiative and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum. Here’s what our local brains had to say!

1) What technologies have the potential to revolutionize warfare in the Future Operational Environment (FOE)?

– Internet of Things – Your fridge will give you and your location away.

– Unmanned Systems – This gets discussed frequently inside the Army and in the Department of Defense as a whole, but it’s a hot button issue in the civilian sector as well.

– Artificial Intelligence (Prediction) – There are a myriad of machinations where AI and prediction can come into play for the military and commercial sector.

– Non-flammable Lithium Ion Batteries – How much does this change energy storage and distribution on the battlefield?

– Hypersonics – A game changer on the battlefield; perhaps in personal travel as well.

Automated operators – Automation or autonomy? In what functions? This is a thread worth pulling.

– Culture Change – The participant here notated that technology means very little without the culture changing to adapt to or in spite of it.

– 3-D Printing – Incredible implications for sustainment and logistics – including ammo and weaponry parts.

– Graphene – Consistently mentioned as a critical component in future tech and manufacturing.

– Alternative Power Sources – This can range from solar to ultra-high capacity batteries to mobile nuclear power.

– Cubesats and Commercial Sensing – Potential game changer regarding the democratization of space (in both presence and utility).

– Gravity Wave Sensors – With the proliferation of orbital sensors, the only place left to hide is beneath the sea, right? Not so – gravity wave sensors have the potential to expose assets beneath the sea, too!

– Bio Sensing – More specifically mentioned was the ability to measure and improve soldier performance and health.

– AR/VR – Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have application to information sharing, training, communication, force design, and more.

– Service Member Resiliency – There are a multitude of technologies involved here (e.g., AR/VR, AI, real-time diagnostics) with the potential for psychological applications.

– Nanotech Advancements – Miniaturized everything!

– Quantum Computing/Sensing – Enormous amounts of capital and effort being poured into this technology area right now, globally.

– Lightsabers and Sharks with laser beams attached to their heads – Clearly the most groundbreaking technology brought up and totally doable! (We called an Uber for this individual!)

2) How can businesses and venture keep pace with rapid technological advancement?

More streamlined processes like SOFWERX. Rapid system integration that approves and gets data out to the warfighter quickly.

– More Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) / Other Transaction Authority (OTA) with Spiral Development (usually Government is Outpaced by Business).

– Target private sector and adapt to Government rather than seeking Government customer first.

– Be willing to pay industry bigger money for industry quality.

– Listen to what the customer is saying.

– More tech transfer to encourage innovation.

– Acquisition reform.

– Look to completely different industries for ideas.

– More of these events!

3) How can the Army enable businesses (start-ups, established, larger, smaller, etc.) to help us (the Army)?

– In the field testing/inventing.

– Easier transition from tech development to programs-of-record.

– Change flag officer incentive structure from one that incentivizes adherence to schedules to one that incentivizes operational readiness.

– Pair with Air Force to capitalize on AFWERX initiatives.

– Embrace non-traditional contracts that provide flexibility (i.e., SBIR Phase III, OTA, XTechSearch, etc.). Know your target – marketing!!

– Provide clear requirements.

– Learn from AFWERX’s mistakes/missteps to do it bigger/better.

– Leverage venture capital funding (outside capital).

– Kill the bureaucracy.

– The Department of Defense needs to sell their mission; is this “Cold War II” or not?

– Use excess ceiling on existing IT contracts for innovation and trials.

Some of the responses we received were helpful in confirming that we were thinking along the same lines as folks involved in designing, developing, and using these technologies and utilizing various contract vehicles, while other insights helped us challenge our assumptions and thinking.

This first ever “Brains and Brews” event was a fantastic success and the Mad Scientist Initiative is incredibly grateful to our partners for this event at the DEF and to all the insightful individuals who came out to share brains and brews with us. Be on the lookout for one of these events coming to your city when MadSci hits the road this year!

What are your takeaways from our questions and responses? What do you have to add? Did these add to your own thinking and planning on these issues?

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

… and take a few minutes to complete our short, on-line Global Perspectives Conference Survey. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we glean from this survey regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

200. Broadening our Aperture on the Operational Environment

[Editor’s Note: Like many of our readers, Mad Scientist Laboratory is starting off the new year with a bit of introspection…. As we continue to focus on the Operational Environment (OE) and the changing character of warfare, we find ourselves wondering if we aren’t getting a little too comfortable and complacent with what we think we know and understand. Are we falling victim to our own confirmation biases, risking total surprise by something lurking just over the horizon, beyond our line of sight? To mitigate this, Mad Scientist has resolved to broaden our aperture on the OE this year. Today’s post describes several near term initiatives that will help expand our understanding of the full extent of OE possibilities to preclude our being sucker-punched. Help Mad Scientist by participating — share your ideas, pass on these opportunities to your colleagues, and actively engage in these events and activities! Happy 2020!]

Global Perspectives in the Operational Environment
The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative will co-host our first conference this year with the Army Futures Command (AFC) and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) International Army Programs Directorate (IAPD) on 29 January 2020. Leveraging TRADOC’s Foreign Liaison Officer community to coordinate presentations by subject matter experts from their respective nations, this virtual, on-line conference will provide international perspectives on a diverse array of topics affecting the OE. Mark your calendar now to livestream this conference at www.tradoc.army.mil/watch, starting at 0830 EST (note that this link is not live until the conference).

Global Perspectives Conference Survey
In conjunction with the aforementioned conference, Mad Scientist is conducting an on-line survey querying your thoughts about the OE. We want your input, so take ~5 minutes to complete our short survey here. We will brief back our interim findings during the conference, then publish a blog post documenting the comprehensive survey results in February.  Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to learn what insights we will have gleaned from the international community regarding potential OE trends, challenges, technologies, and disruptors.

Project on International Peace and Security (PIPS)
Seeking insights into a younger demographic’s perspectives on the OE, Mad Scientist will livestream presentations by fellows from The College of William and Mary in Virginia‘s PIPS Program on 21 February 2020. This program is designed to bridge the gap between the academic and foreign policy communities in the area of undergraduate education. PIPS research fellows identify emerging international security issues and develop original policy recommendations to address those challenges. Undergraduate fellows have the chance to work with practitioners in the military and intelligence communities, and present their work to policy officials and scholars at a year-end symposium in Washington, DC. Topic areas presented at the Mad Scientist livestream event will include weaponized information, artificial intelligence, and bio convergence — representing a year’s worth of research by each of the fellows.

The Operational Environment in 2035 Mad Scientist Writing Contest Crowdsourcing is an effective tool for harvesting ideas, thoughts, and concepts from a wide variety of interested individuals, helping to diversify thought and challenge conventional assumptions. Mad Scientist’s latest writing contest seeks to harness diverse intellects to mine new knowledge and imagine the possibilities of the OE in 2035.  This contest is open to everyone around the globe. We are seeking submissions of no more than 2000 words in length — nonfiction only, please!  Topics of interest include:

    • What new skills and talent management techniques will be required by the Army in 2035?
    • What does the information landscape look like in 2035? Infrastructure? Computing? Communication? Media?
    • What can we anticipate in the Competition phase (below armed Conflict) and how do we prepare future Soldiers and Leaders for these challenges?
    • What does strategic, operational, and tactical (relative) surprise look like in 2035?
    • What does Multi-Domain Command and Control look like on the battlefield in 2035?
    • How do we prepare for the second move in a future conflict?
    • Which past battle or conflict best represents the challenges we face in the future and why?
    • What technology or convergence of technologies could provide a U.S. advantage by 2050?

For additional information on this writing contest, click here. Deadline for submission is 1 March 2020, so start outlining your entry today!

By participating in each of these events, you will enhance the Mad Scientist Initiative’s understanding of the OE and help the U.S. Army prepare for an extended array of future possibilities.

 

199. “Intelligentization” and a Chinese Vision of Future War

[Editor’s Note: While Monday’s post explored a U.S. perspective on Artificial Intelligence (AI) integration to military operations, today’s article, excerpted from this month’s OE Watch, addresses China’s embrace of “Intelligentization.” Intelligentization is the uniquely Chinese concept of applying AI’s machine speed and processing power to military planning, operational command, and decision support. In her testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing on Trade, Technology, and Military-Civil Fusion earlier this year, proclaimed Mad Scientist Elsa Kania stated that President Xi Jinping, in his report to the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, “urged the PLA to ‘Accelerate the development of military intelligentization” (军事智能化)….This authoritative exhortation has elevated the concept of ‘intelligentization’ as a guiding principle for the future of Chinese military modernization.” What is unique about the PLA’s approach to implementing AI in force modernization is that they do not seek to merely integrate AI into existing warfighting functions; rather, they are using it to shape a new, cognitive domain and thus revolutionize their entire approach to warfighting — Read on!]

In today’s world of rapidly developing concepts and technologies, many theories are emerging about what warfare will resemble in the future. Nowhere does this seem truer than in China, where scholars, researchers, and scientists are putting their thoughts to paper, such as the accompanying article, which looks at how “intelligentization” will change the structure and outcome of warfare.

The thought-provoking article (below), which was republished in various journals, such as Jiefangjun Bao, the official newspaper of the People’s Republic of China’s Central Military Commission, and Qiushi Journal, which falls under the Central Party School and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, looks at how intelligentized warfare, a term commonly used by Chinese scholars, is expected to redraw the boundaries of warfare, restructure combat forces, and reshape the rules of engagement. Some of the more salient points worth pondering are highlighted in the accompanying excerpted passages.

The article claims that the art of combat power will inevitably change because artificial intelligence is rapidly infiltrating military operations. Traditional battlefields and battlefronts will “be hard to reproduce.” The current battle domains in warfare (the physical dimensions of land, sea, air, and space and the informational dimensions of electromagnetic and cyber) will be updated to include a new dimension: the cognitive domain, which would fall under the cognitive dimension.

Intelligentized warfare will see the integration of military and non-military domains; and the boundary between peacetime and wartime will get increasingly blurred. The outcome of a war will not be determined by who destroys whom in a kinetic sense, but rather who gains maximum political benefits. Intelligentized warfare will see the integration of human and machine intelligence. It will reshape warfighting in every dimension and within every realm. Human fighters will eventually stop being the first line of fighting and intelligent systems will prevail. “Human-on-human” warfare will be replaced by “machine-on-human” or “machine-on-machine warfare.”

Combining humans and machines into brain-machine interfaces, external skeletal systems, wearable devices, and gadgets implanted into human bodies will “comprehensively enhance the inherent cognitive and physiological capacity of human fighters and will forge out superman combatants.” Intelligentized warfare will upend traditional rules of military engagement. Cross-domain unconventional and asymmetrical fighting in military engagements will become the new normal. Unmanned operations will rewrite the rules of engagement and reshape the support process. Intelligent control will become the center of gravity.

Based on the article, one might surmise that the military tactics of yesterday and today are not likely the area in which the People’s Liberation Army will place too much effort, if any at all. With artificial intelligence and other technologies rapidly gaining ground, China seems keener on leading the curve in the long term than honing tactics in the immediate future. End OE Watch Commentary (Hurst)

The cognitive domain will become another battle domain next to the land, sea, air, space, electromagnetic, and cyber domains of warfare.”

Yang Wenzhe, “在变与不变中探寻智能 化战争制胜之道 (How to Win Intelligentized Warfare by Analyzing what are Changed and What are Unchanged),” Jiefangjun Bao, 22 October 2019.

Seeking the Way to Win Intelligentized Warfare by Analyzing what are Changed and What are Unchanged

…With AI technology rapidly infiltrating into the military domain, it will inevitably lead to a thorough change in the way combat power manifests itself. … The cognitive domain will become another battle domain next to the land, sea, air, space, electromagnetic, and cyber domains of warfare. …the three major warfighting dimensions, that is, the physical dimension, the informational dimension, and the cognitive dimension. The boundaries of war will extend into the deep land, deep sea, deep air, deep cyber, and deep brain domains… Intelligentized warfare will be generalized to all military conflicts and rivalries, giving rise to a more striking feature of integration between military and non-military domains. The scope of warfighting will expand to the extremes. The boundary between peacetime and wartime will get increasingly blurred.

Gaining political benefits is an invariable standard for measuring winning in war.… Military victories must guarantee political predominance.

Human fighters will fade away from the first line of fighting. Intelligent equipment will be brought onto the battlefield in large quantities and as whole units. “Human-on-human” warfare in the traditional sense will be superseded by “machine-on-human” or “machine-on-machine” warfare.

Such means of human-machine combination as brain-machine interfaces, external skeletal systems, wearable devices, gadgets implanted into human bodies will comprehensively enhance the inherent cognitive and physiological capacity of human fighters, and will forge out “superman combatants”…

…operations”. Cross-domain unconventional and asymmetrical fighting will become a new normal in military engagements…Unmanned operations, as a prominent hallmark of the new warfighting pattern, will rewrite the rules of engagements and reshape the support processes. Intelligence control will replace spaces control as the center of gravity in war.”

The race is on between the U.S. and its near-peer competitors, China and Russia, to develop and incorporate AI into their respective defense modernization efforts.  As Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in 2017, “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”  China understands this, has embraced it at the national level, and is forging ahead with the intent to dominate the cognitive domain through intelligentization. Per Ms. Kania, the resultant “system of systems consisting of people, weapons equipment, and ways of combat… involve[s] not only intelligent weaponry but also concepts of human-machine integration (人机一体) and intelligence leading (智能主导). In practice, the PLA’s agenda for intelligentization may prove quite expansive, extending across all concepts in which AI might have military relevance in enabling and enhancing war-fighting capabilities, from logistics to early warning and intelligence, military wargaming, and command decision-making.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

The AI Titan’s Security Dilemmas, by Ms. Elsa Kania.

China’s Drive for Innovation Dominance, derived from Ms. Kania’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Human-Machine Integration briefing, presented at the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference on 9 March 2018 at SRI International‘s Silicon Valley campus in Menlo Park, California.

A Closer Look at China’s Strategies for Innovation: Questioning True Intent, by Ms. Cindy Hurst.

Integrating Artificial Intelligence into Military Operations, by Dr. James Mancillas, exploring AI implementation through an OODA lens.

The OE Watch, December issue, by the TRADOC G-2’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), featuring this piece and other articles of interest.

198. Integrating Artificial Intelligence into Military Operations

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to excerpt today’s post from Dr. James Mancillas‘ paper entitled Integrating Artificial Intelligence into Military Operations: A Boyd Cycle Framework (a link to this complete paper may be found at the bottom of this post). As Dr. Mancillas observes, “The conceptual employment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in military affairs is rich, broad, and complex. Yet, while not fully understood, it is well accepted that AI will disrupt our current military decision cycles. Using the Boyd cycle (OODA loop) as an example, “AI” is examined as a system-of-systems; with each subsystem requiring man-in-the-loop/man-on-the-loop considerations. How these challenges are addressed will shape the future of AI enabled military operations.” Enjoy!]

Success in the battlespace is about collecting information, evaluating that information, then making quick, decisive decisions. Network Centric Warfare (NCW) demonstrated this concept during the emerging phases of information age warfare. As the information age has matured, adversaries have adopted its core tenant — winning in the decision space is winning in the battle space.1 The competitive advantage that may have once existed has eroded. Additionally, the principal feature of information age warfare — the ability to gather, and store communication data — has begun to exceed human processing capabilities.2 Maintaining a competitive advantage in the information age will require a new way of integrating an ever-increasing volume of data into a decision cycle.

Future AI systems offer the potential to continue maximizing the advantages of information superiority, while overcoming limits in human cognitive abilities. AI systems with their near endless and faultless memory, lack of emotional vestment, and potentially unbiased analyses, may continue to complement future military leaders with competitive cognitive advantages. These advantages may only emerge if AI is understood, properly utilized, and integrated into a seamless decision process.

The OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act) Loop provides a methodical approach to explore: (1) how future autonomous AI systems may participate in the various elements of decision cycles; (2) what aspects of military operations may need to change to accommodate future AI systems; and (3) how implementation of AI and its varying degrees of autonomy may create a competitive decision space.3

Observe
The automation of observe can be performed using AI systems, either as a singular activity or as part of a broader integrated analysis. Systems that observe require sophisticated AI analyses and systems. Within these systems, various degrees of autonomy can be applied. Because observe is a combination of different activities, the degree of autonomy for scanning the environment may differ from the degree of autonomy for recognizing potentially significant events. Varying degrees of autonomy may be applied to very specific tasks integral to scanning and recognizing.

High autonomous AI systems may be allowed to select or alter scan patterns, times and frequencies, boundary conditions, and other parameters; potentially including the selection of the scanning platforms and their sensor packages. High autonomous AI systems, integrated into feedback systems, could also alter and potentially optimize the scanning process, allowing AI systems to independently assess the effectiveness of previous scans and explore alternative scanning processes.

Low autonomous AI systems might be precluded from altering pattern recognition parameters or thresholds for flagging an event as potentially significant. In this domain, AI systems could perform potentially complex analyses, but with limited ability to explore alternative approaches to examine additional environmental data.

When AI systems operate as autonomous observation systems, they could easily be integrated into existing doctrine, organizations, and training. Differences between AI systems and human observers must be taken into account, especially when we consider manned and unmanned mixed teams. For example: AI systems could operate with human security forces, each with potentially different endurance limitations. Sentry outpost locations and configurations described by existing Field Manuals may need to be revised to address differing considerations for AI systems, i.e., safety, degrees of autonomy, communication, physical capabilities, dimensions, and integration issues with human forces.

The potential for ubiquitous and ever-present autonomous AI observation platforms presents a new dimension to informational security. The possibility of persistent, covert, and mobile autonomous observation systems offer security challenges that we only have just begun to understand. Information security within the cyber domain is just one example of the emerging challenges that AI systems can create as they continue to influence the physical domain.

Orient
Orient is the processes and analyses that establish the relative significance and context of the signal or data observed. An observation in its original raw form is unprocessed data of potential interest. The orientation and prioritization of that observation begins when the observation is placed within the context of (among other things) previous experiences, organizational / cultural / historic frameworks, or other observations.

One of the principal challenges of today’s military leader is managing the ever-increasing flow of information available to them. The ease and low cost of collecting, storing, and communicating has resulted in a supply of data that exceeds the cognitive capacity of most humans.4 As a result, numerous approaches are being considered to maximize the capability of commanders to prioritize and develop data rich common operating pictures.5 These approaches include improved graphics displays as well as virtual reality immersion systems. Each is designed to give a commander access to larger and still larger volumes of data. When commanders are saturated with information, however, further optimizing the presentation of too much data may not significantly improve battlespace performance.

The emergence of AI systems capable of contextualizing data has already begun. The International Business Machine (IBM) Corporation has already fielded advanced cognitive systems capable of performing near human level complex analyses.6 It is expected that this trend will continue and AI systems will continue to displace humans performing many staff officer “white collar” activities.7 Much of the analyses performed by existing systems, i.e., identifying market trends or evaluating insurance payouts, have been in environments with reasonably understood rules and boundaries.

Autonomy issues associated with AI systems orientating data and developing situational awareness pictures are complex. AI systems operating with a high autonomy can: independently prioritize data; add or remove data from an operational picture; possibly de-conflict contradictory data streams; change informational lenses; and can set priorities and hierarchies. High autonomous AI systems could continuously ensure the operational picture is the best reflection of the current information. The tradeoff to this “most accurate” operational picture might be a rapidly evolving operational picture with little continuity that could possibly confound and confuse system users. This type AI might require a blind faith acceptance to the picture presented.

At the other end of the spectrum, low autonomous AI systems might not explore alternative interpretations of data. These systems may use only prescribed informational lenses, and data priorities established by system users or developers. The tradeoff for a stable and consistent operational picture might be one that is biased by the applied informational lenses and data applications. This type of AI may just show us what we want to see.

Additional considerations arise concerning future human-AI collaborations. Generic AI systems that prioritize information based on a set of standard rules may not provide the optimal human-AI paring. Instead, AI systems that are adapted to complement a specific leader’s attributes may enhance his decision-making. These man-machine interfaces could be developed over an entire career. As such, there may be a need to ensure flexibility and portability in autonomous systems, to allow leaders to transition from job to job and retain access to AI systems that are “optimized” for their specific needs.

The use of AI systems for the consolidation, prioritization, and framing of data may require a review of how military doctrine and policy guides the use of information. Similar to the development of rules of engagement, doctrine and policy present challenges to developing rules of information framing — potentially prescribing or restricting the use of informational lenses. Under a paradigm where AI systems could implement doctrine and policy without question or moderation, the consequences of a policy change might create a host of unanticipated consequences.

Additionally, AI systems capable of consolidating, prioritizing, and evaluating large streams of data may invariably displace the staff that currently performs those activities.8 This restructuring could preserve high level decision making positions, while vastly reducing personnel performing data compiling, logistics, accounting, and other decision support activities. The effect of this restructuring might be the loss of many positions that develop the judgment of future leaders. As a result, increased automation of data analytics, and subsequent decreases in the staff supporting those activities, may create a shortage of leaders with experience in these analytical skills and tested judgment.

Decide
Decide is the process used to develop and then select a course of action to achieve a desired end state. Prior to selecting a course of action, the military decision making process requires development of multiple courses of actions (COAs) and consideration of their likely outcomes, followed by the selection of the COA with the preferred outcome.

The basis for developing COA’s and choosing among them can be categorized as rules-based or values-based decisions. If an AI system is using a rules-based decision process, there is inherently a human-in-the-loop, regardless of the level of the AI autonomy. This is because human value judgments are inherently contained within the rule development process. Values-based decisions explore ends, ways, and means, through the lenses of feasibility and suitability, while also potentially addressing issues of acceptability and/or risk. Values-based decisions are generally associated with subjective value assessments, greater dimensionality, and generally contain some legal, moral, or ethical qualities. The generation of COA’s and their selection may involve substantially more nuanced judgments.

Differentiation of COAs may require evaluations of disparate value propositions. Values such as speed of an action, materiel costs, loss of life, liberty, suffering, morale, risk, and numerous other values often need to be weighed when selecting a COA for a complex issue. These subjective values, not easily quantified or universally weighted, can present significant challenges in assessing the level of autonomy to grant to AI decision activities. As automation continues to encroach into the decision space, these subjective areas may offer the best opportunities for humans to continue to contribute.

The employment of values-based or rules-based decisions tends to vary according to the operational environment and the level of operation. Tactical applications often tend towards rules-based decisions, while operational and strategic applications tend towards values-based decisions. Clarifying doctrine, training, and policies on rules-based and values-based decisions could be an essential element of ensuring that autonomous decision making AI systems are effectively understood, trusted, and utilized.

Act
The last element of the OODA Loop is Act. For AI systems, this ability to manipulate the environment may take several forms. The first form may be indirect, where an AI system concludes its manipulation step by notifying an operator of its recommendations. The second form may be through direct manipulation, both in the cyber and the physical or “real world” domains.

Manipulation in the cyber domain may include the retrieval or dissemination of information, the performance of analysis, the execution of cyber warfare activities, or any number of other cyber activities. In the physical realm, AI systems can manipulate the environment through mechanized systems tied into an electronic system. These mechanized systems may be a direct extension of the AI system or may be separate systems operated remotely.

Within the OODA framework, once the decision has been made, the act is reflexive. For advanced AI systems, there is the potential for feedback to be provided and integrated as an action is taken. If the systems supporting the decision operate as expected, and events unfold as predicted, the importance of the degree of autonomy for the AI system (to act) may be trivial. However, if events unfold unexpectedly, the autonomy of an AI system to respond could be of great significance.

Consider a scenario where an observation point (OP) is being established. The decision to set up the OP was supported by many details. Among these concerns were: the path taken to set up the OP, the optimal location of the OP, the expected weather conditions, and the exact time the OP would be operational. Under a strict out-of-scope interpretation, if any of the real world details differed from those supporting the original decision, they would all be viewed as adjustments to the decision, and the decision would be voided. Under a less restrictive in-scope interpretation, if the details closely matched the expected conditions, they would be viewed as adjustments to the approved decision, and the decision would still be valid.

High autonomous AI systems could be allowed to make in-scope adjustments to the “act”. Allowing adjustments to the “act” would preclude a complete OODA cycle review. By avoiding this requirement — a new OODA cycle — an AI system might outperform low autonomous AI elements (and human oversight) and provide an advantage to the high autonomous system. Low autonomous AI systems following the out-of-scope perspective would be required to re-initiate a new decision cycle every time the real world did not exactly match expected conditions. While the extreme case may cause a perpetual initiation of OODA cycles, some adjustments could be made to the AI system to mitigate some of these concerns. The question still remains to determine the level of change that is significant enough to restart the OODA loop. Ultimately, designers of the system would need to consider how to resolve this issue.

This is not a comprehensive examination of autonomous AI systems performing the act step of the OODA loop. Yet in the area of doctrine, training, and leadership, an issue rises for quick discussion. Humans often employ assumptions when assigning/performing an action. There is a natural assumption that real world conditions will differ from those used in the planning and authorization process. When those differences appear large, a decision is re-evaluated. When the differences appear small, a new decision is not sought, and some risk is accepted. The amount of risk is often intuitively assessed and depending on personal preferences, the action continues or is stopped. Due to the more literal nature of computational systems, autonomous systems may not have the ability to assess and accept “personal” risks. Military doctrine addressing command and leadership philosophies, i.e., Mission Command and decentralized operations, should be reviewed and updated, as necessary, to determine their applicability to operations in the information age.9

The integration of future AI systems has the potential to permeate the entirety of military operations, from acquisition philosophies to human-AI team collaborations. This will require the development of clear categories of AI systems and applications, aligned along axes of trust, with rules-based and values-based decision processes clearly demarcated. Because of the nature of machines to abide to literal interpretations of policy, rules, and guidance, a review of their development should be performed to minimize unforeseen consequences.

If you enjoyed this post, please review Dr. Mancillas’ complete report here;

… see the following MadSci blog posts:

… read the Crowdsourcing the Future of the AI Battlefield information paper;

… and peruse the Final Report from the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Autonomy Conference, facilitated at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), 7-8 March 2017.

Dr. Mancillas received a PhD in Quantum Physics from the University of Tennessee. He has extensive experience performing numerical modeling of complex engineered systems. Prior to working for the U.S. Army, Dr. Mancillas worked for the Center For Nuclear Waste and Regulatory Analyses, an FFRDC established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to examine the deep future of nuclear materials and their storage.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Army Futures Command (AFC), Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


1 Roger N. McDermott, Russian Perspectives on Network-Centric Warfare: The Key Aim of Serdyukov’s Reform (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office (Army), 2011).

2 Ang Yang, Abbass Hussein, and Sarker Ruhul. “Evolving Agents for Network Centric Warfare,” Proceedings of the 7th Annual Workshop on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation, 2005, 193-195.

3 Decision space is the range of options that military leaders explore in response to adversarial activities. Competitiveness in the decision space is based on abilities to develop more options, more effective options and to develop and execute them more quickly. Numerous approaches to managing decision space exist. NCW is an approach that emphasizes information rich communications and a high degree of decentralized decisions to generate options and “self synchronized” activities.

4 Yang, Hussein, and Ruhul. “Evolving Agents for Network Centric Warfare,” 193-195.

5 Alessandro Zocco, and Lucio Tommaso De Paolis. “Augmented Command and Control Table to Support Network-centric Operations,” Defence Science Journal 65, no. 1 (2015): 39-45.

6 The IBM Corporation, specifically IBM Watson Analytics, has been employing “cognitive analytics” and natural language dialogue to perform “big data” analyses. IBM Watson Analytics has been employed in the medical, financial and insurance fields to perform human level analytics. These activities include reading medical journals to develop medical diagnosis and treatment plans; performing actuary reviews for insurance claims; and recommending financial customer engagement and personalized investment strategies.

7 Smith and Anderson. “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs”; Executive Office of the President, “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy,” December 2016, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/documents/Artificial-Intelligence-Automation-Economy.PDF, (accessed online 5 March 2017).

8 Smith and Anderson. “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs”; Executive Office of the President, “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy,” December 2016, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/documents/Artificial-Intelligence-Automation-Economy.PDF, (accessed online 5 March 2017).

9 Jim Storr, “A Command Philosophy for the Information Age: The Continuing Relevance of Mission Command,” Defence Studies 3, no. 3 (2003): 119-129.

197. The Arctic: An Emergent Zone of Great Power Competition

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present in today’s post two articles excerpted from last month’s OE Watch addressing BNU-1, China’s first observation satellite providing coverage of the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and their high latitude (i.e., polar) equipment. Our near-peer competitors — China and Russia — understand the geo-strategic ramifications of global climate change and are positioning themselves for the coming race to tap the vast (and as of yet relatively unexploited) energy and mineral wealth of the Arctic. Similar signals, like Russia’s mini-subs planting a Russian flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole and deploying their first floating nuclear power plant to the Arctic coast are harbingers that the Arctic is an emergent zone of great power competition in the Operational Environment’s (OE’s) Era of Accelerated Human Progress.]

China continues to show interest and invest time, funding, and research in the polar regions. According to the following passage from Xinhuanet, China has her first polar satellite. The article reports that the BNU-1 has successfully obtained data on the polar regions and is conducting full-coverage observation of the Antarctic and the Arctic every day. Developed by the Beijing Normal University and Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong Development Ltd., the satellite will promote research of the Earth’s polar regions and support China’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition by enhancing its navigation capability in the polar ice zone.

Note that the Soviet Union/Russia launched a series of Molniya military communications satellites over the polar regions from 1965 to 2004. They used a high elliptical orbit to attain a long dwell time over these high latitude areas. These orbits are suited for Arctic and Antarctic communications similar to the geostationary satellites used over the equator. Russia now uses the updated Meridian satellite series over the polar regions. (Les Grau, OE Watch analyst note)

China’s first polar observation satellite supports polar research,” Xinhua, 9 October 2019.

China’s first polar observation satellite, the BNU-1, has successfully obtained data on polar regions, according to the satellite’s chief scientist.

After nearly one month of in-orbit testing, the satellite is working normally and conducting full-coverage observation of the Antarctic and the Arctic every day, Cheng Xiao, the chief scientist, said at the China Symposium on Polar Science 2019. Cheng said the satellite data connection system allows scientists around the world to obtain polar observation data acquired by the satellite. Registered users can also propose new observation requirements.

The satellite continuously monitored a gigantic iceberg breaking away from the Amery Ice Shelf in east Antarctica in September, helping limit its impact on submerged buoys and investigation ships in the surrounding area. Cheng said the satellite will help reduce China’s reliance on foreign satellites for polar observation data. “The satellite’s spatial resolution reaches 75 meters, which offers more detailed information on the ice cover and the sea ice…”

The satellite will also support China’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition by enhancing its navigation capability in the polar ice zone. Developed by the Beijing Normal University and Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong Development Ltd., the satellite weighs 16 kg and is equipped with two cameras and one receiver. It has great significance in promoting the research of Polar Regions and global climate change.

China’s first ice breaker, Xue Long [Snow Dragon] doubles as a polar research vessel and has spent most of her time in the Arctic and Antarctic including over 20 annual Chinese Antarctic expeditions. The vessel was built in Soviet Ukraine shipyards in 1993. As the accompanying passage below from Xinhuanet discusses, Xue Long 2, built in China, will probably make the Antarctic voyage this year. China maintains the Taishan Station in Antarctica. As discussed in the following passage from Xinhuanet, the development of the Nanji 2 all-terrain amphibious polar vehicle will support the station and other polar research. (Les Grau, OE Watch analyst note)

China’s New All-Terrain Vehicle to Join 36th Antarctic Expedition, Xinhuanet.com, 9 October 2019.

China’s self-developed all-terrain vehicle will set off to the South Pole, contributing to the country’s upcoming 36th Antarctic expedition.

The vehicle Nanji 2 (Antarctica No. 2), painted in red and yellow, was manufactured by Guizhou Jonyang Kinetics Co., Ltd. It was recently delivered to the Polar Research Institute of China in Shanghai.

Compared to previous generations, the new amphibious vehicle is equipped with an upgraded running system. It also applies new material and technologies to improve low-temperature performance and wear resistance, allowing it to work at minus 41 degrees Celsius. In addition, the vehicle has increased comfort for researchers with air conditioning and ventilation systems.

Its control system and other core components were all developed in China, said Lyu Qian, general manager of the manufacturer. The vehicle is multifunctional with strong transport capacity and good adaptability to complex terrain. It can undertake various missions, including personnel and materials transportation, sea, ice and land explorations, as well as search and rescue operations.

China is continuing to develop capabilities and acquire experience operating in the polar regions, making them formidable competitors in this space.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Our Arctic—The World’s Pink Flamingo and Black Swan Bird Sanctuary, by Mr. Frank Prautzsch.

Climate Change Laid Bare: Why We Need To Act Now by Ms. Sage Miller, as well as her “The Implications of Climate Change for the U.S. Military” Strategic Multilayer Assessment (SMA) Speaker Session presentation

The OE Watch, November issue, by the TRADOC G-2’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), featuring these two stories, in addition to “China Expands Gaofen Earth Observing Satellite Constellation” and other articles of interest.

 

196. “The Queue”

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

1.The Russian Military Will Soon Assign Soldiers Based on Their ‘Genetic Passports’,” by Michael Peck, The National Interest, 12 November 2019.

Russia will begin using genetic testing to profile and assign its Soldiers’ occupations. Using their “genetic passports,” the project seeks “to find genetic predispositions among military personnel, which will allow them to be properly oriented according to military specialties,” according to Alexander Sergeyev, Chief, Russian Academy of Sciences. On the surface, this seems a natural and logical progression, given recent advances in human genetics. Since the rise of modern professional armies, nations have long sought to select and place recruits where they best fit military requirements (e.g., the tallest into elite Guards units; those with natural mechanical and mathematical aptitudes in mechanized, aviation, engineering, and artillery arms; those with extreme mental fortitude and physical endurance into special operations organizations). Per Sergeyev, “It is a question of understanding at the genetic level who is more prone to, for example, … service in the fleet, who may become a paratrooper or a tankman.

Yet in the hands of an authoritarian state, the implications for genetic profiling may have far more nefarious consequences, for both its citizens and ours. For ethnically diverse states, problematic minorities or dissident populations may find themselves vectored into units designated for initial combat operations – cannon fodder – under the guise of their “genetic fit.” It may also presage the development of personalized warfare agents, designed to target an enemies’ genome, while proving harmless to one’s own troops. This quest to be “the best of the best of the best” is just the latest manifestation of the changing character of warfare.

2. In Future Wars, the U.S. Military Will Have Nowhere to Hide, by Michael Beckley, Foreign Policy, 20 November 2019.

Chinese DF-17 carrying the DF-ZF Hypersonic Glide Vehicle / Source: Bill Bostock, Business Insider Australia, via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Beckley argues that in the future the United States will not have the luxury of fighting its wars from safe havens. This change will undermine a particular American way of war that involves massive assaults from out of theater safe havens. This change is driven by new technologies that will enable near peer competitors like China and Russia to carry out precise and devastating attacks against U.S. bases and logistics nodes with new classes of hypersonic missiles and lethal drones.

Michael Beckley’s argument is compelling but does not take into account the complete challenge. Both Russian and China are transitioning to a hemispheric threat with a primary focus on challenging the U.S. Army all the way from its home station installations (i.e., the Strategic Support Area) to the Close Area fight. The U.S. can expect cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure, the use of advanced information warfare such as deep fakes targeting units and families, and the possibility of small scale kinetic attacks during what were once uncontested administrative actions of deployment. In all of these examples, there is no institutional memory for this hemispheric threat and adding time and required speed for deployment is not enough to build future readiness.

Additionally, the examples provided by Michael Beckley do not recognize the availability of these capabilities to regional powers and non-state actors. Several non-state actors have demonstrated the capability to deliver “poor man’s precision fires” using drones with saturation tactics and way point navigation against static targets like airfields and infrastructure. Also, democratization of weaponized information empowers regional hegemons and non-state actors, enabling them to target the U.S. and our allies and achieve effects at a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons, without risking armed conflict.

The character of warfare is rapidly changing and it will impact the traditional American way of war. The means to attack vulnerable logistics and basing will be available to a wide range of adversaries. The realities of this threat should immediately influence U.S. Army concepts like Multi-Domain Operations, its doctrine, and all training associated with deployment activities and unit and family resilience.

3.A 2020 US election simulation just ended with 32 dead and 200 injured,” by Justin Rohrlich, Quartz, 13 November 2019.

Boston-based cybersecurity firm Cybereason hosted a 2020 national election simulation that saw their “Red Team” face off against the U.S. Secret Service, FBI, DHS, and the Arlington, Virginia, Police Department. Their mission was to undermine the election without interfering with any of the actual election equipment. In the end, there were 32 deaths and 200 wounded (all simulated). The Blue Team chose to cancel the election and declare martial law. The Red Team took full advantage of an arsenal of cyber tools including deepfakes, controlling news websites and twitter accounts (Fox News and CNN), hacking elected officials’ social media accounts to spread misinformation, and remotely controlling autonomous vehicles and stoplights. The attack was too much for the authorities to handle. What’s more concerning is that, while this was a simulation, all of the capabilities and technologies used are widely available to everyone from state actors to terrorist organizations to private citizens. The Army won’t have to provide security for domestic elections, but it will face all of these threats in an OE that will be defined by weaponized information. As units prepare to deploy during periods of heightened tensions, our adversaries will employ this capability to target key personnel (and their dependents), distracting our troops from their deployment preparations and disrupting unit cohesion. Spurious videos could further sow division with our coalition partners causing them to hesitate, question, and withhold their military support. This simulation shows the overwhelming effect of these attacks, the ease of accessibility, and the speed of information warfare. How can the Army prepare for these types of non-kinetic attacks? How can we determine fact from fiction? What additional training paradigms are necessary to prepare Soldiers for this environment?

4.Apple Plans Standalone AR and VR Gaming Headset by 2022 and Glasses Later,” by Mark Hurman, Bloomberg, 11 November 2019.

Tech giant Apple is aiming to release a number of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices over the next three to four years. It will begin with an iPad geared more towards AR leading to a combined VR/AR headset for gaming, videos, and virtual meetings, culminating in less obstructive AR glasses that will provide information fed from a user’s iPhone, Apple watch, or similar device.

This last technology, non-obstructive AR glasses, is potentially the most impactful on the operational environment and the future of warfare. AR glasses that “wear” similar to normal glasses or sunglasses may lead users away from being “tethered” to mobile devices they have to carry and shift to strictly wearables. Such devices have been conceived of in works of fiction like Spiderman: Far From Home and Black Mirror.

While AR has been envisioned for some time in science fiction, its mass adoption – over half the U.S. mobile market share belongs to Apple – would dramatically change how content is presented, how humans interact with each other and their surroundings, and if immersive enough, what is “reality.” Additionally, the Army, and larger DoD, will have to grapple with how to integrate this technology into training, operations, and even leadership practices, while defending its exploitation as a new threat vector for weaponized information.

5.The Weirdness Is Coming A glimpse of the near future as seen through the recent past,” by the editors, with additional reporting by Brock Colyar, Gabriel Debenedetti, Jane Drinkard, Bridget Read, and Matt Stieb, New York Magazine Intelligencer, The Future Issue, 13 November 2019.

The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed” — novelist William Gibson

This article is a collection of news stories (rather than analyses) spanning 2019 that signal the emergence of future trends. All-inclusive social-credit scores blanketing Xi Jinping’s China, antibiotic-resistant superbugs cropping up in India before spreading as far as the Arctic, UAVs used in assassinations and infrastructure attacks, and advertisers knowing more about us than our own doctors.

As we advance in The Era of Accelerated Human Progress (now through 2035), the United States could face a true strategic competitor. These fast moving changes reflect the pace of human progress and its impact on the OE. This challenge is compounded by our reliance on coalition warfare with allies and partners who might not be able or willing to modernize at the same pace as the U.S., while our competitors might modernize at a faster pace than us.  Advances in biotechnology and health will see major advances; yet competitors may not adopt the same legal regulations or ethics for enhancement as the U.S., resulting in asymmetry between us and those choosing to operate below our defined legal and ethical thresholds. Passive sensing, especially when combined with artificial intelligence and big-data techniques, may routinely outperform active sensors, leading to a counter-reconnaissance fight between autonomous sensors and countermeasures – “a robot-on-robot affair.” As the world becomes ever more digitized, states will share their strategic environments with networked societies. The articles mirror trends that the Mad Scientist Laboratory has been forecasting (i.e., robotics, quantum computing, space, and other disruptive technologies) through 2050.

If you read, watch, or listen to something this month that you think has the potential to inform or challenge our understanding of the 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”!

195. The Operational Environment in 2035: Mad Scientist Writing Contest

[Editor’s Note: Crowdsourcing is an effective tool for harvesting ideas, thoughts, and concepts from a wide variety of interested individuals, helping to diversify thought and challenge conventional assumptions. Mad Scientist is pleased to announce the first of our FY20 writing contests — Read on!]

The Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative wants to harness your diverse intellects to mine new knowledge and imagine the possibilities of the Operational Environment in 2035.

Deadline for submission is 1 March 2020.

GUIDELINES

Nonfiction only.

• Submissions must be unclassified, unpublished, and cleared by your public affairs office and operations security managers (USG & as applicable).

• Maximum 2000 words/12 point font.

• Team or individual entries welcome.

TOPICS OF INTEREST

• What new skills and talent management techniques will be required by the Army in 2035?

• What does the information landscape look like in 2035? Infrastructure? Computing? Communication? Media?

• What can we anticipate in the Competition phase (below armed Conflict) and how do we prepare future Soldiers and Leaders for these challenges?

• What does strategic, operational, and tactical (relative) surprise look like in 2035?

• What does Multi-Domain Command and Control look like on the battlefield in 2035?

• How do we prepare for the second move in a future conflict?

• Which past battle or conflict best represents the challenges we face in the future and why?

• What technology or convergence of technologies could provide a U.S. advantage by 2050?

The author of the winning submission will be invited to present at a Mad Scientist event in 2020. Select semi-finalists will be published on the Mad Scientist Laboratory blog site or on one of our partner sites.

NOTE: NO Department of Defense affiliation is required for submission. This Community is open to EVERYONEHelp shape the Army’s view of future Multi-Domain Operations and perspectives on the future OE.

Looking for ideas? Start here at the Mad Scientist Laboratory using the SEARCH function (found on the right hand side of this screen, or down below this post if viewing it on your PED). Enter a keyword, then review the associated blog posts for inspiration.

Send your submissions and questions to:
usarmy.jble.tradoc.mbx.army-mad-scientist@mail.mil

194. CRISPR Convergence

[Editor’s Note: In today’s post, returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Howard R. Simkin addresses the ramifications of democratized genomic engineering in the Operational Environment (OE). Comparing the genetic engineering tool Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) to the internet in terms of its revolutionary potential, Mr. Simkin examines three scenarios where this capability could be harnessed for nefarious purposes. (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

The Future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed.” – William Gibson, science fiction author who coined the word cyberspace in 1984.1

Purpose:

This paper briefly examines the convergence of trends in technology as they affect CRISPR2 technology through the lens of three possible users of the technology – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), a future Aum Shinrikyo3 -like entity, and a Unabomber-like4 super-empowered individual.

What does the Future Operating Environment (FOE) tell us?

Figure 1. Exponential Convergence – Five converging technologies that will drive the exponential development of increasingly capable Artificial Intelligence (AI).

A survey of the two most commonly available, authoritative sources on the FOE points to an ever-increasing rate of technological change, the growth of mega-cities, and the diffusion of cutting-edge technology into the hands of both state and non-state actors as well as super-empowered individuals.5 Over the next ten to twenty years, the world will experience dramatic changes in technology. Governments and businesses are investing billions of dollars into research programs and tech startups associated with all five of the technological fields shown in Figure 1.6

The convergence of these technologies, impelled by increasingly capable Artificial Intelligence (AI) will drive change that will approximate that of Moore’s Law – doubling in power while halving in cost every two years. Our adversaries – states, non-state actors, and super-empowered individuals – will undoubtedly seek to harness these trends to accomplish their ends. To examine the many implications of these changes is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, this post will concentrate on one specific technology – CRISPR.

Background

CRISPR may be the next Internet – in terms of the impact it will have on society. CRISPR only became approved for use on humans in 2015. However, its applications to gene editing have already become significant.7 As the web magazine Futurism observed, “As the accuracy, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of the system became more and more apparent, researchers and pharmaceutical companies jumped on the technique, modifying it, improving it, and testing it on different genetic issues.”8 This tool could lead to gene editing techniques that could strengthen disease resistance and improve strength and mental abilities. It could also lead to designer diseases for humans, plants, and animals.

What was formerly only available at the cost of billions of dollars and years of research can now be achieved by a single individual at a nominal cost. The original human genome project took ten years, employed a large research team with state-of-the-art laboratories, and cost a billion dollars. Now, you can get your complete genome sequenced for about $10,000 in about six weeks. If you just want specific information, the cost is as little as $100.

To the point, in 2017 Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta revived an extinct horsepox virus using synthetic DNA strands ordered for about $100,000. While not a trivial effort, the research lead Dr. David Evans admitted that he undertook the project to prove that it could be done. And to prove that it wouldn’t necessarily require a lot of time, money, and even biomedical skill or knowledge. His effort opened up new possibilities for researchers looking to make better vaccines, but also those looking to use these viruses as bioweapons9 including smallpox.10

Questions

This causes a number of questions to spring to mind. What sort of enemy would use CRISPR to resurrect or design biological weapons against humans, animals, or crops? Can we prevent its use? How do we recover once it is used?

What sort of enemy would use CRISPR to resurrect or design biological weapons against humans, animals, or crops?

The sort of enemy who would employ CRISPR to design bioweapons fits one of three profiles, each of which has their own present day or historical example. The first is a nation state – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The second is an Aum Shinrikyo-like non-state actor. The third is a Unabomber-like super-empowered individual. The DPRK is a clear and present danger. The other two historical examples are not evident yet, but the potential for them to spring to life is there.

The DPRK is extremely xenophobic. Their culture views North Koreans as the pinnacle of human development. All other cultures and races are, by definition inferior. In that sense, they are culturally akin to pre-World War II Japan or Germany. They are also materialists, in the sense that they ascribe a spiritual dimension to human affairs. With such underlying beliefs, the end justifies the means when dealing with inferiors.11 It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the DPRK would have no moral or ethical problems with creating an asymptomatic, race-specific, highly contagious and deadly disease.

Kasumigaseki Station, one of the many stations affected during the Tokyo subway sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo / Source: Wikimedia Commons

The emergence of an Aum Shinrikyo-like organization in the near future is not beyond the realm of the possible. The original organization employed Sarin in the Tokyo subway in 1995 but it also conducted extensive research and testing into bioweapons to include anthrax, botulinum toxin, and the Ebola virus in 1992 – 1995.12 This was possible because the Aum had recruited a number of highly capable scientists. At its inception, Aum had been indistinguishable from a number of contemporary – and harmless – cults in Asia. However, it morphed into a violent doomsday cult without the Japanese authorities detecting the change. While such a failure in 1995 led to a few dozen deaths, the increasing availability of CRISPR technology could make such a failure a catastrophic event.

The final threat – the super-empowered individual – may not emerge until the latter part of the timeframe covered by this paper. Theoretically, enabled by AI and quantum computing, it will be possible to create a bioweapon that would target only specific genomic types. It is not beyond the realm of probability to envision a hate-filled racist developing and using such a highly specific bioweapon.

Can we prevent its use?

Jennifer Doudna, a University of California biochemist who helped invent CRISPR technology in 2012, calls for the “appropriate regulation” of human germline editing in her recent editorial entitled CRISPR’s unwanted anniversary in the journal Science:  “Consequences for defying established restrictions should include, at a minimum, loss of funding and publication privileges. Ensuring responsible use of genome editing will enable CRISPR technology to improve the well-being of millions of people and fulfill its revolutionary potential.”

However, prevention is highly problematic when a technology is cheap, widely available, and relatively easy to use. CRISPR meets both of the first two criteria. Although inexpensive CRISPR kits are available online, the knowledge necessary to employ to create malignant products resides at the PhD level. In all probability, it would require a team of PhDs to produce a bioweapon. However, if current trends of open-source knowledge dissemination13 continue, the knowledge threshold for employment may lower significantly. The future may require the power of AI, data science, big data, and quantum computers to identify and track potential threats.

Cuiker and Mayer-Schoenberg observe that, “Using big data will sometimes mean forgoing the quest for why in return for knowing what.”14 In other words, it involves a shift from understanding causation to seeking a correlation derived from big data to provide a proxy for what you are trying to understand. A correlation is simply a relationship between two data values. As such, it can serve to focus attention on a previously unsuspected connection and lead to discovery of causation. It can also provide warning when the strength of a correlation reaches a predetermined level requiring executive attention.

To illustrate, in 2009 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) approached Google with a problem on catching flu outbreaks as early as possible. The new H1N1 strain had been identified and CDC was concerned the outbreak might be as severe as that of the 1918 Spanish Influenza. As things stood, CDC only received warning of a flu outbreak an average of one to two weeks after its onset. The reason was simple – the data the CDC used to determine an outbreak were hospital admissions and emergency room data. Although they understood flu had broken out, they were in a constant catchup mode – not the desired mode for a possible H1N1 pandemic.

Google agreed to try to solve the puzzle. They used the “n = all” approach, querying their entire search database for the last (2007-2008) flu outbreak. Google ran over 50 million search terms through 450 million algorithms before arriving at a list of 45 search terms that – if entered with a certain frequency in any geographic area – strongly correlated with a flu outbreak. Using this approach, Google was able to detect warning signs within one or two days of an outbreak, pinpoint the geographic area, and even estimate the percentage of the population affected. They deployed this capability in time to assist the CDC in coping with the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.15,16

How do we recover once it is used?

While these three threats are possible, their solution will arise from the same technological forces that created them. Some components of the solution – like a robust public health system – are already in place in the U.S. The future public health system will rapidly identify the bioweapon and begin to develop treatments. The government will enforce such measures as social distance, allowing virulent strains to ‘burn out.’ In the future, the scientific community will use AI and quantum computing to run simulations that come up with novel approaches to mitigating the effects of any bioweapon. CRISPR and Nanotechnology will allow for the employment of payloads that counter the bioweapon. It will still be a classic game of move and countermove.

Conclusion.

The advent of easily accessible CRISPR technology poses a real and present danger to the world. In the hands of a rogue nation, a terrorist organization, or a super-empowered individual, it could unleash old diseases such as smallpox or new diseases with no known treatment. With the right knowledge, the entry threshold is less than a quarter or a million dollars. We must possess the means to identify, track, and counter these threats – preferably before they are employed at scale.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Howard R. Simkin is a Senior Concept Developer in the DCS, G-9 Concepts, Experimentation and Analysis Directorate, U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He has over 40 years of combined military, law enforcement, defense contractor, and government experience. He is a retired Special Forces officer with a wide variety of special operations experience. Within the G9 he analyzes and defines the future operating environment and required capabilities Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) in support of future concepts development. His subject matter expertise includes analyzing and evaluating historical, current and emerging technology as well as Combined, Joint, Multi-Service, Army and ARSOF organizational initiatives, trends, and concepts to determine the implications for ARSOF units. Mr. Simkin holds a Masters of Administrative Science from the Johns Hopkins University. He is a proclaimed TRADOC Mad Scientist as well as a certified Project Management Professional. He has written several articles that have recently been published in Naval History, Small Wars Journal, or on the TRADOC Mad Scientist Blog.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).


1 https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/William_Gibson (Accessed 18 April 2017).

2 CRISPR is a gene editing technique. CRISPR stands for clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats; it is DNA used in the immune systems of prokaryotes. The system relies on the Cas9 enzyme and guide RNA’s to find specific, problematic segments of a gene and cut them out. In 2015, researchers discovered that this technique could be applied to humans.

3 Aum Shinrikyo was an apocalyptic Japanese cult that carried out a Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo Subway on 20 March 1995. See Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996.

4 Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski was the Unabomber. He carried out a series of bombings from 1978 to 1995 to protest the growing influence of technology in society. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Kaczynski (Accessed 06 October 2017).

5 The FOE depicted in this paper is a synthesis of the National Intelligence Council Global Trends (2035) Paradox of Progress, National Intelligence Council, Washington DC, January 2017, see: https://www.dni.gov/index.php/global-trends-home, and the Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff, Joint Operating Environment 2035, The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World, Joint Staff J7, Washington, DC, 14 July 2016.

6 Taken from a PowerPoint presentation entitled “AI Futures” given by fellow Proclaimed Mad Scientist Dr. James Canton at the USASOC Futures Forum, 8 August 2017.

7 11 Incredible Things CRISPR Has Helped Us Achieve in 2017 https://futurism.com/11-incredible-things-crispr-has-helped-us-achieve-in-2017/ (Accessed 06 October 2017).

8 CRISPR Is Rapidly Ushering in a New Era in Science. https://futurism.com/crispr-is-rapidly-ushering-in-a-new-era-in-science/ (Accessed 16 August 2017)

9 Researchers Brought Back a Pox Virus Using Mail-Order DNA and it Only Cost $100,000. https://futurism.com/researchers-brought-back-a-pox-virus-using-mail-order-dna-and-it-only-cost-100000/ (Accessed 10 October 2017).

10 People Could Make Smallpox from Scratch in a Lab, Scientists Warn. https://www.livescience.com/59809-horsepox-virus-recreated.html (Accessed 10 October 2017), and Scientists synthesize smallpox cousin in ominous breakthrough. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/07/07/scientists-synthesize-smallpox-cousin-in-ominous-breakthrough/?utm_term=.2c1b343dd4ec (Accessed 10 October 2017).

11 USSOCOM JISOC, Irregular Threat Analysis Branch, Socio — Cultural Awareness Section. North Korea Population Engagement Study (Unclassified). Tampa, FL: United States Special Operations Command, 2013, 15 – 16.

12 Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996, 51 – 57; 96 – 7; 94 – 6.

13 The Canadian researchers mentioned earlier in this paper published an open source paper which details how they resurrected horsepox.

14 Cuiker, Kenneth and Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor, “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3 (May/June 2013): p. 36.

15 Cuiker, Kenneth and Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor, “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3 (May/June 2013): p. 29.

16 Mayer Schoenberger, Viktor and Cukier, Kenneth: Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think. Boston, New York: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, pp. 1-3. Twitter was also used to mine “flu”, and correlate results on a map. This allowed CDC to watch flu bloom on a map in near real time.

References

Cuiker, Kenneth, and Victor Mayer-Schoenberg. “The Rise of Big Data: How it’s Changing the Way We Think About The World.” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3, May/June 2013.

Department of Defense. DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, J7, As of March 2017.

Futurism.com. CRISPR Is Rapidly Ushering in a New Era in Science. March 13, 2017. https://futurism.com/crispr-is-rapidly-ushering-in-a-new-era-in-science/ (accessed July 2017, 2017).

Kaplan, David E., and Andrew Marshall. The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Mayer-Schoenberg, Victor, and Kenneth Cuiker. Big Data, A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, And Think. Boston, New York: Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

National Intelligence Council. Global Trends, Paradox of Progress. Washington, DC: National Intelligence Council, January 2017.

The Joint Staff. Joint Operating Environment 2035, The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World. Washington, DC: Joint Staff J7, 14 July 2016.

USSOCOM JISOC, Irregular Threat Analysis Branch, Socio — Cultural Awareness Section. North Korea Population Engagement Study (Unclassified). Tampa, FL: United States Special Operations Command, 2013.