33. Can TV and Movies Predict the Battlefield of the Future?

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present Dr. Peter Emanuel’s guest blog post, illustrating how popular culture often presages actual technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs.)

Did Dick Tracy’s wrist watch telephone or Star Trek’s communicator inspire future generations of scientists and engineers to build today’s smartphone? Or were they simply depicting the inevitable manifestation of future technology? If we look back on old issues of Superman comic books that depict a 3D printer half a century before it was invented, we can see popular media has foreshadowed future technology, time and time again. Clearly, there are many phenomena, from time travel to force fields, that have not, and may not ever see the light of day; however, there are enough examples to suggest that dedicated and forward thinking scientists, trying to defend the United States, should consider this question:

Can comic books, video games, television, and movies give us a glimpse into the battlefield of the future?

For today’s Mad Scientist blog, consider what the future may hold for defense against weapons of mass destruction.

Let’s get the 800 lb. gorilla out of the room first! Or, perhaps, the 800 lb. dinosaur by talking about biological warfare in the future. The movie Jurassic Park depicts the hubris of man trying to control life by “containing” its DNA. Our deeper understanding of DNA shows us that life is programmed to be redundant and error prone. It’s actually a fundamental feature that drives evolution. In the year 2050, if we are to control our genetically modified products, we must master containment and control for a system designed since the dawn of time to NOT be contained. Forget bio-terror…What about bio-Error?! Furthermore, the lesson in Jurassic Park from the theft of the frozen dinosaur eggs shows us the asymmetric impact that theft of genetic products can yield. Today, our adversaries amass databases on our genetic histories through theft and globalization and one only has to ask, “What do they know that we should be worried about?”

Let’s move from biology to chemistry. A chemist will argue that biology is just chemistry, and at some level it’s true. Like the movie Outlander and anime like Cowboy Bebop, today’s Middle East battlefield shows the use of CAPTAGON, an addictive narcotic blend used to motivate and subjugate radical Islamists. In 2050, our mastery of tailored chemistry will likely lead to more addictive or targeted drug use that could elicit unpredictable or illogical behaviors. Controlled delivery of mood/behavior altering drugs will frustrate efforts to have a military workforce managed by reliability programs and will require layered and redundant controls even on trusted populations. Such vulnerabilities will likely be a justification for placing weapons and infrastructure under some level of artificial intelligence in the year 2050. Imagine this is the part of the blog where we talked about the Terminator and CyberDyne Systems.

Today, the thought of man-machine interfaces depicted by the Borg from Star Trek and the TV shows such as Aeon Flux and Ghost in the Shell may make our skin crawl. In 2050, societal norms will likely evolve to embrace these driven by the competitive advantage that implants and augmentation affords. Cyborgs and genetic chimeras will blur the line between what is man and what is machine; it will usher in an era when a computer virus can kill, and it will further complicate our ability to identify friend from foe in a way best depicted by the recent Battlestar Galactica TV show. Will the point of need manufacturing systems of the future be soulless biological factories like those depicted in Frank Herbert’s book series, “Dune”? As we prepare for engaging in a multi-domain battlespace by extending our eyes and ears over the horizon with swarming autonomous drones are we opening a window into the heart and mind of our future fighting force?

Some final thoughts for the year 2050 when we maintain a persistent presence off planet Earth. As Robert Heinlein predicted, and recent NASA experiments proved, our DNA changes during prolonged exposure to altered gravity. What of humans who never stepped foot on Earth’s surface, as shown in the recent movie, The Fate of our Stars. Eventually, non-terrestrially based populations will diverge from the gene pool, perhaps kindling a debate on what is truly human? Will orbiting satellites with hyperkinetic weapons such as were pictured in GI Joe Retaliation add another dimension to the cadre of weapons of mass destruction? I would argue that popular media can help spur these discussions and give future mad scientists a glimpse into the realm of the possible. To that end, I think we can justify a little binge watching in the name of national security!

If you enjoyed this post, please check out the following:

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

– Our friends at Small Wars Journal are continuing to publish the finalists from our most recent Call for Ideas — click here to check them out!


Dr. Peter Emanuel is the Army’s Senior Research Scientist (ST) for Bioengineering. In this role, he advises Army Leadership on harnessing the opportunities that synthetic biology and biotechnology can bring to National Security.

27. Sine Pari

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present the following guest blog post by Mr. Howard R. Simkin, envisioning Army recruiting, Mid-Twenty First Century. The Army must anticipate how (or if) it will recruit augmented humans into the Future Force. This post was originally submitted in response to our Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas, addressing how humanity’s next evolutionary leap, its co-evolution with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and becoming part of the network, will change the character of war. This is the theme for our Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference — learn more about this event at the bottom of this post.)

///////////Personal Blog, Master Sergeant Grant Robertson, Recruiting District Seven…

This morning I had an in-person interview with a prospective recruit – Roberto Preciado. For the benefit of those of you who haven’t had one yet, I offer the following.

Roberto arrived punctually, a good sign. Before he entered I said, “RECOM, activate full spectrum recording and analysis.”

The disembodied voice of the Recruiting Command AI replied, “Roger.”

“Let him in.” I stood up to better assess him as he stepped through the doorway. He had dark hair and eyes, and was of slender build and medium height. My corneal implants allowed me to assess his general medical condition. He was in surprisingly good shape for his age.

We went through the usual formalities before getting down to business.

Roberto sat down gingerly, “I..um..I wanted to check out becoming part of Special Operations.”

“You came to the right place,” I replied. “So why Special Operations?”

“My uncle was in Special Operations during ‘the Big One.’ Next to my dad, he is the coolest person I ever met, so…” He searched for words, “So I decided to come and check it out.”

“Okay.” I began. “This isn’t your uncle’s Special Operations. Since the Big One, we’ve made quite a few” – I caught myself before saying changes – “upgrades.” I paused, “Roberto, before we take the enhanced reality tour, I’d like to know what augments you have had – if any.”

“Sure.” Roberto paused for a moment,“ Let’s see… I’ve got Daystrom Model 40B ER corneal implants, a Neuralink BCI jack, and a Samsung cognitive enhancement implant. That’s about it.”

“That’s fine. So you have no problems with augmentation then?”

“No, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir. I work for a living. Call me Sergeant.” I replied.

“Yes sir…I mean Sergeant.” Roberto replied somewhat nervously.

I smiled reassuringly, “Let’s continue with the most important question…do you like working with people?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

My corneal implants registered a quick flash of green light. RECOM had monitored Roberto’s metabio signature for signs of deception and found none.

“In spite of all the gadgets we work with, we still believe that people are more important than hardware. If you don’t like working with people, then you are not who we want.” I said in a matter-of-fact tone. “So,” I continued, “What are your interests?”

“I like solving problems.” Roberto shifted in his chair slightly, “I’m pretty good in a hackathon, I can handle a 4D Printer, I like to tinker with bots, and I got all A’s in machine learning.”

“So you like working with AI?”

“Yeah,” Roberto grinned, “It is way cool.”

Reassured by another green flash, I asked, “How about sports?”

“Virtual or physical?”


“Both.”

“I like virtual rock climbing and…do MMORPGs count as a sport?”
[i.e., Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games]

“Depends on the MMORPG.” I replied stifling a smile.

Roberto paused before answering, ‘Call of Duty – The Big One, Special Operations Edition’ and ‘Zombie Apocalypse’.”




I was beginning to like this kid. Apparently, so was RECOM who flashed another green light. “I’d say they count.” I nodded. “So how about physical sports?”

“I was on the track team and I still like distance running.” He smiled self-consciously, “Got a letter in track.” He thought for a moment, “I played a lot of soccer when I was a kid but never got really good at it. I think it was because when I was younger, I was really small.”

I nodded politely. “So Roberto, besides hackathons have you ever hacked devices?”

He looked a bit startled, then uncomfortable. “Well…I…yes…I have.”

“Don’t worry, this isn’t an interrogation.” I leaned forward a bit, “Son, we want people who can think, who can adapt commercial off-the-shelf technology for use in the field. We need innovative thinkers.”

“Okay.”

“So what devices did you hack?”

“I think the first one I hacked was a service bot when I was ten. You know, the house cleaning types?”

I nodded slightly.

“Well,” Roberto continued, “my parents wanted me to clean my room every day. They said it built character.” He smiled, “I guess they were right but I didn’t see it that way. So I hacked our service bot to clean my room whenever my parents were out of the house.”

“Did it work?”

“For a while. But you know smart houses…our AI realized that something wasn’t right and blabbed.” He shook his head, “Boy, did I get in trouble.”

“Was that the end of it?” I asked.

“For a while, then I figured out how to hack the whole house…AI and all. Machine learning is a nice skill to have.” He reflected for a moment, “It taught me a lesson – before you hack, you have to know the whole system.”

“Yes.” I nodded in agreement, “That’s a good point.”

My corneal implants flashed, “Probability of successful training completion – 95%.”

“So are you ready to jack into our training simulation? It’s not quite as good as what you are used to at home, but it will give you an idea of what your training will be like.”


“Yes sir…I mean Sergeant.”

For the next ten minutes, I guided him through a compressed experience of special operations training.

When we finished I asked, “So what do you think? Can you handle it?”

Roberto replied without hesitation, “Where do I sign?”

I smiled at the idea of signing a document. “Just read through the enlistment contract. If you agree, just place your right hand on the bio-scanner and look into the retinal scanner.”

Roberto slowly scrolled through the document while I sat quietly by. A few minutes later, the enlistment was complete.

That done, we set the date for his swearing in, as well as who would attend the ceremony. He departed, smiling. As for me, it was the beginning of a day without equal…but more of that in my next blog. ///////////End Personal Blog, Master Sergeant Grant Robertson, Recruiting District Seven


If you enjoyed this post, please note that Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference with SRI International at Menlo Park, California, on 08-09 March 2018. This conference will be live-streamed; click here to watch the proceedings, starting at 0845 PST / 1145 EST on 08 March 2018. Stay tuned to the Mad Scientist Laboratory for more information regarding this conference.

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.