138. “The Monolith”

The Monolith set from the dawn of man sequence, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (1968) / Source: Wikimedia Commons

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to introduce a new, quarterly feature, entitled “The Monolith.” Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick fans alike will recognize and appreciate our allusion to the alien artifact responsible for “uplifting” mankind from primitive, defenseless hominids into tool using killers — destined for the stars — from their respective short story, “The Sentinel,” and movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” We hope that you will similarly benefit from this post (although perhaps in not quite so evolutionary a manner!), reflecting the Mad Scientist Teams’ collective book and movie recommendations — Enjoy!]

Originally published by PublicAffairs on 5 October 2017

The Future of War by Sir Lawrence Freedman. The evolution of warfare has taken some turns that were quite unexpected and were heavily influenced by disruptive technologies of the day. Sir Lawrence examines the changing character of warfare over the last several centuries, how it has been influenced by society and technology, the ways in which science fiction got it wrong and right, and how it might take shape in the future. This overarching look at warfare causes one to pause and consider whether we may be asking the right questions about future warfare.

 

Royal Scots Guardsmen engaging the enemy with a Lewis Machine Gun / Source:  Flickr

They Shall Not Grow Old directed by Sir Peter Jackson. This lauded 2018 documentary utilizes original film footage from World War I (much of it unseen for the past century) that has been digitized, colorized, upscaled, and overlaid with audio recordings from British servicemen who fought in the war. The divide between civilians untouched by the war and service members, the destructive impact of new disruptive technologies, and the change they wrought on the character of war resonate to this day and provide an excellent historical analogy from which to explore future warfare.

Gene Simmons plays a nefarious super empowered individual in Runaway

Runaway directed by Michael Crichton. This film, released in 1984, is set in the near future, where a police officer (Tom Selleck) and his partner (Cynthia Rhodes) specialize in neutralizing malfunctioning robots. A rogue killer robot – programmed to kill by the bad guy (Gene Simmons) – goes on homicidal rampage. Alas, the savvy officers begin to uncover a wider, nefarious plan to proliferate killer robots. This offbeat Sci-Fi thriller illustrates how dual-use technologies in the hands of super-empowered individuals could be employed innovatively in the Future Operational Environment. Personalized warfare is also featured, as a software developer’s family is targeted by the ‘bad guy,’ using a corrupted version of the very software he helped create. This movie illustrates the potential for everyday commercial products to be adapted maliciously by adversaries, who, unconstrained ethically, can out-innovate us with convergent, game changing technologies (robotics, CRISPR, etc.).

Originally published by Macmillan on 1 May 2018

The Military Science of Star Wars by George Beahm. Storytelling is a powerful tool used to visualize the future, and Science Fiction often offers the best trove of ideas. The Military Science of Star Wars by George Beahm dissects and analyzes the entirety of the Star Wars Universe to mine for information that reflects the real world and the future of armed conflict. Beahm tackles the personnel, weapons, technology, tactics, strategy, resources, and lessons learned from key battles and authoritatively links them to past, current, and future Army challenges. Beahm proves that storytelling, and even fantasy (Star Wars is more a fantasy story than a Science Fiction story), can teach us about the real world and help evolve our thinking to confront problems in new and novel ways. He connects the story to the past, present, and future Army and asks important questions, like “What makes Han Solo a great military Leader?”, “How can a military use robots (Droids) effectively?”, and most importantly, “What, in the universe, qualified Jar Jar Binks to be promoted to Bombad General?”.

Ex Machina, Universal Pictures (2014) / Source: Vimeo

Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland. This film, released in 2014, moves beyond the traditional questions surrounding the feasibility of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Turing test to explore the darker side of synthetic beings, knowing that it is achievable and that the test can be passed. The film is a cautionary tale of what might be possible at the extreme edge of AI computing and innovation where control may be fleeting or even an illusion. The Army may never face the same consequences that the characters in the film face, but it can learn from their lessons. AI is a hotly debated topic with some saying it will bring about the end of days, and others saying generalized AI will never exist. With a future this muddy, one must be cautious of exploring new and undefined technology spaces that carry so much risk. As more robotic entities are operationalized, and AI further permeates the battlefield, future Soldiers and Leaders would do well to stay abreast of the potential for volatility in an already chaotic environment. If Military AI progresses substantially, what will happen when we try to turn it off?

Astronaut and Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin is pictured during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the moon / Source: NASA

Apollo 11 directed by Todd Douglas Miller. As the United States prepares to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the first manned mission to the lunar surface later this summer, this inspiring documentary reminds audiences of just how audacious an achievement this was. Using restored archival audio recordings and video footage (complemented by simple line animations illustrating each of the spacecrafts’ maneuver sequences), Todd Miller skillfully re-captures the momentousness of this historic event, successfully weaving together a comprehensive point-of-view of the mission. Watching NASA and its legion of aerospace contractors realize the dream envisioned by President Kennedy eight years before serves to remind contemporary America that we once dared and dreamed big, and that we can do so again, harnessing the energy of insightful and focused leadership with the innovation of private enterprise. This uniquely American attribute may well tip the balance in our favor, given current competition and potential future conflicts with our near-peer adversaries in the Future Operational Environment.

Originally published by Penguin Random House on 3 July 2018

Artemis by Andy Weir. In his latest novel, following on the heels of his wildly successful The Martian, Andy Weir envisions an established lunar city in 2080 through the eyes of Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, one of its citizen-hustlers, who becomes enmeshed in a conspiracy to control the tremendous wealth generated from the space and lunar mineral resources refined in the Moon’s low-G environment. His suspenseful plot, replete with descriptions of the science and technologies necessary to survive (and thrive!) in the hostile lunar environment, posits a late 21st century rush to exploit space commodities. The resultant economic boom has empowered non-state actors as new competitors on the global — er, extraterrestrial stage — from the Kenya Space Corporation (blessed by its equatorial location and reduced earth to orbit launch costs) to the Sanchez Aluminum mining and refining conglomerate, controlled by a Brazilian crime syndicate scheming to take control of the lunar city. Readers are reminded that the economic hegemony currently enjoyed by the U.S., China, and the E.U. may well be eclipsed by visionary non-state actors who dare and dream big enough to exploit the wealth that lies beyond the Earth’s gravity well.

49. “The Queue”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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