99. “The Queue”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

89. “The Queue”

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


1. Can you tell a fake video from a real one? and How hard is it to make a believable deepfake? by Tim Leslie, Nathan Hoad, and Ben Spraggon, Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) News, 26 and 27 September 2018, respectively.


Deep Video Portraits by Hyeongwoo Kim, Pablo Garrido, Ayush Tewari, Weipeng Xu, Justus Thies, Matthias Nießner, Patrick Perez, Christian Richardt, Michael Zollhöfer, and Christian Theobalt, YouTube, 17 May 2018.

Mad Scientist has previously sounded the alarm regarding the advent and potential impact of “DeepFakes” – deceptive files created using artificial neural networks and graphics processors that yield nearly undetectably fake imagery and videos. When distributed via Social Media, these files have the potential to “go viral” — duping, deceiving, and manipulating whole populations of viewers.

ABC’s first news piece provides several video samples, enabling you to test your skills in trying to detect which of the videos provided are real or fake. ABC then goes on to warn that “We are careening toward an infocalypse,” where we may soon find ourselves in living in “A world without truth”.

Source: ABC News

In their second piece, ABC delves into the step-by-step mechanics of how DeepFakes are created, using former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull as a use case, and posits placing this fabricated imagery into different, possibly compromising, scenes, manipulating reality for a credulous public.

The Deep Video Portraits YouTube video (snippets of which were used to illustrate both of the aforementioned ABC news pieces) was presented at the Generations SIGGRAPH conference, convened in Vancouver, BC, on 12-16 August 2018. In conjunction with the ABC articles, the combined narration and video in Deep Video Portraits provide a comprehensive primer on how photo realistic, yet completely synthetic (i.e., fictional) re-animations can be accomplished using source and target videos.

Source: Deep Video Portraits – SIGGRAPH 2018 via YouTube /
Christian Theobalt

When combined with the ubiquity of Social Media, these public domain AI algorithms (e.g., FakeApp, DerpFakes, DeepFakes) are democratizing an incredibly disruptive capability. The U.S. must develop and implement means (e.g., education) to “inoculate” its citizenry and mitigate this potentially devastating Gray Zone weapon.

Attacking an adversary’s most important center of gravity — the spirit of its people — no longer requires massive bombing runs or reams of propaganda. All it takes is a smartphone and a few idle seconds. And anyone can do it.” — P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking in LikeWar – The Weaponization of Social Media


2.The first “social network” of brains lets three people transmit thoughts to each other’s heads,” by Emerging Technology from the arXiv, MIT Technology Review, 29 September 2018.

In 2015, scientists at University of Washington in Seattle connected two people via a brain to brain interface. The connected individuals were able to play a 20 questions game. Now these scientists have announced the first group brain to brain network. They call the network the “BrainNet” and the individuals were able to play a collaborative Tetris-like game.

Source: BrainNet: A Multi-Person Brain-to-Brain Interface for
Direct Collaboration Between Brains / https://arxiv.org/pdf/1809.08632.pdf

To date, our future operational environment has described the exploding Internet of Things and even the emerging concept of an Internet of Battle Things. The common idea here is connecting things – sensors, weapons, and AI to a human in the or on the loop. The idea of adding the brain to this network opens incredible opportunities and vulnerabilities. We should start asking ourselves questions about this idea: 1) Could humans control connected sensors and weapons with thought alone, 2) Could this be a form of secure communications in the future, and 3) Could the brain be hacked and what vulnerabilities does this add? (Read Battle of the Brain) There are many more questions, but for now maybe we should broaden our ideas about connectivity to the Internet of Everything and Everyone.


3.Scientists get funding to grow neural networks in petri dishes,” Lehigh University, 14 September 2018.

An overview of running image recognition on living neuron testbed / Source: Xiaochen Guo / Lehigh University

The future of computing may not necessarily be silicon or quantum-based — it may be biological! The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded an interdisciplinary team of biologists and computer engineers $500,000. This is in support of Understanding the Brain and the BRAIN Initiative, a coordinated research effort that seeks to accelerate the development of new neurotechnologies. The intent is to help computer engineers develop new ways to think about the design of solid state machines, and may influence other brain-related research using optogenetics, a biological technique that uses light to control cells —  “spike train stimuli” — similar to a two-dimensional bar code. The encoding of the spike train will then be optically applied to a group of networked in vitro neurons with optogenetic labels. This hybrid project could lead to a better understanding of how organic computers and brains function.  This suggests a radically different vision of future computing where, potentially, everything from buildings to computers could be grown in much the same way that we “grow” plants or animals today.


4.These “Robotic Skins” Turn Everyday Objects into Robots,” by Rachael Lallensack, Smithsonian.com, 19 September 2018, reviewed by Ms. Marie Murphy.

Source: Yale via Smithsonian.com

A team of roboticists out of Yale University published a report announcing the development of OmniSkins, pliable material with embedded sensors that can animate ordinary, inert objects. OmniSkins turn ordinary objects into robots on contact. These removable sheets can be reused and reconfigured for a variety of functions, from making foam tubes crawl like worms to creating a device which can grab and hold onto objects out of static foam arms. Initially developed for NASA, demonstrations reveal that OmniSkins can make a stuffed animal walk when wrapped around its legs and correct the posture of a person when embedded in their shirt. While these are fun examples, the realistic military applications are vast and varied. OmniSkins could represent a new development in performance-enhancing exoskeletons, enabling them to be lighter and more flexible. These sheets can turn ordinary objects into useful machines in a matter of minutes and can be modified with cameras or other sensors to fit the needs of the mission.


5.Movement-enhancing exoskeletons may impair decision making,” by Jennifer Chu,  MIT, 5 October 2018.

PowerWalk / Source: Bionic Power Inc. via MIT

Researchers from MIT have discovered that the use of exoskeletons to enhance speed, power, and endurance could have a negative effect on attention, decision-making, and cognition. The researchers found that 7 out of 12 subjects actually performed worse on cognitive tasks while wearing an exoskeleton through an obstacle course. The researchers tested them on several cognitive tasks from responding to visual signals to following their squad leader at a defined distance. They concluded that more than half of the subjects wearing the exoskeleton showed a marked decline in reaction time to the various tests. This presents an interesting challenge for technology developers. Does a positive solution in one area negatively affect another, seemingly unrelated, area? Would the subjects in the test have performed better if they had prolonged training with the exoskeletons as opposed to a few days? If so, this presents an additional burden and training demand on Soldiers and the Army. Will a trade study involving not just physical measures, but cognitive ones now need to be integrated into all new Army technology developments and what does this do to the development timeline?


6.Researchers Create “Spray On” 2-D Antennas,” by Michael Koziol, IEEE Spectrum, 21 September 2018.

Drexel’s MXene “Antenna Spray Paint” / Source: YouTube via IEEE Spectrum

Researchers from Drexel University have developed a novel solution to reducing the size and weight of traditional antennas. Using a metal like titanium or molybdenum, bonded with carbides or nitrides called MXene, they were able to produce a spray-on antenna solution. By dissolving the MXene in water, and using a commercial off-the-shelf spray gun, one can rapidly design, customize, and deploy a working antenna. The spray-on antenna is 100nm thick (versus a traditional copper antenna that is 3,000nm) and has a higher conductivity than carbon nanotubes – a previous solution to the small and thin antenna problem.  On a hyperactive battlefield where Soldiers may need on-demand solutions in a compressed timeline, MXene spray-on antennas may be a potential game changer. How much time, materials, and processing can be saved in an operational environment if a Soldier can quickly produce a low profile antenna to a custom specification? What does this mean for logistics if repair parts for antennas no longer need to be shipped from outside the theater of operations?


7.NASA’s Asteroid-Sampling Spacecraft Begins Its Science Work Today,” by Mike Wall, Space.com, 11 September 2018.

NASA Infographic on the OSIRIS-REx Mission / Source: https://www.space.com/11808-nasa-asteroid-mission-osiris-rex-1999-rq36-infographic.html

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx (short for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft commenced studying near-Earth asteroid Bennu’s dust plumes from afar on 11 September 2018. Once the probe achieves orbit around the ~500m-wide space rock on 31 December 2018, it will further explore that body’s dust, dirt, and gravel. Then, in mid-2020, OSIRIS-REx will swoop down to the surface to collect and return a sample of material to Earth in a special return capsule. While this piece represents very cool extraterrestrial science, it is also significant for what it bodes for the future Operational Environment, Multi-Dimensional Operations in the Space Domain, and our newly established Space Force.

“The $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission will … contribute to planetary-defense efforts. For example, the probe’s observations should help researchers better understand the forces that shape potentially dangerous asteroids’ paths through space… (Bennu itself is potentially hazardous; there’s a very small chance that it could hit Earth in the late 22nd century.)”

OSIRIS-REx is not the only probe sampling asteroids – Japan’s Hayabus2 spacecraft is preparing to touch down on the asteroid Ryugu this month. NASA has estimated the total value of resources locked in asteroids is equivalent to $100 Billion for every man, woman, and child on Earth.

This century’s new space race to capitalize on and exploit our solar system’s heretofore untapped mineral wealth, while defending critical space assets, will demand that the U.S. budgets for, develops, and maintains future space-based capabilities (initially unmanned, but eventually manned, as required by mission) to protect and defend our national and industrial space interests.


8.Soldiers who obliterate enemy fighters with drones will be guided on the morality of their actions by specially trained army chaplains,” by Roy Tingle, Daily Mail Online, 25 September 2018.

Source: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DIVIDS)

In possibly an all-time record for the worst news article title, it has been revealed that the British Army is training ethicists to teach soldiers about the morality of killing with drones. Chaplains will spend one year studying and obtaining a Master’s degree in Ethics at Cardiff University so that they can instruct officers on the moral dilemmas involved in killing an enemy from thousands of miles away. Officials have long been concerned about the emotional trauma suffered by drone pilots, as well as the risk that they will be more likely to use deadly force if the confrontation is being played out on a computer screen. This is about the speed of future combat and the decisive action that will be needed on the battlefield in the future. War will remain a human endeavor, but our Soldiers will be stressed to exercise judgement and fight at the ever increasing machine speed. The Army must be prepared to enter new ethical territory and make difficult decisions about the creation and employment of cutting edge technologies. While the Army holds itself to a high ethical standard, new converging technologies may come at an ethical cost. Updating guidance, policy, and law must keep up with what is employed on the battlefield. Many of these ethical dilemmas and questions lack definite answers and are ethical considerations that most of our future adversaries are unlikely to consider.

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”!