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.

31. Top Ten Bio Convergence Trends Impacting the Future Operational Environment

As Mad Scientist Laboratory has noted in previous blog posts, War is an intrinsically human endeavor. Rapid innovations in the biological sciences are changing how we work, live, and fight. Drawing on the past two years of Mad Scientist events, we have identified a change in the character of war driven by the exponential convergence of bio, neuro, nano, quantum, and information. This convergence is leading to revolutionary achievements in sensing, data acquisition and retrieval, and computer processing hardware; creating a new environment in which humans must co-evolve with these technologies. Mad Scientist has identified the following top ten bio convergence trends associated with this co-evolution that will directly impact the Future Operational Environment (OE).

1) Bio convergence with advanced computing is happening at the edge. Humans will become part of the network connected through their embedded and worn devices. From transhumanism to theorizing about uploading the brain, the Future OE will not be an internet of things but the internet of everything (including humans).

2) The next 50 years will see an evolution in human society; we will be augmented by Artificial Intelligence (AI), partner with AI in centaur chess fashion, and eventually be eclipsed by AI.


3) This augmentation and enhanced AI partnering will require hyper-connected humans with wearables and eventually embeddables to provide continuous diagnostics and human-machine interface.


4) The Army will need to measure cognitive potential and baseline neural activity of its recruits and Soldiers.




5) The Army needs new training tools to take advantage of neuralplasticity and realize the full cognitive potential of Soldiers. Brain gyms and the promise of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) training sets could accelerate learning and, in some cases, challenge the tyranny of “the 10,000 hour rule.”

6) Human enhancement, the unlocking of the genome, and improving AI will stress the Army’s policies and ethics. In any case, potential adversaries are exploring using all three of these capabilities as a way to gain advantage over U.S. Forces. This is not a 2050 problem but more than likely a 2030 reality.

7) Asymmetric Ethics, where adversaries make choices we will not (e.g., manipulating the DNA of pathogens to target specific genome populations or to breed “super” soldiers) will play a bigger part in the future. This is not new, but will be amplified by future technologies. Bio enhancements will be one of the areas and experimentation is required to determine our vulnerabilities.

8) Cognitive enhancement and attacking the human brain (neurological system) is not science fiction. The U.S. Army should establish a Program Executive Office (PEO) for Soldier Enhancement to bring unity of purpose to a range of possibilities from physical/mental enhancement with wearables, embeddables, stimulants, brain gyms, and exoskeletons.

9) Chemical and bio defense will need to be much more sophisticated on the next battlefield. The twin challenges of democratization and proliferation have resulted in a world where the capability of engineering potentially grave bio-weapons, once only the purview of nation states and advance research institutes and universities, is now available to Super-Empowered Individuals, Violent Non-State Actors (VNSA), and criminal organizations.

10) We are missing the full impact of bio on all emerging trends. We must focus beyond human enhancement and address how bio is impacting materials, computing, and garage level, down scaled innovation.


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 and then watch the live-streamed proceedings, starting at 0840 PST / 1140 EST on 08 March 2018.


Also note that our friends at Small Wars Journal have published the first paper from our series of Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas finalists — enjoy!