121. Emergent Global Trends Impacting on the Future Operational Environment

[Editor’s Note: Regular readers of the Mad Scientist Laboratory are familiar with a number of disruptive trends and their individual and convergent impacts on the Future Operational Environment (OE). In today’s post, we explore three recent publications to expand our understanding of these and additional emergent global trends.  We also solicit your input on any other trends that have the potential to transform the OE and change the character of future warfare.]

The U.S. Army finds itself at a historical inflection point, where disparate, yet related elements of the Operational Environment (OE) are converging, creating a situation where fast-moving trends across the Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic (DIME) spheres are rapidly transforming the nature of all aspects of society and human life – including the character of warfare.” — The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare

Last year, the Mad Scientist Initiative published several products that envisioned these fast-moving trends and how they are transforming the Future OE. These products included our:

• Updated Potential Game Changers information sheet, identifying a host of innovative technologies with the potential to disrupt future warfare during The Era of Accelerated Human Progress (now through 2035) and The Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050).




Black Swans and Pink Flamingos blog post, addressing both Black Swan events (i.e., unknown, unknowns) which, though not likely, might have significant impacts on how we think about warfighting and security; and Pink Flamingos, which are the known, knowns that are often discussed, but ignored by Leaders trapped by organizational cultures and rigid bureaucratic decision-making structures.

With the advent of 2019, three new predictive publications have both confirmed and expanded the Mad Scientist Initiative’s understanding of emergent trends and technologies:

• Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report to Congressional Committees: National Security Long Range Emerging Threats Facing the United States As Identified by Federal Agencies, December 2018

• Deloitte Insights Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Predictions 2019, January 2019

• World Economic Forum (WEF) The Global Risks Report 2019, 14th Edition, January 2019


These three publications collectively confirmed Mad Scientist’s thoughts regarding the disruptive potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Quantum Computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Big Data; and individually echoed our concerns regarding Cyber, Additive Manufacturing, Space and Counterspace, Natural Disasters, and the continuing threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction. That said, the real value of these (and other) predictions is in informing us about the trends we might have missed, and expanding our understanding of those that we were already tracking.

New Insights:

From the GAO Report we learned:

Megacorporations as adversaries. Our list of potential adversaries must expand to include “large companies that have the financial resources and a power base to exert influence on par with or exceeding non-state actors.” Think super-empowered individual(s) enhanced further by the wealth, reach, influence, and cover afforded by a transnational corporation.

The rich population is shrinking, the poor population is not. Working-age populations are shrinking in wealthy countries and in China and Russia, and are growing in developing, poorer countries…. [with] the potential to increase economic, employment, urbanization and welfare pressures, and spur migration.”

Climate change, environment, and health issues will demand attention. More extreme weather, water and soil stress, and food insecurity will disrupt societies. Sea-level rise, ocean acidification, glacial melt, and pollution will change living patterns. Tensions over climate change will grow.”

Internal and International Migration. Governments in megacities … may not have the capacity to provide adequate resources and infrastructure…. Mass migration events may occur and threaten regional stability, undermine governments, and strain U.S. military and civilian responses.”

Infectious Diseases. New and evolving diseases from the natural environment—exacerbated by changes in climate, the movement of people into cities, and global trade and travel—may become a
pandemic. Drug-resistant forms of diseases previously considered treatable could become widespread again…. Diminishing permafrost could expand habitats for pathogens that cause disease.”

From Deloitte Insights Predictions we learned:

Intuitive AI development services may not require specialized knowledge. “Baidu recently released an AI training platform called EZDL that requires no coding experience and works even with small data training sets…. Cloud providers have developed pre-built machine learning APIs [application-programming interfaces] for technologies such as natural language processing that customers can access instead of building their own.”

Cryptocurrency growth may have driven Chinese semiconductor innovation. Chinese chipmakers’ Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), initially designed to meet domestic bitmining demands, may also meet China’s growing demand for AI chipsets vice Graphics Processing Units (GPUs). “Not only could these activities spark more domestic innovation… China just might be positioned to have a larger impact on the next generation of cognitive technologies.”

Quantum-safe security was important yesterday. Malicious adversaries could store classically encrypted information today to decrypt in the future using a QC [Quantum Computer], in a gambit known as a ‘harvest-and-decrypt’ attack.”

From the WEF Report we learned:

This is an increasingly anxious, unhappy, and lonely world. Anger is increasing and empathy appears to be in short supply…. Depression and anxiety disorders increased [globally] between 1990 and 2013…. It is not difficult to imagine such emotional and psychological disruptions having serious diplomatic—and perhaps even military—consequences.”

The risk from biological pathogens is increasing. “Outbreaks since 2000 have been described as a ‘rollcall of near-miss catastrophes’” and they are on the rise. “Biological weapons still have attractions for malicious non-state actors…. it [is] difficult to reliably attribute a biological attack… the direct effects—fatalities and injuries—would be compounded by potentially grave societal and political disruption.”

Use of weather manipulation tools stokes geopolitical tensions. Could be used to disrupt … agriculture or military planning… if states decided unilaterally to use more radical geo-engineering technologies, it could trigger dramatic climatic disruptions.”

Food supply disruption emerges as a tool as geo-economic tensions intensify. Worsening trade wars might spill over into high-stakes threats to disrupt food or agricultural supplies…. Could lead to disruptions of domestic and cross-border flows of food. At the extreme, state or non-state actors could target the crops of an adversary state… with a clandestine biological attack.”

Taps run dry on Water Day Zero. “Population growth, migration, industrialization, climate change, drought, groundwater depletion, weak infrastructure, and poor urban planning” all stress megacities’ ability to meet burgeoning demands, further exacerbating existing urban / rural divides, and could potentially lead to conflicts over remaining supply sources.

What Are We Missing?

The aforementioned trends are by no means comprehensive. Mad Scientist invites our readers to assist us in identifying any other additional emergent global trends that will potentially transform the OE and change the character of future warfare. Please share them with us and our readers by scrolling down to the bottom of this post to the “Leave a Reply” section, entering them in the Comment Box with an accompanying rationale, and then selecting the “Post Comment” button. Thank you in advance for all of your submissions!

If you enjoyed reading these assessments about future trends, please also see the Statement for the Record:  Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, 29 January 2019, from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

71. Shaping Perceptions with Information Operations: Lessons for the Future

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s guest post by Ms. Taylor Galanides, TRADOC G-2 Summer Intern, exploring how the increasing momentum of human interaction, events, and actions, driven by the convergence of innovative technologies, is enabling adversaries to exploit susceptibilities and vulnerabilities to manipulate populations and undermine national interests.  Ms. Galanides examines contemporary Information Operations as a harbinger of virtual warfare in the future Operational Environment.]

More information is available than ever before. Recent and extensive developments in technology, media, communication, and culture – such as the advent of social media, 24-hour news coverage, and smart devices – allow people to closely monitor domestic and foreign affairs. In the coming decades, the increased speed of engagements, as well as the precise and pervasive targeting of both civilian and military populations, means that these populations and their respective nations will be even more vulnerable to influence and manipulation attempts, misinformation, and cyber-attacks from foreign adversaries.

The value of influencing and shaping the perceptions of foreign and domestic populations in order to pursue national and military interests has long been recognized. This can be achieved through the employment of information operations, which seek to affect the decision-making process of adversaries. The U.S. Army views information operations as an instrumental part of the broader effort to maintain an operational advantage over adversaries. Information operations is specifically defined by the U.S. Army as “The integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.”

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2’s The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare further emphasizes this increased attention to the information and cognitive domains in the future – in the Era of Contested Equality (2035 through 2050). As a result, it has been predicted that no single nation will hold hegemony over its adversaries, and major powers and non-state actors alike “… will engage in a fight for information on a global scale.” Winning preemptively in the competitive dimension before escalation into armed conflict through the use of information and psychological warfare will become key.

Source: Becoming Human – Artificial Intelligence Magazine

Part of the driving force that is changing the character of warfare includes the rise of innovative technologies such as computer bots, artificial intelligence, and smart devices. Such emerging and advancing technologies have facilitated the convergence of new susceptibilities to individual and international security; as such, it will become increasingly more important to employ defensive and counter information operations to avoid forming misperceptions or being deceived.

Harbinger of the Future:  Information Operations in Crimea

Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014 effectively serve as cautionary examples of Russia’s evolving information operations and their perception-shaping capabilities. In Crimea, Russia sought to create a “hallucinating fog of war” in an attempt to alter the analytical judgments and perceptions of its adversaries. With the additional help of computer hackers, bots, trolls, and television broadcasts, the Russian government was able to create a manipulated version of reality that claimed Russian intervention in Crimea was not only necessary, but humanitarian, in order to protect Russian speakers. Additionally, Russian cyberespionage efforts included the jamming or shutting down of telecommunication infrastructures, important Ukrainian websites, and cell phones of key officials prior to the invasion. Through the use of large demonstrations called “snap exercises,” the Russians were able to mask military buildups along the border, as well as its political and military intentions. Russia further disguised their intentions and objectives by claiming adherence to international law, while also claiming victimization from the West’s attempts to destabilize, subvert, and undermine their nation.

By denying any involvement in Crimea until after the annexation was complete, distorting the facts surrounding the situation, and refraining from any declaration of war, Russia effectively infiltrated the international information domain and shaped the decision-making process of NATO countries to keep them out of the conflict.  NATO nations ultimately chose minimal intervention despite specific evidence of Russia’s deliberate intervention in order to keep the conflict de-escalated. Despite the West’s refusal to acknowledge the annexation of Crimea, it could be argued that Russia achieved their objective of expanding its sphere of influence.

Vulnerabilities and Considerations

Russia is the U.S.’ current pacing threat, and China is projected to overtake Russia as the Nation’s primary threat as early as 2035. It is important to continue to evaluate the way that the U.S. and its Army respond to adversaries’ increasingly technological attempts to influence, in order to maintain the information and geopolitical superiority of the Nation. For example, the U.S. possesses different moral and ethical standards that restrict the use of information operations. However, because adversarial nations like Russia and China pervasively employ influence and deceptive measures in peacetime, the U.S. and its Army could benefit from developing alternative methods for maintaining an operational advantage against its adversaries.

Adversarial nations can also take advantage of “the [Western] media’s willingness to seek hard evidence and listen to both sides of an argument before coming to a conclusion” by “inserting fabricated or prejudicial information into Western analysis and blocking access to evidence.” The West’s free press will continue to be the primary counter to constructed narratives. Additionally, extensive training of U.S. military and Government personnel, in conjunction with educating its civilian population about Russia and China’s deceitful narratives may decrease the likelihood of perceptions being manipulated:  “If the nation can teach the media to scrutinize the obvious, understand the military, and appreciate the nuances of deception, it may become less vulnerable to deception.” Other ways to exploit Russian and Chinese vulnerabilities could include taking advantage of poor operations security, as well as the use and analysis of geotags to refute and discredit Russian and Chinese propaganda narratives.

A final consideration involves the formation of an interagency committee, similar to the Active Measures Working Group from the 1980s, for the identification and countering of adversarial disinformation and propaganda. The coordination of the disinformation efforts by manipulative countries like Russia is pervasive and exhaustive. Thus, coordination of information operations and counter-propaganda efforts is likewise important between the U.S. Government, the Army, and the rest of the branches of the military. The passing of the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act, part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, was an important first step in the continuing fight to counter foreign information and influence operations that seek to manipulate the U.S. and its decision-makers and undermine its national interests.

For more information on how adversaries will seek to shape perception in the Future Operational Environment, read the following related blog posts:

Influence at Machine Speed: The Coming of AI-Powered Propaganda

Virtual War – A Revolution in Human Affairs (Part I)

Personalized Warfare

Taylor Galanides is a Junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying Psychology. She is currently interning at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the G-2 Futures team.