140. A Closer Look at China’s Strategies for Innovation: Questioning True Intent

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s guest blog post by Ms. Cindy Hurst, addressing China’s continued drive for dominance regarding innovative technologies.  The asymmetry in ethics existing between their benign and altruistic publicly stated policies and their whole-of-government commitment to modernization and the development of disruptive technologies will remain a key component of multi-domain competition.]

One of China’s most important initiatives is to become an innovative society — but at what cost? In February, the Center for New American Security published a paper, entitled Understanding China’s AI Strategy: Clues to Chinese Strategic Thinking on Artificial Intelligence and National Security. Its author, Gregory Allen, explains that the Chinese government sees Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a “high strategic priority” and is therefore devoting resources “to cultivate AI expertise and strategic thinking among its national security community.” He further urges careful tracking of China’s progress in AI.

Indeed, it would behoove the West to stay abreast of what China is doing in the areas of AI, and not just militarily, but in all areas since there is a clear overlap of civilian and military applications. According to countless official statements, publications, and strategic plans, such as the 13th Five-Year National Science and Technology Innovation Plan, China has placed great emphasis on developing AI, along with other cutting edge technologies, which it views as “majorly influential disruptive technologies” that are capable of altering “the structure of science and technology, the economy, society, and the ecology, to win a competitive advantage in the new round of industry transformation.” 1

Know your enemy and know yourself and in 100 battles you will not be in peril” is one of the key principles of Sun Tzu. The compelling reasons for China’s goals to become a strong global force can easily be explained by understanding its past history and ancient strategies, which are still studied today. The Middle Kingdom had been touted as having once been a seafaring power with a past of contributing world-class innovation at different points over its 5,000 year history. More recently, during the 19th and 20th centuries, China endured what it refers to as the “century of humiliation” — a period in which it was carved up by Western forces during the Opium Wars and then pummeled by Japanese forces in the 1930s.

After the Communist Party’s defeat of the Kuomintang, who retreated to Taiwan, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Since then, the country has vowed to never again be vulnerable to outside forces. They would press forward, making their own path, suffering bumps and bruises along the way. However, it was the United States’ crushing defeat of Iraqi forces during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 that served as the real wakeup call that China lagged far behind Western forces in military capabilities. Since then, generals working at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing and others have studied every aspect of the U.S. revolution in military affairs, including advances in microprocessors, sensors, communication, and Joint operations.2

In its efforts to try to make some headway in technology, China has been accused of stealing massive amounts of foreign intellectual property over the past few decades. Their methodology has included acquisition and reverse engineering, participating in joint ventures sharing research and development, spying, and hacking into government and corporate computer systems. According to a report by CNBC, one in five North American-based corporations on the CNBC Global CFO Council claimed that Chinese companies had stolen their intellectual property within the last year.3 Such thefts and acquisitions make it easier for China to catch up on technology at a low-cost. While the United States spends billions of dollars in research and development, China also benefits without having to expend similar amounts of capital.

Artificial intelligence, quantum information, and Internet of Things are three examples of disruptive technologies shaping the future and in which China aspires to one day have a large or controlling stake. In his speech delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2017, President Xi Jinping stated that “innovation is the primary driving force behind development” and “it is the strategic underpinning for building a modernized economy.”4

However, while Xi and other Chinese officials outwardly push for international cooperation in AI technology, their efforts and methods have raised concern among some analysts. China openly promotes international cooperation in research and development. However, one might consider possible alternative intentions in trying to push for international cooperation. For example, in Allen’s article, he explains that Fu Ying, the Vice-Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress had stated that “we should cooperate to preemptively prevent the threat of AI.” Fu further said that China was interested in “playing a leading role in creating norms to mitigate” the risks. A PLA think-tank scholar reportedly expressed support for “mechanisms that are similar to arms control.”5 How sincere are the Chinese in this sentiment? Should it join forces with foreign states to come up with control mechanisms, would China abide by these mechanisms or act in secret, continuing their forward momentum to gain the edge? After all, if both China and the United States, for example, ended up on an even playing field, it would run counter to China’s objectives, if one subscribes to the concept as outlined by Michael Pillsbury in his book, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower.

While China’s spoken objectives might be sincere, it is prudent to continually review a few of the ancient strategies/stratagems developed during the warring states period, still studied in China today and applied. Some examples include:

1. Cross the sea without the emperor’s knowledge: Hide your true intentions by using the ruse of fake intentions… until you achieve your real intentions.

2. Kill with a borrowed sword: Use the enemy’s strength against them or the strength of another to conquer your enemy.

3. Hide a dagger behind a smile: charm and ingratiate your enemy until you have gained his trust… and then move against him in secret.

In his article, Allen cites a recent Artificial Intelligence Security White Paper, written by “an influential Chinese government think tank,” calling upon China’s government to “avoid Artificial Intelligence arms races among countries” adding that China will “deepen international cooperation on AI laws and regulations, international rules, and so on…” However, as Allen points out, “China’s behavior of aggressively developing, utilizing, and exporting increasingly autonomous robotic weapons and surveillance AI technology runs counter to the country’s stated goals of avoiding an AI arms race.” China may have good intentions. However, its opaque nature breeds skepticism.

Another interesting point to expand upon and that Allen touched upon in his article are the effects of disruptive technologies on societies. According to a Chinese think tank scholar, “China believes that the United States is likely to spend too much to maintain and upgrade mature systems and underinvest in disruptive new systems that make America’s existing sources of advantage vulnerable and obsolete…” When considering the Chinese stratagem, “Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree,” it is easy to argue that China will not be easily swayed from developing disruptive technologies, despite possible repercussions and damaging effects. For example, the development of autonomous systems results in unemployment and a steep learning curve. It is inherent in Chinese culture to sacrifice short-term objectives in order to obtain long-term goals. Sustaining initial, short-term repercussions are necessary before China can achieve some of its long-term production goals. Allen explains, “modernization is a top priority, and there is a general understanding that many of its current platforms and approaches are obsolete and must be replaced regardless.”

Particularly intriguing in Allen’s article is his discussion of SenseTime, which is a “world leader in computer vision AI.” The author states that “China’s government and leadership is enthusiastic about using AI for surveillance.” He goes on to say that one Chinese scholar had told him that he “looks forward to a world in AI” in which it will be “impossible to commit a crime without being caught.” While this may seem like an ideal scenario, given the technology is put into the hands of a level-headed and fair law enforcement agency; should it be turned over to an authoritarian dictatorship, such a technology could prove to be disastrous to private citizens. Government control and scare tactics could further suppress their citizens’ basic rights and freedoms.

In conclusion, while China openly pushes the concept of its modernization efforts as a win-win, peaceful development strategy — a careful study of Chinese strategies that have been around for millennia may point to a different scenario, bringing skepticism into the equation. It would be easy to fall prey to an ideology that preaches peace, mutual development, and mutual respect. However, it is important to ask the following two questions: “Is this real?” and “What, if anything, are their ulterior motives?”

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

China’s Drive for Innovation Dominance

Quantum Surprise on the Battlefield?

Cindy Hurst is a research analyst under contract for the Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Her focus has been primarily on China, with a recent emphasis on research and development, China’s global expansion efforts, and Chinese military strategy. She has published nearly three dozen major papers and countless articles in a variety of journals, magazines, and online venues.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this article are Ms. Hurst’s alone and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.  This piece is meant to be thought-provoking and does not reflect the current position of the U.S. Army.


1 “Notice of the State Council Regarding the Issuance of the 13th Five-Year National Science and Technology Innovation Plan, State Council Issuance (2016) No. 43, 28 March 2017, http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2016-08/08/content_5098072.htm.

2 “Neither War Nor Peace,” The Economist, 25 January 2018, https://www.economist.com/special-report/2018/01/25/neither-war-nor-peace.

3 Eric Rosenbaum, “1 in 5 Corporations Say China Has Stolen Their IP within the Last Year: CNBC CFO Survey,” CNBC, 1 March 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/28/1-in-5-companies-say-china-stole-their-ip-within-the-last-year-cnbc.html.

4 Xi Jinping, “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” Transcript of speech delivered at the 19th National Congress of the communist Party of China, 18 October 2017.

5 Gregory Allen, “Understanding China’s AI Strategy,” Center for a New American Security, 6 February 2019, https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/understanding-chinas-ai-strategy.

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.

137. What’s in a Touch? Lessons from the Edge of Electronic Interface

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s guest blog post by Dr. Brian Holmes, exploring the threats associated with adaptive technologies and how nefarious actors can morph benign technological innovations into new, more sinister applications.  The three technological trends of democratization, convergence, and asymmetrical ethics portend a plethora of dystopian scenarios for the Future Operational Environment.  Dr. Holmes imagines how advances in prosthetic R&D could be manipulated to augment advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, providing a sense of touch to realize more lifelike lethal autonomous weapons systems — Enjoy!]

Somewhere in a near parallel, fictional universe –

Parallel Universes / Source:  Max Pixel

Dr. Sandy Votel is an Associate Professor and researcher at a military defense school in the U.S.  She has a diverse career that includes experience in defense and private laboratories researching bleeding edge biological science. For eight years, she served as an intelligence officer in the military reserves. Ten years ago she decided to join a defense school as a graduate research professor.

Dr. Mark Smith is a new Assistant Professor at her School. He just graduated with his Ph.D. before accepting his academic position. Sandy, Mark’s mentor, is explaining the finer details of her team’s research during Mark’s first week on the job.

Sandy began by explaining to Mark what her post-doc was investigating –

He’s researching the fundamental materials required for electronic skin,” she said.

“Cyborg” / Source: R.E. Barber Photography via Flickr

After a pause, Sandy followed up by posing this hackneyed question, “Is it wrong that I am helping to create one small slice of a yet to be made front line cyborg, or, a bioengineered replicant spy of the kind played out in popular Hollywood movies?” Her smirk quickly followed. Westerners were practically conditioned to make comments like that.

 

The Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL) / Source: U.S. Navy via Flickr

Her colleague Mark immediately replied, “It’s more likely this kind of technology could someday help battlefield soldiers or civilians who have lost fingers, toes, or limbs. They might be able to touch or feel again in some new manner through the interface. The material could be embedded into some sort of artificial prosthetic, and electronically connected to receptors feeding the information to and from your brain. Imagine the possibilities! Any interest in collaborating? We should push the boundaries here!

Sandy knew that the early stage research was intended for the most benevolent of reasons – personalized health care and disposable electronic sensors to name a few – but the creative futurist in her, heavily influenced by years evaluating the more disturbing side of humanity as an intelligence officer, suddenly made her pause. After all, she saw the realized threat from adaptive technologies daily when she logged into her computer system each drill weekend.

A drawing of the character Deckard by Canosard, from the film Blade Runner (Warner Bros., 1982) / Source: DeviantArt

She’d also seen wildly creative science fiction writers’ draft ideas into reality. Sandy loved reading science fiction novels and watched every movie or show that resulted. As a child, she was amazed when Rick Deckard, from the movie Blade Runner, inserted a photograph into a machine that scanned it and allowed him to enhance the resolution enough to observe finite details embedded in thousands of pixels. Like most of the general public, she used to think that was impossible! Oh, how times have changed.

Sandy walked back into her office, scanned her email and focused on an article her department chair had sent to the entire workforce to evaluate. She suddenly stood back in shock, and immediately connected the disturbing news with elements she recalled from history.

Dr. Josef Mengele / Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Decades before Blade Runner came out in the cinema, the modern boundaries of science and human subject experimentation were torn asunder by the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele in the 1940’s. The “Angel of Death” was a German anthropologist and medical doctor who researched genetics in school and conducted horrific experiments on humans in Auschwitz as an SS officer.

Dr. He Jiankui / Source:  Wikimedia Commons

According to the article she just read, China’s Dr. He Jiankui, a biophysicist educated in China and the United States, shocked the world by pushing the limits of ethical genetic research by editing the genes of human embryos.

In each case, conflict or culture induced them to perform world changing science, resulting in not only global condemnation, but also the re-birth of knowledge with dual purpose. Sandy knew that history dictates a repetition of bad activities like these, performed in unpredictable scenarios set in a deep, dark, dystopian future.

Sandy’s realization hastened further reflection.

Cyborgs / Source: Pixabay

A significant number of studies have documented the emotional and physical benefits derived from touch. The research suggests that touch is fundamental to human communication, health, and bonding. If this is true, not only will advanced levels of artificial intelligence, or “AI”, require coding enabling learning and empathy, but the bioengineered system the AI is directing will necessitate a sense of touch to mimic a more lifelike cyborg. Passive sensors are only as good as physics allows them to be, or as great as the signal to noise levels dictate in a dirty environment. Touch, however, conveys something different… something far more real.

AI mimicking human visage / Source: Max Pixel

Sandy knew that most futuristic battlefield articles now center on today’s technology du jour, artificial intelligence. There’s no question that AI will serve as the brain center for individual or centralized networks of future machines; but to make them more human and adaptable to the battlefield of tomorrow as indistinguishable soldiers or undetectable HUMINT assets — subtler pieces are required to complete the puzzle.

Imagine hundreds or thousands of manufactured assets programmed for clandestine military operations, or covert activities that look, act, and feel like us?” she thought.

Weapons can be embedded into robotic systems, coding and software improved to the point of winning challenging board games, but it’s the bioengineers with duplicitous purposes and far too much imagination that hold the real key to the soldier of the future; specifically, the soldiers that replace, infiltrate, or battle us.

Nefarious actors adapting benign technological innovations into new, more sinister applications…

It’s happened before, and it will happen again!” she said out loud, accidentally.

Mark, who happened to be walking past her door, asked if everything was alright. Sandy nodded, but finished this thought as soon as he left her view.

Unfortunately, the key that unlocks the occurrence of these secrets exists in a faraway place, under duress, and without rules. If the military is worried about the Deep Future, we should be analyzing the scenarios that enable these kinds of creative paradigms.”

After all, it’s all in a touch. 

If you enjoyed this post, please:

– Read the Mad Scientist Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference Final Report.

Review the following blog posts:

Ethical Dilemmas of Future Warfare, and

Envisioning Future Operational Environment Possibilities through Story Telling.

– See our compendium of 23 submissions from the 2017 Mad Scientist Science Fiction Contest at Science Fiction: Visioning the Future of Warfare 2030-2050.

Crank up I Am Robot by The Phenomenauts (who?!?)

Dr. Brian Holmes is the Dean of the Anthony G. Oettinger School of Science and Technology Intelligence at the National Intelligence University in Bethesda, MD.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are Dr. Holmes’ alone and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Army, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, its component organizations, or the U.S. Government.  This piece is meant to be thought-provoking and does not reflect the current position of the U.S. Army.

 

136. Future Threats: Climate Change and Islamic Terror

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory welcomes back returning guest blogger Mr. Matthew Ader, whose cautionary post warns of the potential convergence of Islamic terrorism and climate change activism, possibly resonating with western populations that have not been (to date) predisposed to listening to their messaging. (Note:  Some of the embedded links in this post are best accessed using non-DoD networks.)]

Source:  NASA

Climate change is increasingly being viewed not only as an ecological or economic concern, but as a direct security threat. It both endangers vital coastal infrastructure through sea level rise and multiplies existing issues of food insecurity and migration. However, in these analyses, one issue in particular is missed – the likely emergence of transnational terrorist networks which fuse climate grievance with Islamic terrorism.

Earth Liberation Front (ELF) logo / Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ecologically inspired terrorism is, of course, hardly a new concept. There are tens of ecoterrorist organisations, and some have gained substantial notoriety. The model example of this is the Earth Liberation Front, which was highly active in the early 2000s. However, because they tend to operate in developed nations, these groups generally lack the safe areas and large, disenfranchised recruiting bases which empower terrorists elsewhere.

Ecoterrorism, however, is not limited to the developed world – for example, two years ago, an ecoterrorist group detonated a makeshift bomb in Brazil. As the impact of climate change grows ever more severe in the developing world, it is probable that there will be more direct climate-change inspired terrorism. This is especially likely given that the populations of developing nations are increasingly connected to the international information infrastructure – allowing more widespread comprehension of climate change as a global phenomenon with roots in western nations.

Map of the Earth with a six-meter sea level rise represented in red / Source:  NASA

These threats pose a new dimension to the terrorist threat. But what is more worrying is the potential for the infection of ecoterrorist groups by radical Islamic terrorist organisations.

Islam contains a strong thread of environmental stewardship. This is not a call for violence in protection of the Earth, but it has already been exploited by radical groups – for example, Al Shabaab banning plastic bags or the Taliban’s endorsement of afforestation. This gives the groups legitimacy in their area of operations. As climate change worsens and grievance intensifies, it is highly likely that this vein of stewardship of the Earth will strengthen in Islamic terrorist propaganda – both as a way of reinforcing legitimacy and to gain recruits or support.

If radical Islamic terrorists can harness climate change grievance, then the threat they offer against western interests increases substantially. This is for three key reasons:

Image from Islamic State propaganda video / Source:  Wikipedia

Firstly, Islamic terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or Daesh tend to have relatively developed infrastructure for propaganda and training. While U.S.-led counterterror operations have proven effective in reducing the threat they pose, the carnage in the Bataclan, Manchester Arena, and Nice – to name but a few incidents – clearly indicate that Islamic terrorists can still mount both expeditionary and homegrown terrorist attacks.

Improvised Explosive Device (IED) / Source:  IDF – Wikimedia Commons

Secondly, Islamic terrorist groups have subject matter expertise regarding explosives and strong links with IED supplier networks. The aforementioned Brazilian ecoterrorist group failed to inflict casualties with their crude bomb. If equipped with military-grade high explosive, of the type used by more ‘professional’ terrorist organisations, then the attack could have been much more devastating.

 

Thirdly, the audience for radical, violent Islamic teaching is very small, and much of it is in the Middle East. The audience for climate grievance is far larger – 70% of Americans aged 18-34 worry a great deal or a fair amount about climate change – and global. This is obviously not to suggest that all climate change activists or people concerned about it are putative terrorists.

People’s Climate March 2017 in Washington DC / Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, if even 1 in a 1000 of that American number were willing to take more robust action – such as giving support to terrorists, or even carrying out attacks themselves – it would comprise a support base of approximately 47,200 people. That presents a significant threat, only made worse by the ‘moral fairness’ of climate terrorism – attacking the U.S. for vague oppression of Muslims plays differently in media and politics than attacking the U.S. because of its very real role as one of the world’s largest polluters.

This is of course a brief overview. However, the possibility of a hybridisation of climate change grievance and radical Islamic terrorism is too dangerous to ignore. More research is required, and urgently, to ascertain the extent of the risk and find ways to mitigate it. The world community was practically blindsided by the emergence of Al Qaeda. It would be unacceptably irresponsible to let such a failure happen again.

If you enjoyed this post, please also:

Read Mr. Ader‘s previously published blog posts:

War Laid Bare

Decision in the 21st Century

– See Dr. Gary Ackerman‘s presentation and slide deck on “Non-State actors and their uses of emerging technologies” from the Mad Scientist Robotics, Artificial Intelligence & Autonomy Conference, facilitated at Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), on 7-8 March 2017.

– Review the following additional blog posts:

Trouble in Paradise: The Technological Upheaval of Modern Political and Economic Systems, by Ms. Marie Murphy, and

Emergent Threat Posed by Super-Empowered Individuals.

Crank up Neil Young‘s Mother Earth!

Mr. Matthew Ader is a first-year undergraduate taking War Studies at King’s College London.

Disclaimer: Mr. Ader is not affiliated with U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Army, or the U.S. Government. This piece is meant to be thought-provoking and does not reflect the current position of the U.S. Army.

135. Enabling Future Game Changing Capabilities with Mobile Nuclear Power

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s post by guest blogger Dr. Juan Vitali, addressing how Mobile Nuclear Power Plants can contribute significantly to the Army’s future power requirements in support of Multi-Domain Operations.]

Energy is a cross cutting requirement for modern warfare. Electrical energy is essential to achieve several strategic capabilities and to operate many tactical systems. Electricity to attain strategic outcomes and to maintain the tactical edge comes at a cost, with ever-increasing amounts of liquid fuel needed for electrical generation. As future battlefield capabilities develop, fuel demand trends are expected to grow by over 30 percent.i A secondary thought on power generation is its constraining effect on new capability developments that are typically designed around existing power plant availability, size, and generation limits.

The U.S. Army’s Mobile Low-Power First Generation (ML-1) MNPP from the early 1960s

The Army recognized this issue in the 1960s and began development of a Mobile Nuclear Power Plant (MNPP) for deployed forces. Energy dense nuclear fuel would displace liquid fuel, providing the needed electrical generation capability for theater assets, while displacing fuel that could enable maneuver force reach. This concept is perhaps more valid today to support Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). Modern concepts of warfare such as MDO require increasing mobility and dispersion of combat forces in responding to current and future threats. This requires units to be capable of long periods of independent operation.

Elements of TF Spartan, 155th ABCT on live fire exercise near Alexandria, Egypt (Sgt. James Lefty Larimer/Army)

The difficulty of maintaining adequate fuel supplies over extended distances in a combat theater may hamper or halt maneuver forces far more effectively than any action taken by the enemy. Concepts, such as mobile nuclear power, enable fuel focus forward to support the warfighter and combat platforms while supplying the requisite power to sustain support areas.

Theater sustainment electrical generation requirements will need fuel to operate conventional prime power plants supporting theater entry, operations, and sustainment. Theater fuel requirements to provide electrical power for units/capabilities/infrastructure at echelons above division are significant. During any conflict, successful attacks on friendly infrastructure will require large amounts of electrical power to re-establish theater offensive, defensive, and sustainment capabilities such as radars, ports, airfields, logistics nodes, and transportation networks damaged by enemy attack (for both follow-on force Reception, Staging, Onward movement and Integration [RSOI] and sustainment). Examples from WWII are numerous but notably include the 1944 restoration of critical European ports destroyed by kinetic attacks. This necessitated the U.S. Army bringing multiple, large, megawatt (MW)-level mobile power plants on-line, each requiring over 22,000 gallons of fuel per dayii – fuel that could have supported maneuver forces such as the fuel starved Third Army. Focusing fuel to the point of need is vital for overall sustainment at scale enabling Multi-Domain Operations.

Modern technology has taken both nuclear reactor design and safety, as well as supporting power generation a long way since the initial Army foray into nuclear power in the early 1960s. Improved and inherently safe gas-cooled reactor designs have evolved, eliminating many of the safety issues associated with complex, legacy, water-cooled reactors. Use of encapsulated fuels that are designed to prevent the release of volatiles reduces/eliminates the threat of a radioactive plume if successfully attacked, or their utility for employment in a ‘dirty bomb’. Modern, multi-MW MNPP designs can be small and light enough for air transport by C-17, easily camouflaged, and can rapidly provide large amounts of power to meet theater electrical prime power needs, without the need for continuously moving large amounts of fuel.

While such a capability supports the current operating environment, it is in shaping the future operating environment (2025 and beyond) that the MNPP has its greatest utility. The ability to provide large MW-level amounts of power provides options for future weapons designers. While directed energy (DE) and electric weapons (EM Cannon/Rail Gun) come to mind first, other opportunities for expanded capabilities abound. Adequate power is available for options such as vehicle electric drive and/or beaming power to remote/forward locations, further enhancing distributed operations and survivability. This capability, in turn, can support other future capabilities such as EW jamming or replenishment of forward area electric vehicles or aircraft. An MNPP providing reliable, clean power for sensors, such as radars, in remote locations reduces resupply exposure, while supporting offensive and defensive operations over extended periods of time. Protection of non-mobile sites such as airfields, ports, or other logistics nodes is enhanced by MW-level laser/DE weapons capable of defending against ballistic or hypersonic missile attack. The ability to have large amounts of electrical power can also support future long-range attack capabilities such as electric cannons. Future logistics capabilities are enhanced, too. MNPP-levels of power would easily support desalinization/water purification, additive manufacturing, on-site fuel production and other capabilities technically possible now but dependent on large amounts of power. Lastly, enabling power resiliency by rapid reconstitution of electrical generation capability supporting the commercial power grid and its support functions (e.g., electric rail transport network, hospitals, etc.) is also possible following a deliberate attack or natural disaster.

Developing an MNPP today is not only possible given existing technologies and materials but also essential for maintaining technological dominance and sustainment at scale. Modern designs and fuels provide the needed safety for operating in a military environment while eliminating or reducing the risks associated with legacy water-cooled reactors. Large scale electric generation supporting functions and facilities at echelons above division allow displacement of fuel to focus and support fuel forward – allowing greater maneuver and reach of forward forces in the MDO fight, while enabling next generation design of types of electric lethality and mobility capabilities needed for 21st century warfare. Every one of us is part of this evolution and the construction of the future force to ensure the Army is ready, lethal, and prepared in any domain, anytime, and anywhere.

If you enjoyed this post, please also see:

Mobile Low-Power First Generation (ML-1) MNPP video from the early 1960s, demonstrating the Army’s enduring requirement for this capability.

Small Portable Nuclear Reactor video from the Los Alamos National Lab.

Potential Game Changers information paper, downloadable from the MadSci APAN site.

Study on the use of Mobile Nuclear Power Plants for Ground Operations report from the Deputy Chief of Staff G-4, U.S. Army, 26 October 2018.

… and crank up Blondie‘s Atomic!

Dr. Juan Vitali is an MNPP subject matter expert. He has a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering, Cum Laude, a Master of Engineering in Nuclear Engineering, and a Ph. D. in Nuclear and Engineering Physics, all from the University of Florida; and a Master of Science in National Security and Resource Strategy from the Eisenhower School, National Defense University. He is also a Senior Executive Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.


i Fowler KM, A Colotelo, D Appriou and JL Downs. 2018. Future Contingency Base Operational Energy Concepts to Support Multi-Domain Operations. PNNL-27661 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington. [Limited Distribution].

ii USACE Baltimore. 2014. Army Nuclear Power Program, 1969.  Video accessed on August 18, 2018 at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPWDMHH4rY4

 

134. On Hype and Hyperwar

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by Collin Meisel and returning guest blogger Dr. Jonathan D. Moyer, both of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures. Eschewing another discussion of disruptive emergent technologies, Mr. Meisel and Dr. Moyer instead focus on persistent global trends that, while perhaps not as sexy as artificial intelligence or quantum computing, are just as relevant to warfighters preparing for competition and conflict with potential adversaries in the Future Operational Environment!]

Too often, discussion of the Future Operational Environment (FOE) is filled with science fiction-inspired speculation of a world driven by the likes of quantum artificial intelligence (AI) and “self-constructing robotic ‘cyburgs’”. While these and similar potential technological developments are entertaining—and even useful to ponder—we should not let them distract us from less sensational but also consequential trends that are sure to transform the FOE in the coming decades, such as persistent demographic and economic shifts among great powers and the developing world. In other words, let’s take the “hype” out of hyperwar (i.e., a possible future where AI calls the shots on the battlefield).

For example, as a common feature of proposed hyperwar scenarios, quantum computing is often portrayed as both a force multiplier and boogeyman of the future despite its well-known fragility, stunted development, and potentially insurmountable limitations. Indeed, predictions of a soon-to-arrive quantum code-cracking menace are pure fiction. Similarly, despite predictions of the AI singularity—the hypothetical moment when AI surpasses human intelligence and subsequent advances presumably occur exponentially—AI, too, has its limitations.

Rather than speculating about what could become of these much-hyped technological developments, a more productive use of time is to consider, for example, the serious threat that more limited versions of quantum computing and AI might still pose in, say, the hands of a declining China. Even as it rises, China is up against long-term, persistent trends—such as a forthcoming shrinking population and the predicament of aging before it gets rich—that are sure to impact geopolitics in East Asia and beyond as the Chinese Communist Party, which in part justifies its one-party rule by continued prosperity, clings to power. Indeed, this is a foreseeable, understandable future—the opposite of hype and speculation.

As another increasingly important geopolitical player, India faces its own set of structural shifts in a direction much different from that of China. With relatively high birth rates and lower death rates compared to China, India’s  population will likely continue to rise—and, in part, drive economic growth—as its counterpart to the northeast begins to wither. While these forecasts are of one possible future, their consistency with trends over the last half-century suggests that policymakers in the United States and elsewhere should be preparing for such a world. And what of other persistent demographic trends? Although we cannot know for certain what Africa’s growth to nearly one-third of the world’s population by 2060 will mean in light of Europe’s simultaneous contraction, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that such a demographic shift is likely to happen given persistent global trends. Again, these are understandable futures; they are what is and has been happening, not hype.

Using the freely-available, open-source International Futures tool, we and our colleagues at the Pardee Center for International Futures are working with the Army Future Studies Group (AFSG) to think about long-term futures by examining these and other persistent trends in areas ranging from material power to natural systems. For example, AFSG fellows are asked to think about the planet’s water systems, impending water shortages across regions like Central and Western Asia and Northern Africa, and what they might mean for regional development and potential conflicts. While study of these less buzz-worthy trends may not tell the Army how it will be fighting wars of the future, it can at least help forecast trends that point to where and with whom.

Demographic transitions and shrinking aquifers may not have the same pizzazz as warfare at the speed of thought and other elements of the AI battlefield, but they possess equal potential to transform the FOE in fundamental ways. More importantly, these less sensational but persistent structural shifts can be considered in combination to develop plausible, understandable future scenarios—not science fiction fantasy. To be clear, hyperwar and its accompanying technologies still deserve attention, so long as those considering them do not get caught up in the hype. The goal of futures studies should be to strive towards a more understandable future—then we can worry about Elon Musk and the impending AI apocalypse.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please also see:

Building Capacity to Think about the Future, by Drs.  Jonathan D. Moyer and Christopher Rice and Mr. Alex Porter.

Long Term Trends and Some Implications of Decreasing Global Interdependence, by Dr. Moyer, presented at the Mad Scientist Strategic Security Environment in 2050 Conference at Georgetown University, 8-9 August 2016.

Extended Trends Impacting the Future Operational Environment, excerpted from the aforementioned Mad Scientist Conference’s final report.

Emergent Global Trends Impacting on the Future Operational Environment, reviewing three additional sources that help us to understand new trends and technologies affecting the FOE.

 Making the Future More Personal: The Oft-Forgotten Human Driver in Future’s Analysis, by Mr. Andrew Sullivan, addressing the paramount disruptor — people and ideas.

… and crank up R.E.M.‘s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)!

Collin Meisel is a Research Associate at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures and a former U.S. Air Force Security Forces member.

Dr. Jonathan D. Moyer is Assistant Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures.

133. “Back (and Forward) to the Future IV” and What We Have and Haven’t Learned

[Editor’s Note: Returning guest blogger Frank Prautzsch peers 34 years into the past to explore how the blockbuster film “Back to the Future” and its sequels portrayed a number of fantastic technologies that have since evolved from pure science fiction into reality in 2019; then looks forward a similar number of years to envision future technological possibilities in 2053. Enjoy Mr. Prautzsch’s post and dare to “live outside-of-the-box” and imagine the true edge cases of the possible!]

On 3 July 1985, writer/producers Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale first brought Marty McFly and Doc Brown to the big screen in the amazing hit “Back to the Future.” Younger generations will need to stream this motion picture for themselves to learn about technological vision in the Reagan era, while taking a glimpse at social norms and life in 1955. With all the thrills of science fiction and time travel, we munched on popcorn, witnessing nothing short of the bizarre in fictional technology and science. This motion picture was such a success that two sequels followed in 1989 and 1990.

Such motion pictures were more than entertainment; they pulled on our technical imagination and eventually on our goals to attain these technologies. As Mad Scientists, we often don’t want to profess a deep or incisive long shot at futuristic technology for fear of ridicule… of being wrong… or of disbelief in ourselves… and we continue to second guess our imagination, rather than offer our vision of the future. Are the visionaries confined to Hollywood? It is important for planners and strategic thinkers alike to not just “think out-of-the-box” but to “LIVE there.” Every Mad Scientist’s artwork should get an “F” for staying inside the lines!

As we look in the rear-view mirror at “Back to the Future” from 2019, 34 years have passed. As we look “Ahead to the Future,” 34 years from now, today’s chronological apex places us at the controls and gadgets of the 2053 warfighter.  2019 is a dividing and divining point between the past and the future. Why all this build up? Notably, all of the technologies from “Back the Future” either exist or are in the progress of existing… including “time” travel.

Here are some tangible examples today which were irrational in 1985:

a. The Flying DeLorean. While it looks positively nothing like the original, DeLorean Aerospace LLC developed the DLC-7 flying car. At nearly 20 ft. long and 18 ft. wide, this craft has auto-stow wings that allow the car to occupy the family garage.

 

b. The Hoverboard. The Arca Aerospace Corporation‘s ArcaBoard harnesses ducted electric fans generating 272 horsepower to carry a 180 lb. pilot at 12.5 mph.

 

c. Self-Lacing Sneakers. Motivated by both this subject motion picture and the needs of the handicapped, Nike Corporation developed self-lacing sneakers. Albeit pricey, such sneakers were magical 34 years ago, and now they are a commodity.

 

 

d. Time Travel. While the ability to conduct time reversal in nature is still unattained, a team of scientists led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory explored this question in a first-of-its-kind experiment, managing to return a computer briefly to the past. The results, published March 13 of this year in the journal Nature‘s Scientific Reports, suggests new paths for exploring the backward flow of time in quantum systems. They also open new possibilities for quantum computer program testing and error correction. Additional work at IBM verifies that photons in a quantum state can occupy two realities at the same time.

 

e. The Cubs Winning the World’s Series. After beating the Cleveland Indians 8-7 and winning three straight games, the Chicago Cubs officially put an end to their 108-year title drought during Game 7 of the 2016 MLB World Series.

From Nov 8-11, 2018, an independent survey of 2,201 adults, found that 71 percent said that they’d be likely to watch another outing of Marty McFly and Doc Brown, ahead of other franchises such as Pixar’s Toy Story (69 percent), Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones (68 percent), and Universal’s Jurassic Park (67 percent).1 There is a visionary technology nerd trapped in all of us. So why not a Tetralogy? With the same angst of the future, the producers and writers of the previous trilogy series don’t desire to mess with success.

While the Mad Scientist community remains visionary regarding warfare and weapons systems, by 2054, virtually any platform or system will be of commercial origin. In his bestselling book, Norman Augustine (the former President and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation) highlights his “Laws” about business management and government procurements. Similar cost growth ramps will likely apply to Army platforms. From the beginnings of tactical aircraft until today, the cost of an aircraft has increased four-fold every 10 years.

Augustine professes that LAW NUMBER XVI applies:

“In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one aircraft. The aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy. 3 ½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.”2

As we stand in 2019 and gaze forward to 2053, the following point technologies may be more than the script for “Back to the Future IV.” Should Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale elect to change their minds and write “Back to the Future IV…The Tetralogy,” the following are just some (but by no means all) of the key commercial technical attributes of our 2053 world:

a. 8G in-situ, ultra-high speed, real time mobile connectivity and all sensory immersion at the edge.

b. Wireless high capacity, high efficiency, medium and high tension power distribution using Zenneck waves.

c. Green 100 mAh to 5 MW Batteries, energy harvesting, and mass storage that require little or no recharge and last until load device obsolescence.

d. Personal, Service-based, and Business Flying Cars and Jetpacks.

e. “Supersonic-plus” intercontinental flight.

f. Night vision eyeglasses, lasik-like night vision implants and contact lenses.

g. Quantum and organic computer augmentation and Quantum networks for Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence, Cyber, and Cyborg functions.

h. Robotic Cyber and counter-Cyber Operations.

i. Quantum Entanglement algorithms for prediction, interaction, and discovery management for new materials, chemicals, medicines, sensing, encryption, communications, information teleportation, and hybrid periodic elements.

j. Multi-domain unmanned and collaborative AI systems that fly, loiter, swim, drive, submerge, and multi-sense persistently (with some that do all of these functions).

k. Printed and stem cell vacuum grown replaceable bones, organs, muscles and skin.

l. Tailored immunotherapy pathogen disease treatment and recovery (including cancer).

m. Tailored-dose printed medicines with robotic dose delivery.

n. Ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) and sensor environments, with human privacy only achieved through electronic cloaking using e-nanofabrics.

o. Expanded use of graphene and carbon for light and resilient structural and micro-electronic/quantum markets.

p. Expanded use of nuclear, hydrogen, and fusion-based power to combat runaway climate change and end oil-dependence.

q. A major pep rally for the Cleveland Indians who, after a 104-year drought, win the World Series.

While there are millions of other technical discoveries that have yet to occur, “living out-of-the-box” requires Mad Scientists to accept a risky vision, open the lid on the top of the military’s reality box, and wave to all the inventors and innovators that are inside looking at you.

If you enjoyed this post, please also:

Read Frank Prautzsch’s previous MadSci blog posts: Auto Immune Disease Treatment in a New Age of Bio Convergence and Our Arctic—The World’s Pink Flamingo and Black Swan Bird Sanctuary; as well as his Speaker Series presentation on Advancing Armor on our APAN site.

See similar posts assessing future disruptive technological trends: Potential Game Changers, Black Swans and Pink Flamingos, and Emergent Global Trends Impacting on the Future Operational Environment; and

Crank up Huey Lewis and the News’ hit The Power of Love from Back to the Future!

In his current role as President of Velocity Technology Partners LLC, Mr. Frank Prautzsch (LTC, Ret. Signal Corps) is recognized as a technology and business leader supporting the government and is known for exposing or crafting innovative technology solutions for the DoD, SOF, DHS and Intelligence community. He also provides consult to the MEDSTAR Institute for Innovation. His focus is upon innovation and not invention. Mr. Prautzsch holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point, is a distinguished graduate of the Marine Corps Signal Advanced Course, Army Airborne School, Ranger School, and Command and General Staff College. He also holds a Master of Science Degree from Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California with a degree in Systems Technology (C3) and Space.


1 “Which Movie Franchise should Return? “Back to the Future” Tops New Poll” (The Hollywood Reporter Magazine, Nov 20, 2018) pg. 1.

2 Norman R. Augustine, Augustine’s Laws (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc., 1986.) pg. 106-7.

132. Science Fiction’s Hidden Codes

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish the first of a series of posts from guest blogger Lt Col David Calder, providing a cogent rationale on why science fiction is not only relevant, but essential reading for military professionals. Enjoy!]

This post belongs to a short series of articles examining science fiction’s value to the military. Following the formula common to most trilogies, where the opener focuses on world-building and introducing concepts, and primarily asks ‘why bother?’  Why should time-poor professionals read or watch science fiction when they could arguably learn more relevant lessons from political opinion pieces, cutting edge academic research, or clear-sighted analyses from the world’s numerous outstanding think-tanks? The answer lies in science fiction’s hidden codes.

Science fiction is experiencing a renaissance. During the first decade of the 21st Century, the prevailing perception of science fiction was of an outmoded genre characterised by swashbuckling space opera, corny rubber aliens, and unfavourable social stereotypes. Today could not be more different. Thanks, in part, to the growth of online streaming services, contemporary science fiction mass media is delighting new and traditional audiences alike. Science fiction literature also is selling well with unit sales doubling between 2010-2017.1 Readers continue to be immersed in and exposed to ground-breaking, complex, and beautifully rendered ideas set amongst a dizzying range of fantastic settings. Science fiction is increasingly shrugging off traditional (and unfair) perceptions of its fandom as an increasingly diverse and global authorship resonates with an ever broadening audience.

Still image from PROJECT SHELL short video — see link at end of post / Source:  Blow Studio and several professionals from the audiovisual field; Vimeo

Science fiction is not short of Evangelists at the moment. Across the Anglophone defence community, it is touted as a tradition which can complement our professional studies, expand our horizons, and help us see the world in a kinder more hopeful way. Major General Ryan, Commander of the Australian Defence College, puts science fiction front and centre in his training programmes and champions it as a medium for broadening perspectives and thinking about the character and nature of future warfare.2 In the U.S., the Army uses it’s Mad Scientist Laboratory as a lightning-rod for science fiction writers to explore ideas about how we might fight in the future and use existing (and future technologies) inventively, drive military research, and foster short-term innovation.

In today’s uncertain world, science fiction allows us to indulge both our hopes and fears. Utopian visions, like those created by H.G. Wells in The War that Will End War, address futures and societies where humanity’s petty differences and self-destructive nature are overcome. Conversely, our fears about such characteristics expose humanity’s shortcomings or highlight some indomitable aspect of the human condition through dystopian imaginings like those in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Max Brook‘s zombie masterpiece, World War Z. While science fiction is often set in the future, it is rarely about the future, instead rooted in our present and past. Kim Stanley Robinson, one of modern science fiction’s heavyweights, sees the genre as being made in history and judged by history. Others see it as inherently social: being of society; about society and a literature of ideas.3 While this is adds academic credibility to the genre, herein lies the danger in submitting blindly to its supposed prophetic power. While its apparent prescience can provide tantalisingly clear insights of the future, warn us of the consequences of political inaction, and inspire engineers to place imagined technology into our hands; its social value must also be taken into account. As social documents and images, works of science fiction carry hidden codes which extrapolate our biases and communicate the political interpretations of societies from which they are written within. A cursory look at how science fiction imagery is negatively used to further the arguments of those opposed to the development of autonomous weapons demonstrates how such biases can be perpetuated for political gain.4

It is therefore the combination of vision, context, and political interpretation which ascribes science fiction its utility to aid critical thinking. Science fiction can (and must) be read for fun and escapism – this is what draws many readers and fans to the genre and sustains its creative potential. That said, its hidden codes also allow us to question, critique, and better understand the world around us. As a form of entertainment, it also serves to introduce concepts which challenge our experience and perspectives in an accessible way. Exposure to such ideas can easily become a start point for more extensive exploration of the underlying concepts. From personal experience, a recent reading of Yoon Han Lee’s Ninefox Gambit – a mind-bending space opera set in a universe based on an alternate mathematical system – has initiated a discrete research project looking at how games can be used to manipulate adversarial actors.

Science fiction’s fantastic settings can highlight reality strangely to serve more deliberate purposes. Often when the context of an estrangement is revealed, the illusion comes crashing down to reveal spear-sharp observations on aspects of society. In turn, this can encourage audiences to move from being merely an observer to actively engage with the discourse. In Anne Charnock’s award-winning The Enclave, her visions of modern slavery in a future Britain bear a shocking resemblance to the experiences of those caught up in the 2015/16 migrant crisis. Arguably her aims are not documentary, but overtly activistic.

So what does this mean for the military reader? The first point is obvious: Clausewitz tells us militaries never operate in isolation but rather in constant tension with politics and the polity. Achieving a better, more nuanced understanding of this three-way relationship can only be a good thing. Exposing the underlying shortcomings of particular political and popular perspectives allow military commanders to more deftly undertake military activity to achieve political aims.

Where this is true for appraising one’s own society, the same argument can be made for understanding the sociocultural behaviours of those states with whom we may be in competition, confrontation, and conflict. Appreciating the alternative views and value-systems of others can potentially provide both military advantage and the understanding which might promote de-escalation or the avoidance of actual violence. China’s rich science fiction tradition, for example, might provide a vector to de-mystify the perspectival dissonance that exists between today’s global hegemon and the Middle Kingdom.

Secondly, today’s military planners and strategic thinkers cannot afford to see the world, or problems, in prima facie terms. The lack of rigorous strategic thought and post conflict planning are key themes which encapsulate the criticism of the interventionalist doctrine which has dominated US/UK foreign policy for the last two decades.5 Science fiction is clearly not a panacea for shortcomings in strategic thinking, but it does encourage critical engagement and inward reflection. In making the normal strange, it can cause us to reductively think about and objectively assess our own decision making from first principles.6

Lastly, science fiction is a powerful sandbox for exploring ideas. There is a long tradition of this being used to help understand the impact of future technology within the genre, but this can also be replicated for social and political concepts too. From Iain M. Bank’s depiction of an expanding hegemonic alliance in his Culture series or the portrayal of unipolar/multipolar power transitions in James A. Corey’s Expanse novels, science fiction is replete with narratives which mirror the power dynamics of contemporary international relations and politics more broadly.7 Such texts fuse lessons from history, the impacts of emerging technologies and social norms, and allow us to explore areas of nuance which can expose powerful insights and discourses about the nature of power, asymmetry, and sovereignty.

In future posts, we will look at science fiction’s relationship with technology and what this means for the military. Here we will see how human agency and inspiration are not predicting the future, but are in fact shaping it.

If you enjoyed this post, please also:

– Watch the Project Shell sci-fi video, courtesy of Blow Studio and Vimeo.

– Read our compendium of the best 23 stories received from our previous Mad Scientist Science Fiction Writing Contest in 2017 at Science Fiction: Visioning the Future of Warfare 2030-2050.

– Influence how the U.S. Army prepares for future combat with a near-peer competitor in 2030! You only have 5 days left to enter your insightful short story(ies) for consideration in the Mad Scientist Science Fiction Writing Contest 2019.  Click here for more information about the contest and how to send in your submissions for consideration by our       1 April 2019 deadline!

– See Mad Scientist Laboratory’s recent military science fiction posts:

Lt Col David Calder is currently studying on the UK’s Advanced and Command Staff Course and is a Chief of Defence Staff Scholar. He is also undertaking a Masters by Research in Defence Studies with King’s College London; this is exploring how science fiction can be used to change military perspectives. He is an armoured engineer and has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Estonia in recent years. (Twitter @drjcalder81)


1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamrowe1/2018/06/19/science-fiction-and-fantasy-book-sales-have-doubled-since-2010/#18b463572edf

2 Ryan, Mick, and Nathen K Finney. “Science Fiction and the Strategist: A Reading List.” Strategy Bridge. February 6, 2017. https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2017/2/6/science-fiction-and-the-strategist-a-reading-list (accessed 01 06, 2019).

3 Parrinder, Patrick. Science Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2003.

4 Charli Carpenter, “Rethinking the Political / Science / Fiction Nexus: Global Policy Making and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.” Perspectives on Politics, 2016: 53-69. 58-62.

5 The Chilcott Team. The Good Operation: A handbook for those involved in operational policy and its implementation. Ministry of Defence: HMSO, 2018.

6 Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction: A New Critical Idiom. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

7 Barry Buzan. “America in Space: The International Relations of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 39, no. 1 (2010): 175-180.

129. “The Queue”

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

Recently ML Cavanaugh asked and answered in a LA Times Op-Ed piece, “Can science fiction help us prepare for 21st Century Warfare?

The Mad Science team answers this question with an emphatic, “YES!

Below is a re-run of our review of Eliot Peper’s argument for business leaders to read more science fiction. His urban planning business case speaks for itself.

For the burgeoning authors among you, submit a story to our Science Fiction Writing Contest 2019 –- you only have two weeks left! — see contest details here.

1.Why Business Leaders Need to Read More Science Fiction,” by Eliot Peper, Harvard Business Review, 24 July 17.

New York City’s Fifth Avenue bustling with horse-drawn traffic on Easter Sunday, 1900 (see if you can spot the horseless carriage!) / Source: Commons Wikimedia

There are no facts about the future and the future is not a linear extrapolation from the present. We inherently understand this about the future, but Leaders oftentimes seek to quantify the unquantifiable. Eliot Peper opens his Harvard Business Review article with a story about one of the biggest urban problems in New York City at the end of the 19th century – it stank!

Horses were producing 45,000 tons of manure a month. The urban planners of 1898 convened a conference to address this issue, but the experts failed to find a solution. More importantly, they could not envision a future only a decade and a half hence, when cars would outnumber horses. The urban problem of the future was not horse manure, but motor vehicle-generated pollution and road infrastructure. All quantifiable data available to the 1898 urban planners only extrapolated to more humans, horses, and manure. It is likely that any expert sharing an assumption about cars over horses would have been laughed out of the conference hall. Flash forward a century and the number one observation from the 9/11 Commission was that the Leaders and experts responsible for preventing such an attack lacked imagination. Story telling and the science fiction genre allow Leaders to imagine beyond the numbers and broaden the assumptions needed to envision possible futures.

2. Challenges to Security in Space, Defense Intelligence Agency, January 2019.

Source: Evan Vucci / AP / REX / Shutterstock

On 19 Feb 19, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive-4 (SPD-4), establishing the Space Force as the nation’s newest military branch. This force will initially reside within the U.S. Air Force, much as the U.S.  Marine Corps resides within the U.S. Navy. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, as Deputy Secretary of Defense, must now provide the associated draft legislative proposal to the President via the Office of Management and Budget; then it will be submitted to Congress for approval – its specific “details… and how effectively Administration officials defend it on Capitol Hill will determine its fate.

Given what is sure to be a contentious and polarizing congressional debate, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Challenges to Security in Space provides a useful unclassified reference outlining our near-peer adversaries’ (China and Russia) space strategy, doctrine, and intent; key space and counterspace organizations; and space and counterspace capabilities. These latter capabilities are further broken out into: space launch capabilities; human spaceflight and space exploration; Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR); navigation and communications; and counterspace.

In addition to our near-peer’s space capabilities, Iranian and North Korean space challenges are also addressed. The paper explores these nations’ respective national space launch facilities as venues for testing ballistic missile technologies.

The paper concludes with an outlook assessment addressing the increasing number of spacefaring nations, with “some actors integrat[ing] space and counterspace capabilities into military operations,” and “trends… pos[ing] a challenge to U.S. space dominance and present[ing] new risks for assets on orbit.”

A number of useful appendices are also included, addressing the implications of debris and orbital collisions; counterspace threats illustrating the associated capabilities on a continuum from reversible (e.g., Electronic Warfare and Denial and Deception) to irreversible (e.g., Ground Site Attacks and Nuclear Detonation in Space); and a useful list defining space acronyms.

With the U.S. and our allies’ continued dependence on space domain operations in maintaining a robust deterrence, and failing that, winning on future battlefields, this DIA assessment is an important reference for warfighters and policy makers, alike.

3. Superconduction: Why does it have to be so cold?Vienna University of Technology via ScienceDaily, 20 February 2019.  (Reviewed by Marie Murphy)

One of the major barriers to quantum computing is a rather unexpected one: in order for superconduction to occur, it must be very cold. Superconduction is an electrical current that moves “entirely without resistance” and, as of now, with standard materials superconduction is only possible at -200oC. In quantum computing there are massive amounts of particles moving in interdependent trajectories, and precisely calculating all of them is impossible. Researchers at TU Wien (Technische Universität Wien – Vienna University of Technology) were able to add on to an existing equation that allows for the approximate calculation of these particles in solid matter, not just a vacuum. This new formula may make it easier to develop different superconducting materials and potentially identify materials that could conduct at room temperature.

Quantum computing is heralded as the next big step in the technological revolution and the key to unlocking unthinkable possibilities of human and technological advancement. If there was a way for quantum computing to work at closer to room temperature, then that could lead to a major breakthrough in the technology and the rapid application of quantum computing to the operational environment. There is also a massive first mover advantage in quantum computing technology: the organization that solves the problem first will have unlimited and uncontested use of the technology, and very few people in the world have the technological expertise to quickly replicate the discovery.

4.The Twenty-First Century General, with Dr. Anthony King,” hosted by John Amble, Modern War Institute Podcast, 7 March 2019.

Command: The Twenty-First Century General / Source: Cambridge University Press

In this prescient episode of the Modern War Institute podcast, John Amble interviews Dr. Anthony King (Chair of War Studies in the Politics and International Studies Department at Warwick University in the United Kingdom) about his new book Command: The Twenty-First Century General. Amble and Dr. King have a detailed and informative discussion about the future of command as the world has moved into a digital age and what it’s meant for the battlefield, warfighters, commanders, and even organizational staffs.

One of the more impactful ideas explored in this podcast, in relation to the future of warfare, was the idea of collective decision-making on the part of commanders, as opposed to previous “hero era” individualistic leadership typified by General Patton and Field Marshals Rommel and Montgomery. Command teams (divisional staff, for example) have swelled in size not simply to create meaningless career milestones but due to digital age revolutions that allowed for increasingly complex operations.

With artificial intelligence becoming increasingly pervasive throughout the future operational environment and likely ever-present on future command staffs, Dr. King points out that staffs may not become smaller but actually may increase as operations become even more complex. The changing character of future warfare (especially the emergence of AI) may enable incredible new capabilities in coordination, synchronization, and convergence of effects but adversaries using more simplistic command structures could expose this inherent complexity through speed and decisiveness.

5. Alexa, call the police! Smart assistants should come with a ‘moral AI’ to decide whether to report their owners for breaking the law, experts say,” by Peter Lloyd, Daily Mail.com, 22 February 2019.

Scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway discussed the idea of a “moral A.I.” for smart home assistants, like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod at the AAAI / ACM Conference for Artificial Intelligence, Ethics and Society in Hawaii.  Marija Slavkovik, associate professor at the department of information science and media studies “suggested that digital assistants should possess an ethical awareness that at once represents both the owner and the authorities — or, in the case of a minor, their parents.” Recall that previously, police have seized information gathered by smart devices.

Moral A.I. would require home assistants to “decide whether to report their owners for breaking the law,” or to remain silent. “This would let them weigh whether to report illegal activity to the police, effectively putting millions of people under constant surveillance.” Stakeholders “need to be identified and have a say, including when machines shouldn’t be able to listen in. Right now only the manufacturer decides.” At present, neither stakeholders nor consumers are in charge of their own information and companies use our personal information freely, without commensurate compensation.

If developed, brought to market, and installed (presumably willingly) in our homes (or public spaces), is Moral A.I. a human problem?

Yes. Broadly speaking, no place on earth is completely homogeneous; each country has a different culture, language, beliefs, norms, and society. Debating the nuances, the dystopian sounding and murky path of Moral A.I. involves the larger question on how should ethics be incorporated in AI.

Furthermore – should lethal autonomous weapons be used on humans? In his recent post entitled “AI Enhancing EI in War,” MAJ Vincent Dueñas addressed how AI can mitigate a human commander’s cognitive biases and enhance his/her (and their staff’s) decision-making to assist them in commanding, fighting, and winning on future battlefields. Humans are susceptible to cognitive biases and these biases sometimes result in catastrophic outcomes—particularly in the high stress environment of wartime decision-making.  AI offers the possibility of mitigating the susceptibility of negative outcomes in the commander’s decision-making process by enhancing the collective Emotional Intelligence (EI) of the commander and his/her staff.  For now, however, AI is too narrow to carry this out in someone’s home, let alone on the battlefield.

6.SS7 Cellular Network Flaw Nobody Wants To Fix Now Being Exploited To Drain Bank Accounts,” by Karl Bode, Techdirt.com, 11 February 2019.

Signaling System 7 (SS7) is a series of cellular telephone protocols first built in 1975 that allows for telephonic communication around the globe. Within this set of protocols is a massive security vulnerability that has been public knowledge for over a decade. The vulnerability allows a nefarious actor to, among other things, track user location, dodge encryption, and record conversations. What’s more, this can be done while looking like ordinary carrier chatter and, in some cases, can be used to gain access to bank accounts through 2-factor authentication and effectively drain them.

This is significant from a military perspective because, as highlighted within a recent blog post, we have already seen near-peer adversarial states execute attacks through cellphone activity, personal wearable device location data, and social media. These states attempt to degrade soldier morale by launching information operations campaigns targeted at soldier families or the soldiers themselves through text messages, social media, or cell phone calls. The SS7 vulnerability could make these campaigns more successful or easier to execute and allow them to penetrate farther into the personal lives of soldiers than ever before.

Lastly, this vulnerability highlights an enduring trend: legacy communications infrastructure still exists and is still heavily used by civilian and military alike. This infrastructure is old and vulnerable and was designed before cellphones were commonplace. Modernizing this infrastructure around the world would be costly and time consuming and there has been little movement on fixing the vulnerability itself. Despite this vulnerability being known since 2008, is this something that will affect operations going forward? With no intrusion signature, will the Army need to modify existing policy on personal electronic devices for Soldiers and their families?

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 OE, 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”!

128. Disruption and the Future Operational Environment

Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to announce that Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Mad Scientist Disruption and the Future Operational Environment Conference with the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin on 24-25 April 2019 in Austin, Texas.

Plan on joining us virtually as we explore the individual and convergent impacts of technological innovations on Multi-Domain Operations and the Future Operational Environment, from today through 2050.

Disruptors addressed include robotics, artificial intelligence and autonomy, the future of space, planetary habitability, and the legal and ethical dilemmas surrounding how they will impact the future of warfare, specifically in the land and space domains.

Acknowledged global experts presenting include renowned futurist Dr. James Canton, author and CEO and Chairman of the Institute for Global Futures; former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, Senior Counselor for Defense and Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security, Center for a New American Security (CNAS); Robonaut Julia Badger, Project Manager for the NASA’s Autonomous Spacecraft Management Projects; and former NASA spacecraft navigator Dr. Moriba K. Jah, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at UT Austin; as well as speakers from DARPA, Sandia National Labs, and Army senior leaders.

Get ready…

– Review the conference agenda’s list of presentations here.

– Read our following blog posts:  Making the Future More Personal: The Oft-Forgotten Human Driver in Future’s Analysis, An Appropriate Level of Trust…, War Laid Bare, and Star Wars 2050.

– Subscribe to the Mad Scientist Laboratory to stay abreast of this conference and all things Mad Scientist — go to the subscribe function found on the right hand side of this screen.

We look forward to your participation on-line in six weeks!