180. The Evolution of Nation-States and Their Role in the Future

[Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish today’s post by returning guest blogger and proclaimed Mad Scientist Marie Murphy, exploring the evolving role of nation-states in an increasingly multipolar world. While nations-states will persevere as the primary actors in the international system for the foreseeable future, their dominion will increasingly be challenged by the growing wealth and influence of multi-national corporations (MNCs) and the emergence of on-line communities of interest coalescing beyond traditional concepts of nationality and fidelity. Given the resultant diffusion of power and allegiance, the dynamics of competition and conflict may well morph beyond our current concepts of allies, strategic competitors, and large scale combat operations.  Ms. Murphy posits two scenarios and then explores the associated ramifications of this evolving power dynamic for the U.S. Army — Enjoy!]

It’s a human fallacy to believe that things in the present have always been and always will be.1  Of course, history books confirm that this is not the case, but it is difficult to imagine living in a world other than the one we’ve adjusted to today. We are all familiar with the current structure of international power, but nation-states as we know them are a relatively new concept. The “official” creation date for what is considered the modern nation-state is often pinned at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.2  However, it wasn’t until the end of WWII and the subsequent redefining of territory in Africa and the Middle East that the modern map began to appear. The fall of the USSR in 1991 redrew the map again, adding new states in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. These major shifts occurred within the lifetimes of people today, demonstrating that the current world order is anything but set in stone.

There are several emerging factors which may come to threaten the recent primacy of the nation-state in the distribution of global power as it currently stands, including the resurgence of multi-national corporations (MNCs) and the proliferation of online organizations, both aided by the technological advances of the 21st century. MNCs and online organizations connect people around the world and transcend national boundaries. They are capable of amassing capital and influence comparable to that of some nation-states, creating a potential shift in global power dynamics. For example, in 2018, Amazon topped $1 Trillion in value, placing it 17th in the world amongst nation-states in terms of GDP.3

Today, MNCs such as Apple and Amazon rely on global stability to maintain optimal operations. Conflicts affect companies by threatening the interruption or loss of crucial supply chains and the diversion of workers. Due to these potential disruptions, MNCs may have an interest in discouraging, reducing, and restricting conflict and some have the capital to attempt to do so. On the other hand, not all corporate intervention in conflict spaces could prove benevolent. Companies could partner with competing parties in a conflict or further exacerbate divisions by involving their own private security forces. The consequences of kinetic intervention by MNCs may prove detrimental, especially if it disrupts the production and distribution of critical natural resources or the economic livelihoods of the local population that depend on its peaceful presence.4  As the global influence of MNCs rises, the U.S. Army may face questions such as: Could conflict that poses a potential disruption to private industry be mitigated by that industry? Could industry be a major player in conflict zones?

The potential rise of individual allegiances and ideologies beginning to align more with virtual communities, which do not recognize international borders, may start to erode the cultural and political bonds of a nation-state. One example of a diverse online community is Facebook, which currently stands as a platform for like-minded people to join groups and pages according to their personal interests.

But could this be taken to the next level? Facebook recently announced the potential launch of its own digital currency. While many consider this technology to be ahead of its time, and definitely ahead of regulatory standards, it may be a signal that online entities will be capable of encroaching upon what has historically been a governmental responsibility.5  As online organizations develop and proliferate, questions pertinent to national defense begin to emerge, including: Could a nation suffering from ideological dissolution still field a physical army? Could an online organization with multinational membership present a cyber threat to armed forces around the world? Could an online community create its own army not based on geography and borders, but on shared belief?

So, where do these current and potential developments leave nation-states? I have chosen to highlight two possible future scenarios which may emerge from the rising influence of MNCs and online organizations: a multipolar power distribution and a devolving status quo.

The world may be evolving into a multipolar system comprised of different nodes of power; where nation-states, MNCs, and online organizations operate on a more even global playing field. MNCs may begin to leverage their high levels of capital, resources, and influence to impact international and military affairs beyond the oversight of a government. A company’s entrenchment in a region or domain where conflict is developing may be sufficient grounds for direct involvement. If the company exerts more power than the government in that area, it may take on the roles and responsibilities of either mitigating or managing that conflict, possibly including the use of private forces or the co-opting of the legitimate military. Large and diverse online organizations begin to fray the social fabric of established nation-states as citizens’ lives increasingly move and are lived online. These organizations may develop the social organizational capacity that governments used to exclusively possess; the ability to coordinate the mass movement or participation of a large number of people or to control society in other ways, such as holding and managing their currency. In this scenario, nation-states play a somewhat diminished role as what used to be exclusively state-held power is now dispersed among various relevant international organizations.

Alternatively, nation-states may continue to hold the majority of global power, but the massive capital and influence of MNCs and online organizations could grow to become at odds with governments and these groups may vie for a seat at the table. A devolved version of the present may manifest in the event of increased isolationism as large companies lobby their governments to do business worldwide while leaders prefer more domestically focused economic thinking. Online organizations may overtake governments in cultural leadership, leaving governments to be little more than administrative units while citizens who live next door to each other have allegiances to groups and organizations formed from people from all over the world. These online groups may eventually take on governmental responsibilities as well (such as taxation used to provide services) and have the capability to incite mass mobility at a moment’s notice.

Combatting these potential changes in the international balance of power poses new challenges for the Army. Either of these scenarios could alter ally/competitor relationships. Alliances might shift due to either economic interests or ideological priorities. Such considerations may supersede geostrategic factors in a historically symbiotic alliance. The need for American protection and military assistance might not be as great if current power competitors no longer hold that same power or demonstrate a shift in interests.

An evolving power dynamic would alter the way that the Army thinks about its concepts and structures its force. In the future, MNCs may be “another player on the field,” both domestically through lobbying and political influence and in theater due to their operations or investments on the ground. This entanglement of military objectives and private industry interests may demand greater consideration as corporations continue to drive economic development and growth worldwide. Online organizations may divert critical human resources away from patriotic causes towards ones that fulfill specific personal ideologies which may not align with the Nation and the Army. Based on economic and technological advancements, the Army may find itself with different established allies and in the company of states and organizations whose interests and capabilities temporarily align with the U.S. The role of a nation-state in the global order may be evolving as other powerful players come to the table. Whether or not these players will be integrated, or are too big not to be, is yet to be seen.

If you enjoyed this post, please see:

Virtual Nations: An Emerging Supranational Cyber Trend, also by Marie Murphy

Splinternets, by Howard Simkin

Alternet: What Happens When the Internet is No Longer Trusted? by LtCol Jennifer “JJ” Snow

Proclaimed Mad Scientist Marie Murphy is a senior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying International Relations and Arabic. She is a regular contributor to the Mad Scientist Laboratory, interned at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the Mad Scientist Initiative during the summer of 2018, and is currently serving as a Mad Scientist Initiative consultant. She was a Research Fellow for William and Mary’s Project on International Peace and Security.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not imply endorsement by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the Army Futures 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 Bartlett, Jamie. “Return of the City-State,” Aeon, September 5, 2017. https://aeon.co/essays/the-end-of-a-world-of-nation-states-may-be-upon-us

2 “Peace of Westphalia (1648),” Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0073.xml

3 “Gross Domestic Product 2018,” World Bank, 2018. https://databank.worldbank.org/data/download/GDP.pdf

Streitfield, David. “Amazon Hits $1,000,000,000,000 in Value, Following Apple,” The New York Times, Sept. 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/04/technology/amazon-stock-price-1-trillion-value.html

4 Humphreys, Macartan. “Economics and Violent Conflict,” Harvard University, 2003. https://www.unicef.org/socialpolicy/files/Economics_and_Violent_Conflict.pdf

5 Sprouse, William. “Facebook Says Libra Digital Currency May Never Launch,” CFO, July 30, 2019. https://www.cfo.com/regulation/2019/07/facebook-says-libra-digital-currency-may-never-launch/

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”!

99. “The Queue”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

70. Star Wars 2050

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present today’s guest post by returning blogger Ms. Marie Murphy, addressing the implication of space drones and swarms on space-based services critical to the U.S. Army.  Ms. Murphy’s previous post addressed Virtual Nations: An Emerging Supranational Cyber Trend.]

Drone technology continues to proliferate in militaries and industries around the world.  In the deep future, drones and drone swarms may extend physical conflict into the space domain.  As space becomes ever more critical to military operations, states will seek technologies to counter their adversaries’ capabilities.   Drones and swarms can blend in with space debris in order to provide a tactical advantage against vulnerable and expensive assets at a lower cost.

Source: AutoEvolution

Space was recently identified as a battlespace domain in recognition of threats increasing at an unexpected rate and, in 2013, the Army Space Training Strategy was released. The functions of the Army almost entirely depend on space systems for daily and specialized operations, particularly C4ISR and GPS capabilities. “Well over 2,500 pieces of equipment… rely on a space-based capability” in any given combat brigade, so an Army contingency plan for the loss of satellite communication is critical.[I]  It is essential for the Army, in conjunction with other branches of the military and government agencies, to best shield military assets in space and continue to develop technologies, such as outer space drones and swarms, to remain competitive and secure throughout this domain in the future.

Source: CCTV China

Drone swarms in particular are an attractive military option due to their relative inexpensiveness, autonomy, and durability as a whole. The U.S., China, and Russia are the trifecta of advanced drone and drone swarm technology and also pose the greatest threats in space. In May 2018, Chinese Company CETC launched 200 autonomous drones,[II] beating China’s own record of 119 from 2017.[III] The U.S. has also branched out into swarm technology with the testing of Perdix drones, although the U.S. is most known for its use of the high-tech Predator drone.[IV]

Source: thedrive.com

Non-state actors also possess rudimentary drone capabilities. In January 2018, Syrian rebels attacked a Russian installation with 13 drones in an attempt to overwhelm Russian defenses. The Russian military was able to neutralize the attack by shooting down seven and bringing the remaining six down with electronic countermeasures.[V] While this attack was quelled, it proves that drones are being used by less powerful or economically resourceful actors, making them capable of rendering many traditional defense systems ineffective. It is not a far leap to incorporate autonomous communication between vehicles, capitalizing on the advantages of a fully interactive and cooperative drone swarm.

NASA Homemade Drone; Source: NASA Swamp Works

The same logic applies when considering drones and drone swarms in space. However, these vehicles will need to be technologically adapted for space conditions. Potentially most similar to future space drones, the company Swarm Technology launched four nanosats called “SpaceBees” with the intention of using them to create a constellation supporting Internet of Things (IoT) networks; however, they did so from India without FCC authorization.[VI] Using nanosats as examples of small, survivable space vehicles, the issues of power and propulsion are the most dominant technological roadblocks. Batteries must be small and are subject to failure in extreme environmental conditions and temperatures.[VII] Standard drone propulsion mechanisms are not viable in space, where drones will have to rely on cold-gas jets to maneuver.[VIII] Drones and drone swarms can idle in orbit (potentially for weeks or months) until activated, but they may still need hours of power to reach their target. The power systems must also have the ability to direct flight in a specific direction, requiring more energy than simply maintaining orbit.

Source: University of Southampton

There is a distinct advantage for drones operating in space: the ability to hide in plain sight among the scattered debris in orbit. Drones can be sent into space on a private or government launch hidden within a larger, benign payload.[IX] Once in space, these drones could be released into orbit, where they would blend in with the hundreds of thousands of other small pieces of material. When activated, they would lock onto a target or targets, and swarms would converge autonomously and communicate to avoid obstacles. Threat detection and avoidance systems may not recognize an approaching threat or swarm pattern until it is too late to move an asset out of their path (it takes a few hours for a shuttle and up to 30 hours for the ISS to conduct object avoidance maneuvers). In the deep future, it is likely that there will be a higher number of larger space assets as well as a greater number of nanosats and CubeSats, creating more objects for the Space Surveillance Network to track, and more places for drones and swarms to hide.[X]

For outer space drones and drone swarms, the issue of space junk is a double-edged sword. While it camouflages the vehicles, drone and swarm attacks also produce more space junk due to their kinetic nature. One directed “kamikaze” or armed drone can severely damage or destroy a satellite, while swarm technology can be harnessed for use against larger, defended assets or in a coordinated attack. However, projecting shrapnel can hit other military or commercial assets, creating a Kessler Syndrome effect of cascading damage.[XI] Once a specific space junk removal program is established by the international community, the resultant debris effects from drone and swarm attacks can be mitigated to preclude collateral damage.  However, this reduction of space junk will also result in less concealment, limiting drones’ and swarms’ ability to loiter in orbit covertly.

Utilizing drone swarms in space may also present legal challenges.  The original governing document regarding space activities is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. This treaty specifically prohibits WMDs in space and the militarization of the moon and other celestial bodies, but is not explicit regarding other forms of militarization, except to emphasize that space activities are to be carried out for the benefit of all countries. So far, military space activities have been limited to deploying military satellites and combatting cyber-attacks. Launching a kinetic attack in space would carry serious global implications and repercussions.

Such drastic and potentially destructive action would most likely stem from intense conflict on Earth. Norms about the usage of space would have to change. The Army must consider how widely experimented with and implemented drone and swarm technologies can be applied to targeting critical and expensive assets in orbit. Our adversaries do not have the same moral and ethical compunctions regarding space applications that the U.S. has as the world’s leading democracy. Therefore, the U.S. Army must prepare for such an eventuality.  Additionally, the Army must research and develop a more robust alternative to our current space-based GPS capability.  For now, the only war in space is the one conducted electronically, but kinetic operations in outer space are a realistic possibility in the deep future.

Marie Murphy is a rising junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying International Relations and Arabic. She is currently interning at Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) with the Mad Scientist Initiative.

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[I] Houck, Caroline, “The Army’s Space Force Has Doubled in Six Years, and Demand Is Still Going Up,” Defense One, 23 August 2017.

[II]China’s Drone Swarms,” OE Watch, Vol. 8.7, July 2018.

[III]China Launches Drone Swarm of 119 Fixed-Wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” Business Standard, 11 June 2017.

[IV] Atherton, Kelsey D., “The Pentagon’s New Drone Swarm Heralds a Future of Autonomous War Machines,” Popular Science, 17 January 2017.

[V] Hruska, Joel, “Think One Military Drone is Bad? Drone Swarms Are Terrifyingly Difficult to Stop,” Extreme Tech, 8 March 2018.

[VI] Harris, Mark, “Why Did Swarm Launch Its Rogue Satellites?IEEE Spectrum, 20 March 2018.

[VII] Chow, Eugene K., “America Is No Match for China’s New Space Drones,” The National Interest, 4 November 2017.

[VIII] Murphy, Mike, “NASA Is Working on Drones That Can Fly In Space,” Quartz, 31 July 2015.

[IX] Harris, Mark, “Why Did Swarm Launch Its Rogue Satellites?IEEE Spectrum, 20 March 2018.

[X]Space Debris and Human Spacecraft,” NASA, 26 September 2013.

[XI] Scoles, Sarah, “The Space Junk Problem Is About to Get a Whole Lot Gnarlier,” WIRED, July 31, 2017.