It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. -Yogi Berra.
The main feature that most current technologies have, whether military or civilian, is that for the most part, none were predicted until shortly before their development. Developments in military technology eventually spill into civilian sectors often creating not just new businesses, but often producing major paradigm shifts as well. For example, both GPS and the Internet, at one point, were top secret military technologies which eventually allowed and promoted the creation of tens of thousands of new businesses, many which couldn’t have been imagined prior to these inventions. Without the Internet, there would be no Google, Facebook, Uber, and the likes, just to name a few. We can only hope that future military technologies eventually can be applied to peaceful purposes… optimistically, before we destroy humanity in its entirety.
It is no secret the United States spends as much in its military as the next top 8 countries in the world put together, which is 36percent of the entire world’s military spending, before President Trump’s recent increase. Much of it is spent on technology in an effort to stay one step ahead of our enemies and to augment the fact that as a volunteer fighting force, it often cannot compete with the private sector in attracting the brightest war fighter our society can produce. As a result, the war fighter is complemented with technology, which serves to boost both the soldier’s hand and brain. Most of these technologies are developed by civilian engineering companies which compete to provide the best in technology innovation.
The Military Industry is thus a direct extension of the military with the ultimate goal of ensuring that any fight the U.S. becomes involved, it is not a fair one at all. The idea is to ensure that the enemy sacrifices its forces for its cause and for our side not to do such sacrifice. The best way to achieve this is by removing our soldiers from harm’s way as much as possible. This is made possible through technology since its ability improvements follow Moore’s Law, while simultaneously and almost symmetrically, its cost gets reduced very quickly.
The big news in the business world today is how automation is taking away manufacturing jobs, among others. For instance, between 2010 and 2015 U.S. industry purchased 60,000 robots, while China obtained 90,000. In 2015 alone, American factories installed 27,500 robots with a 15percent + expected each of the next five years.
Humanity’s doom might lie in our own inventions eventually getting out of our control
The same is happening in the military industry. The last fighter airplane with a human pilot has already been created and, yes, you can bet that the weakest part of the plane is the human inside it. For example, the number of G’s the plane can take in a sharp turn is limited not by the plane, but by the pilot’s ability to remain conscious under such stress.
Currently, at least 20 car companies are desperately working towards and coming very close already to a fully self-driving car. Most people don’t realize that all but 3 minutes on average of most commercial flights are done by robots, not the human pilot. Advances in artificial intelligence also seem to follow Moore’s Law. Not long ago, “experts” were claiming that a computer would never be able to beat the human world chess champion. After that defeat by IBM’s Deep Blue, those experts then claimed that computers would never be able to do “natural language”, then IBM’s Watson beat the world’s champions in a televised natural language game. And, although computers currently seem to be very smart on relatively small areas, enough expertise in enough areas will start to be combined in single systems, removing more and more humans from their particular jobs.
For the first time in human history, the brain instead of the muscle is being replaced by machines. Within the next few decades, the U.S. war fighter will start to find himself in the same situation that scores of cashiers, telephone operators, travel agents, bookkeepers, and factory workers have been facing in the past couple of decades, whereby computers, robots, and overall automation driven by cheap and easy to upgrade software have taken most of their jobs. If the best war is one where none of our soldiers die or get hurt, it is blatantly obvious to see how an army of autonomous robots, able to make quick decisions without the cloudy emotional trauma of the battlefield, is an inevitable goal.
The military of today is already armed with drones, basic robots, and lots of augmented sensors ready to fight 20th-century battles where the enemy is a state actor. Unfortunately, 90 percent of today’s conflicts are civil wars where robotics will generally fall short and where human factors will continue to be required. Technologies such as data mining, big data processing, and AI generated knowledge will continue to grow, especially in the areas of predicting human behavior. This will allow the military to “disrupt, degrade, and defeat” conflicts that, for the most part and until now, have been unwinnable. On the other hand, these same advances in technology allow both state and non-state enemies to inflict a lot more damage to our side at a very low cost. This makes 21st war fighting much more complex than ever before, whereby a relatively minor enemy might be able to kill or hurt many through the use of malware and “hacking” (i.e. causing a meltdown at a nuclear power plant) from across the world simply using a cheap old laptop.
Still, the biggest risk with the delegation of our thinking (automation) is the military (and by extension the military industry) believing they understand artificial intelligence enough to delegate the killing of enemies (i.e. people) to machines. The Army admits that “our exclusive use of previous paradigms is insufficient for the tasks ahead” suggesting that we must take extremely innovating approaches to the 21st-century enemy. Yet, we have to be extremely careful because at the rate technology is advancing, “without wisdom or prudence, our servant [the robot] may prove to be our executioner” as expressed recently by U.S. Army General Omar Bradley. Humanity’s doom might lie in our inventions eventually getting out of our control.