Humanosity says…Stories about killer robots, machine-augmented heroes, laser weapons and battles in space – outer or cyber – have always been good for filling cinema seats, but now they have started to liven up sober academic journals and government white papers. A comprehensive report from the World Economic Forum analysis the trends that will shape the future of warfare.
AI has the potential to radically reshape societies and its impact on the world already is huge. Consider the effects of algorithms on reinforcing the echo chambers that most people have descended in to on social media platforms and how that has polarised societies.
It’s not all bad news though. The report highlights that those nations that prepare properly for this future “will prove better prepared than others in their use of education and infrastructures for transitioning workers into new, socially sustainable and economically productive ways to make a living.”
Those nations that don’t will see the current trends of rising inequality exacerbated leaving them at risk of “increasingly stark inequality, with economically-excluded young people undermining social stability, losing faith with technocratic governance, and spurring the rise of leaders who aim popular anger at an external enemy”.
AI is at the vanguard of what many are calling the 4th Industrial revolution and this blurring of the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds promises a “level of change comparable to that brought about by steam power, electricity and computing.”
According to the report it’s the potential effects on how human beings do organised violence that will perhaps be the game changer and it lists 10 ways that warfare will change:
1. Waging war may seem “easier”. The ability to kill remotely may make war more abstract and therefore more tolerable making war more likely
3. Fear and uncertainty increase risk. New strategic capabilities in areas like artificial intelligence, space, deep sea and cyber – could incentivise risk-taking and aggressive behaviour.
4. Deterrence and pre-emption. The arrival of new capabilities could alter the balance between offensive and defensive advantage and could increase the incentives for aggression.
5. The new arms race is harder to control. Arms control agreements have served to limit the use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. The uncertainty about how strategic benefits will be distributed, whether such systems would give an advantage to the defender or the attacker leads to paralysis in trying to negotiate new agreements
6. A wider cast of players. As cutting-edge technology becomes cheaper, it spreads to a wider range of actors. People know how to build nuclear bombs in theory but it requires billions and such a huge effort that it is beyond most nations. that won’t remain the case – just look at drones.
7. The grey zone. As weaponisable technology becomes cheaper it will encourage non-state actors and individuals to use violence to meet their goals. For state actors, hybrid warfare is already with us.
8. Pushing moral boundaries. The rules governing war were largely written by a few actors – mostly states. With increasing numbers of people being able to access this technology who will write the rules?
9. Expanding domains of conflict. The pursuit of strategic advantage means that everywhere is now a potential battleground – outer space, the deep oceans even the Arctic.
10. What is physically possible becomes likely. The lesson of history is that technology will eventually find a military use.
So the key question becomes in the face of such radical change what can be done to mitigate the potential dangerous possibilities?
The report suggests two avenues to explore. The first is that ” “distribution of security measures among a multiplicity of actors – neighbourhoods, cities, private stakeholders – will make society more resilient. And over time, smaller but well-connected communities may be more effective at preventing and identifying terrorist threats among their members.”
The second more nebulous answer is that society needs to be aware of what is coming down the line and “what is clear is the need to have a conversation that reaches across generations and across disciplines. This conversation has to be global.”