UK Military Document Focuses On A.I., Globalization, Transhumanism, Poverty, Revolutions

Posted: September 8, 2008 in 2007, Articles, Exclusives
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The UK Ministry of Defence released their future global / military forecast document recently. It highlights key areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Transhumanism, climate change, globalization, and so on. It’s more or less a doomsday scenario narrative, much of which being marked as “probable”. This is of little surprise considering my usual reporting, combined with others such as the forecast that humans have a 50/50 chance of surviving the 21st Century.

GuardianUK covered it and mentioned many of the key topics. Then covered it with the expected “new world order” spin. Not surprisingly, neither source even touched the A.I. subject, nor did they provide the link to the official document, which would have allowed ‘casual’ readers to easily click through and potentially find those sections themselves.

All findings within Strategic Trends are presented with an indication of confidence”

Having established trend-based outcomes of varying probability, Strategic Trends articulates a number of specific Risks associated with each dimension to highlight the way some of the more adverse consequences could manifest themselves and affect Defence business.”

The Strategic Trends approach starts by identifying the major trends in each of these dimensions and analyses ways in which these trends are likely to develop and interact during the next 30 years, in order to establish a range of Probable Outcomes. Nothing in the future is guaranteed, of course, and Strategic Trends varies the strength of its assessments to highlight sets of Alternative Outcomes that, while less probable, are nonetheless highly plausible”

More Excerpts:

Erosion of Civil Liberties. Technology will enable pervasive surveillance in response to terrorism, rising transnational crime and the growing capability of disparate groups or individuals to inflict catastrophic damage or disruption. Coupled with intrusive, highly responsive and accessible data-bases, the emergence of a so-called ‘surveillance society’ will increasingly challenge assumptions about privacy, with corresponding impacts on civil liberties and human rights. These capabilities will be deployed by the private as well as the public sector.”

Confronted with few direct threats and declining populations, most affluent societies will attempt to minimize their Defence burden by investing in conflict prevention and, for as long as it is in their interest to do so, participating in alliances, forming communities of interest and contracting out security. The US will be the exception, making by far the greatest commitment to Defence throughout the period, consistent with its economic power and technological advantage.”

Deliberate Collateral Casualties. Both state and non-state actors may target commercial and industrial installations to inflict mass casualties, in breach of international law, as an intended primary or secondary effect. The potential impact may be reinforced by increasing industrialization in developing countries, a possible resurgence in nuclear power plant construction, and the progressive concentration of populations in urban areas.”

Globalization / Revolution:

“By 2010, most people (above 50%) will be living in urban rather than rural environments. Poor housing, weak infrastructure and social deprivation will combine with low municipal capacity to create a range of new instability risks in areas of rapid urbanization, especially in those urban settlements that contain a high proportion of unplanned and shanty development.”

During the next 30 years, every aspect of human life will change at an unprecedented rate, throwing up new features, challenges and opportunities. Three areas of change, or Ring Road issues, will touch the lives of everyone on the planet and will underpin these processes: climate change, globalization and global inequality (see panels below).”

While material conditions for most people are likely to improve over the next 30 years, the gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a global challenge. Despite their rapid growth, significant per capita disparities will exist in countries such as China and India and smaller, but traditionally more affluent Western economies. In some regions – notably areas of Sub-Saharan Africa – a fall in poverty may be reversed. Differentials in material well-being will be more explicit through globalization and increased access to more readily and cheaply available telecommunications. Disparities in wealth and advantage will therefore become more obvious, with their associated grievances and resentments, even among the growing numbers of people who are likely to be materially more prosperous than their parents and grandparents. Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism.”

Alternatively, a less even process of globalization may lead to lower-density settlement patterns, with people straddling rural and urban-based livelihoods, resulting in extensive browning of the countryside.”

Competition for resources of all kinds will intensify.”

Economic growth and increased consumption will result in greater demand and competition for essential resources. Demand for energy is likely to grow by more than half again by 2035 and fossil fuels will have to meet more than 80% of this increase.5 Major reserves are in politically unstable regions and primary consumer nations are likely to be increasingly reluctant to trust security of supply to market forces and the integrity of the international system.”

“Globalization will result in critical interdependencies that will link members of a globalized society that includes a small super-rich elite and a substantial underclass of slum and subsistence dwellers, who will make up 20% of the world population in 2020.

Declining youth populations in Western societies could become increasingly dissatisfied with their economically burdensome ‘baby-boomer’ elders, among whom much of societies’ wealth would be concentrated. Resentful at a generation whose values appear to be out of step with tightening resource constraints, the young might seek a return to an order provided by more conservative values and structures. This could lead to a civic renaissance, with strict penalties for those failing to fulfil their social obligations. It might also open the way to policies which permit euthanasia as a means to reduce the burden of care for the elderly.”

The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.”

A growing Hispanic population in the US might lead to increasing social tensions, possibly resulting in an aggressive separatist movement. Unlike the Black Power militants of the 1960s, this movement might focus on geographically-based self-determination as its aim, threatening secession by Hispanic-majority states. Confronted by this threat, the US might become increasingly introspective, withdrawing from all non-essential overseas commitments. In the wider world, other states and non-state actors could take advantage of the US withdrawal or break-up, using violence to pursue objectives that, otherwise, might have provoked a US military response.

Economic globalization and indiscriminate migration may lead to levels of international integration that effectively bring interstate warfare to an end; however, it will also result in communities of interest at every level of society that transcend national boundaries and could resort to the use of violence. Operating within a globalized system, states might not be willing or able to regulate these groups’ activities, concentrating on containing the risk and diverting their activities elsewhere according to their interests. In addition, rivalries between interest groups that cannot gain economic and information leverage might increasingly resort to violence and coercion, evolving loose arrangements and networks similar to those currently used by criminal organizations.

In a globalized environment, military technologies will be developed at an accelerating pace, some of which might have the potential to render established capabilities obsolete. For example, a cheap, simple-to-make and easy-to-use weapon might be invented that is effective against a wide range of targets and against which established countermeasures are ineffective.”

The US position as the world’s most indebted nation makes it vulnerable to stock market collapse, currency runs and economic crisis, as well as global currency manipulation. The most likely cause of crisis would be energy market instability or volatility leading to a loss of market confidence. Also, failure to continue to support or service its debt in these circumstances would put US creditors and commodity suppliers at risk, possibly causing a global economic downturn.”

Key natural resources, especially oil, gas and minerals of strategic value, will continue to be sourced from unstable areas and unreliable regions. Maintaining access and containing instability risks in these areas is therefore likely to increase in importance, alongside wider developmental and stabilization roles. Where oil and gas sources are located in areas of doubtful security, military intervention may be used to protect the integrity of sites and to secure investments.”

The middle class will be more vulnerable to economic and social volatility. This may trigger a rise in political engagement and may encourage a resort to either communitarian solutions or extremist politics. While the immediate risk may exist at the national level, exposure to globalized economic forces may cause a reaction to globalization and ultimately fuel tension and difficulties at international levels.”

Social transformation arising from globalization, demographic imbalances and economic shifts will result in wide-ranging, often intense, instability risks, whose impacts will be transmitted beyond their immediate point of origin. These features will demand sensitive warning, strong governance and responsive containment arrangements. In an unstable economic environment or in the event of social crisis, an increase in militancy and activism, possibly based on a declining middle-class, is likely to fuel extremist politics in some societies, possibly characterized by resurgent nationalism and authoritarianism.”

Going Underground. All likely future opponents will have recognized the advantages of going underground if they wish to avoid the surveillance, targeting and penetrative capabilities of sophisticated military forces, particularly those deploying air platforms and systems. In future, states will seek to site most of their major nodes and the majority of their decisive fighting power underground or among civilian infrastructure that it is illegal or unethical to target. Similarly, irregular opponents will base themselves in underground networks, both for offence and defence, especially in complex urban spaces.”

In a fast-changing area, it is difficult and foolish, outside the realms of science fiction, to forecast in any depth technological breakthroughs or their likely applications. Many of the interrelated effects of globalization, including market-manipulation by existing stakeholders, the unpredictability of consumer demand and complex routes to market, will make predictions for the future even less certain. Many issues, including control regimes, will have to be addressed as they arise, although it might be anticipated that some issues will become highly charged.”

Artificial Intelligence / Transhumanism:

Increasing pervasiveness and exploitation of technology at all levels of warfare will increase the distance between ‘the point of the spear’ and the point of interaction for most personnel. Such reliance on technology and unmanned, remote options is likely to lead to increasing vulnerability to a resurgence in traditional, mass warfighting and irregular activity. Ethical questions regarding the accountability for automated actions are also likely to increase.”

Cognitive Science – Routes to the direct application of advances in cognitive science are less clear than nanotechnology or biotechnology; however, indications are that interdisciplinary advances involving cognitive science are likely to enable us more effectively to map cognitive processes. Soft Artificial Intelligence is already well established with self diagnosing and self reconfiguring networks in use and self repairing networks likely in the next 10 years. Mapping of human brain functions and the replication of genuine intelligence is possible before 2035″

Advances in social science, behavioural science and mathematical modelling will combine, leading to more informed decision making. Advanced processing and computational power will permit a new level of pattern recognition (Combinatronics) enabling the decoding of previously unrecognised or undecipherable systems and allowing the modelling of a range of biological to social, political and economic processes. As a result, simulation and representatives will have a significant and widespread impact on the future and will become an increasingly powerful tool to aid policy and decision makers.21 It will also blur the line between illusion and reality.”

AI. The progressive introduction of ‘soft’ AI and further simplification of the Human Computer Interface (HCI) is likely to change the emphasis in training from technical aspects of system operation to the application of judgement in the employment of systems and the conduct of operations. This will stimulate a cultural change with significant effects on the requirements for manpower, command structures and training.”

The application of advanced genetics could challenge current assumptions about human nature and existence. Initially employed for medical purposes, breakthroughs in these areas could be put to ethically questionable uses, such as the super-enhancement of human attributes, including physical strength and sensory perception. Extreme variation in attributes could arise between individuals, or where enhancement becomes a matter of fashion, between societies, creating additional reasons for conflict.”

Developments in genetics might allow treatment of the symptoms of ageing and this would result in greatly increased life expectancy for those who could afford it. The divide between those that could afford to ‘buy longevity’ and those that could not, could aggravate perceived global inequality. Dictatorial or despotic rulers could potentially also ‘buy longevity’, prolonging their regimes and international security risks.”

Human Nature of War Challenged by Technology. Increasing pervasiveness and exploitation of technology at all levels of warfare will increase the distance between ‘the point of the spear’ and the point of interaction for most personnel. Such reliance on technology and unmanned, remote options is likely to lead to increasing vulnerability to a resurgence in traditional, mass warfighting and irregular activity. Ethical questions regarding the accountability for automated actions are also likely to increase.”

A more permissive R&D environment could accelerate the decline of ethical constraints and restraints. The speed of technological and cultural change could overwhelm society’s ability to absorb the ethical implications and to develop and apply national and international regulatory and legal controls. Such a regulatory vacuum would be reinforcing as states and commercial organizations race to develop and exploit economic, political and military advantage. The nearest approximation to an ethical framework could become a form of secular utilitarianism, in an otherwise amoral scientific culture.”

The Role of Artificial Intelligence. The simulation of cognitive processes using Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely to be employed to manage knowledge and support decision-making, with applications across government and commercial sectors. Reliance on AI will create new vulnerabilities that are likely be exploited by criminals, terrorists or other opponents.”

Unmanned Technologies. Advances in autonomous systems, which promise to reduce substantially the physical risks to humans and mitigate some of their weaknesses, will allow the wider exploration and exploitation of extreme or hazardous environments such as deep sea, underground, contaminated areas and outer space. Furthermore, these technologies will allow increased Defence exploitation in all environments with a correspondingly reduced risk to military personnel and an expanded range of capabilities. AI and the effective replication of human judgement processes, when combined with autonomous systems, particularly robotics, are likely to enable the application of lethal force without human intervention, raising consequential legal and ethical issues.”

By 2035, an implantable information chip could be developed and wired directly to the user’s brain. Information and entertainment choices would be accessible through cognition and might include synthetic sensory perception beamed direct to the user’s senses. Wider related ICT developments might include the invention of synthetic telepathy, including mind-to-mind or telepathic dialogue. This type of development would have obvious military and security, as well as control, legal and ethical, implications.”

While it will be difficult to predict particular breakthroughs, trend analysis indicates that the most substantial technological developments will be in: ICT, biotechnology, energy, cognitive science, smart materials and sensor/network technology. Advanced nanotechnology will underpin many breakthroughs, (See text box). Developments in these areas are likely to be evolutionary, but where disciplines interact, such as in the combination of Cognitive Science and ICT to produce advanced decision-support tools, developments are likely to be revolutionary, resulting in the greatest opportunities for novel or decisive application. Most technological breakthroughs will be positive, however, many advances will also present potential threats, either through perverse applications, such as the use of genetic engineering to produce designer bio-weapons or unstable substances, or through the unanticipated consequences of experimental technological innovation.

Greater connectivity and accessibility to information through the proliferation of ICT will stimulate intensifying international debate on ethics, regulation and law, and will cause religious, ethical and moral concerns and disputes. The pace and diffusion of R&D and the operation of commercial imperatives will make global regulation difficult and will increase the opportunities for unethical or irresponsible actors to evade control. In addition, the effectiveness of regulation is likely to vary by culture, region or country, with an uneven application of, and access to, innovation. However, these issues are likely to be highly politicized and the issues are likely, on past evidence, to cause localized disorder and possibly organized violence.”

Scientific breakthroughs are likely to have the potential to improve the quality of life for many, for example in the safe genetic modification of crops or through stem cell research. However, a combination of market pricing or ethically based regulation may obstruct access by those who might wish or need to benefit most, thereby reinforcing inequality and a sense of grievance.”

“Conversely, it is possible that innovation will take place even more rapidly than is anticipated. Breakthroughs such as the early development of quantum computing will add significant impetus to the pace of technological change and information processing. Specific advances may also have significant geopolitical impacts. For example, a breakthrough in energy technology will alter the global significance of the Middle East, reducing Western strategic dependence on an unstable and volatile area.”

By the end of the period it is likely that the majority of the global population will find it difficult to ‘turn the outside world off’. ICT40 is likely to be so pervasive that people are permanently connected to a network or two-way data stream with inherent challenges to civil liberties; being disconnected could be considered suspicious.”

Technology / Weapons:

Innovation is likely to continue at an unprecedented rate and there is likely to be a multiplicity of sources of innovation and production. Making predictions about how novel and emerging technologies would be exploited and applied will be difficult and imprecise. The rate of change, tempo and unpredictability of innovation and development will challenge decision-makers who will have to anticipate and respond to direct and indirect outcomes. Notwithstanding this, trends indicate that the most rapid technological advances are likely in: ICT, energy, biotechnology, cognitive science, sensors and networks and smart materials. Nanotechnology is likely to be an important enabler for other developments, for example in electronics, sensors and commodity manufacture. Whilst technology will benefit many people, its application and integration will continue to be unequal, reinforcing differences in understanding, advantage and opportunity between the haves and have-nots.”

Technology and Fighting Power. Successful exploitation of new technology, such as Directed Energy Weapons will depend on the users’ understanding of both the advantages and the limitations to its application across physical, conceptual and moral components of fighting power. Those who fail to do so are likely to risk defeat by those who achieve a better component mix, by those who target components to which technological advantage does not apply, or by those who employ technologies such as Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) to neutralize a more sophisticated adversary’s capability. Small incremental changes in technology are also likely to lead to disproportionally large increases in warfighting capability and effectiveness. This is likely to lead to the reduction of transitional concept-to-capability timescales and increase the scope for technology leakage and more discriminating use of Off-The-Shelf (OTS) applications, especially in the areas of nano- and bio- technology.”

Perverse Application of Technology. The development of technologies that have hitherto been considered benign may be subverted for hostile use. For example, biotechnology and genetic engineering may be combined to create ‘designer’ bio-weapons to target crops, livestock, or particular ethnic groups.”

Given current multi-lateral agreements and technical factors, the effective weaponization of space is unlikely before 2020. However, nations will seek to inhibit the use of space by opponents through a combination of electromagnetic manipulation, hard-kill from ground-based sensor and weapon systems, the targeting of supporting ground-based infrastructure and a range of improvised measures. At its most extreme, the weaponization of space may eventually include the development of space-based strike weapons capable of attacking ground-based and other space targets; for example solid metal projectiles travelling at orbital velocities, so-called ‘rods from the gods’. However, this will remain extremely unlikely without the prospect of sustained and extreme deterioration in international relationships and will be technically difficult to achieve before 2020.”

Innovation, research and development will originate from more international and diffuse sources and will proliferate widely, making regulation and control of novel technologies more challenging. The exploitation of these may have catastrophic results, especially those associated with nanotechnology, biotechnology and weapon systems. These may be unintended, for example ‘runaway’ nanotechnology or biotechnology, or intended, such as the development and use of directed energy or electromagnetic-pulse weapons.”

Access to technology that enables the production and distribution of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons is likely to increase. A critical indicator of risk is contained in the examples of North Korea and Iran – both in obtaining or seeking nuclear weapons and in exploiting their putative possession for political and economic advantage. In future, much proliferation and threat will be manifest in the ungoverned space between legality and realpolitik, together with the distinct possibility of the acquisition of CBRN material by non-state and rogue elements.”

In the use of violence and the threat of force, military and civil distinctions will become blurred and weapons and technologies will be more widely available to potential combatants and individuals. The greatest risks of large-scale conflict will be in areas of economic vulnerability, poor governance, environmental and demographic stress and enduring inequality and hardship, especially where there has been a history of recurring conflict (See Figure 2). Most conflicts will be societal, involving civil war, intercommunal violence, insurgency, pervasive criminality and widespread disorder. However, in areas subject to significant demographic and wealth imbalances, there will be a risk of large scale cross-border migration and exogenous shock. Finally, a trend towards societal conflict will be reflected in the continuing prevalence of civilian casualties, as it takes place in increasingly urbanized situations and human networks.”

Arms Rivalry. Increasing strategic and possibly inter-bloc competition is likely as a result of the emergence of major new powers. This may stimulate intensive arms races, for example between China and the US, or between regional rivals such as India and Pakistan, reducing resources available for peaceful economic development. The increase in arms spending would probably extend beyond immediate rivals to include their neighbours and partners, thus intensifying regional tensions and increasing the chances of conflict.”

At the most serious level, space systems could be destroyed or disabled by a burst of solar energy or a natural fluctuation. Similarly, satellites and space platforms could be destroyed or damaged in a deliberate hostile attack, or by being struck by space-debris, causing a cascade of collateral damage to other space-based platforms. The damage could be amplified if an element of the chain explodes and emits an electromagnetic pulse. The consequences might include catastrophic failures of critical space-enabled utilities, triggering widespread mass-transport accidents, multiple military and public service system failures and the collapse of international financial systems.”

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) capabilities will probably become operational during the period out to 2035. It could be used to destroy all ICT devices over selected areas, while limiting wider physical and human damage. While military and other high-value networks may be hardened against this threat, most networks and communities on which societies depend, will not. The employment of an EMP weapon against a ‘World-City’ (for example, an international business-service hub) would have significant impact beyond the country against which it was targeted. It might even reduce political and business confidence in globalized economic processes to the point that concern about national economic resilience reverses internationally integrative trends, leading to a world increasingly characterized by protection, control and isolationism.”

The political purpose most commonly envisaged for nuclear weapons has been to deter nuclear attack by, or to offset the conventional superiority of, a potential adversary. Future concerns will centre on the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists and other irregular entities, for coercive purposes or to inflict massive casualties. In addition, existing assumptions about the employment of nuclear weapons may be challenged in still more radical ways, including the exploration of neutron possibilities. The ability to inflict organic destruction, while leaving infrastructure intact, might make it a weapon of choice for extreme ethnic cleansing in an increasingly populated world. Alternatively, it might be considered as a basis for a new era of deterrence both in outfacing irresponsible nuclear powers and in opposing demographically strong nations.”

Doomsday Scenario
Many of the concerns over the development of new technologies lie in their safety, including the potential for disastrous outcomes, planned and unplanned. For example, it is argued that nanotechnology could have detrimental impacts on the environment, genetic modification could spiral out of control and that AI could be superior to that of humans, but without the restraining effect of human social conditioning. Various doomsday scenarios arising in relation to these and other areas of development present the possibility of catastrophic impacts, ultimately including the end of the world, or at least of humanity.”

NOTE: All emphasis and formatting theirs!

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