The first industrial revolution started in England towards the end of the 18th century with the use of steam power and revamping of the textile industry through mechanisation. The second revolution began a century later and culminated in early 20th century. It was driven by electricity and a cluster of inventions including the internal combustion engine, the aeroplane and moving pictures. The third industrial revolution, which was started in early 1970s, was basically digital in nature. It involved application of electronics and information technology to enhance production, and was centred around concepts such as mass customisation and additive manufacturing. We are today in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human. Twelve key emerging technologies are:
I. 3D Printing. Advances in additive manufacturing, using a widening range of materials and methods; innovations include 3D bio-printing of organic tissues.
II. Advanced materials and nanomaterials. Creation of new materials and nanostructures for the development of beneficial material properties, such as thermoelectric efficiency, shape retention and new functionality.
III. Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Development of machines that can substitute for humans, increasingly in tasks associated with thinking, multitasking and fine motor skills.
IV. Biotechnologies. Innovations in genetic engineering, sequencing and therapeutics, as well as biological computational interfaces and synthetic biology.
V. Energy capture, storage and transmission. Breakthroughs in battery and fuel cell efficiency; renewable energy through solar, wind, and tidal technologies; energy distribution through smart grid systems, wireless energy transfer and more.
VI. Blockchain and distributed ledger. Distributed ledger technology based on cryptographic systems that manage, verify and publicly record transaction data; the basis of “cryptocurrencies” such as bitcoin.
VII. Geoengineering. Technological intervention in planetary systems, typically to mitigate effects of climate change by removing carbon dioxide or managing solar radiation.
VIII. Ubiquitous linked sensors. Also known as the “Internet of Things”. The use of networked sensors to remotely connect, track and manage products, systems, and grids.
IX. Neurotechnologies. Innovations such as smart drugs, neuroimaging, and bioelectronic interfaces that allow for reading, communicating and influencing human brain activity.
X. New computing technologies. New architectures for computing hardware, such as quantum computing, biological computing or neural network processing, as well as innovative expansion of current computing technologies.
XI. Space technologies. Developments allowing for greater access to and exploration of space, including microsatellites, advanced telescopes, reusable rockets and integrated rocketjet engines.
XII. Virtual and augmented realities. Next-step interfaces between humans and computers, involving immersive environments, holographic readouts and digitally produced overlays for mixed-reality experiences.
Major Implications of Emerging Technologies
Just as the third industrial revolution of computers in the 1980s and 1990s led to a revolution in military affairs, with concepts such as network centric warfare and precision strike, with the fourth industrial revolution we are on the cusp of another revolution in military affairs, one that will leverage on cyber, AI, big data and robotics. While the full implications of this revolution are still unclear, we are beginning to see how we can apply these new technologies in defence.
Technology is now evolving far faster than the military procurement process. We need to change our process or we are going to fall behind in the use of technology as applied to conflicts. Most of the innovation occurs in the private sector, not in government. That means that defence and intelligence communities have to be better customers and better partners with private industry. If we make it too difficult, too bureaucratic, too rigid to deal with government, more and more companies will simply say, ‘I do not need that. I will just deal with the commercial market and avoid the hassle’. Armed forces will not be able to utilise these innovations, at least in the early stages. The military must hence adapt to change at the same rate as the changes that are taking place in technology. This would require changes in the decision making processes.
The skills necessary and the processes by which human skills are employed in the militaries has to change. As technology advances, it becomes more complex and it requires people with a technical background or engineering background to understand its complexity. Technocrats are however more enamoured with the technology rather than with policy issues. Conversely, people who are dealing with policy, tend to push technological issues to the back burner. The latter group however need to get their hands dirty and understand the technology, because the technology is going to affect policy decision making at the highest operational and the strategic levels and we cannot make these kinds of policy level decisions, unless we understand the technology and what it means to us. A word of caution to those in General Staff appointments is hence in order; if you do not understand technology you will be condemned to the dustbins of history.
With the development of motion learning, deep learning, big data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence(AI) is resting at the centre of the coming technological, industrial and military revolution. AI has been widely used in embedded fields. Intelligent sensors and wearable equipment may help improve information collection and sharing. Cloud computing and big-data analysis can be used in cyber detection and attribution. More than 70 countries have the ability to develop unmanned vehicles, drones and ships, and the robot warriors will be in service maybe in the near future. AI will make war more precise, more cruel and the strike action quicker. The unmanned system will be used by states to reduce their military priorities. But the civilian collective priorities may not be guaranteed when the terrorist is hiding among them.
A significant area of application is the use of artificial intelligence and data analytics in counter terrorism operations. One of the biggest problems in dealing with the terrorist threat is that it is often like searching for a needle in a haystack. AI and data analytics will certainly help in finding the needle.
Another example of how the fourth industrial revolution can transform the military is in the area of logistics. Much has been said about how companies such as Amazon use AI, data analytics and robotics to streamline processes in their warehouses, which translates into economic advantage. But these technologies can also be applied in the military. The processes in an air base or a naval base or in a forward deployed base, many are related to logistics. Regardless of whether you are managing books or boxes or bullets and bombs, AI and data analytics will help to manage inventory more efficiently and effectively.
Because of the coexistence of the man in the loop and the man out of the loop, it is difficult to hunt down those responsible for the faulty missions. For example, those responsible for human terror and disaster caused by drones may involve the pilot, the computer programmer, the procurement officer and the commander, and so on. Therefore, it is more difficult to find those responsible for AI mistakes, the human mistakes. Meanwhile, owing to the spread of low-cost, low threshold information and communication technologies (ICT), terrorists could exploit AI and its weakness to launch an attack. In an increasingly interconnected and globalised world, we are facing more and more risks of miscalculation, misjudgement and misperception. For instance, a cyber attack by using AI technology can damage critical infrastructure and industrial control systems. If a nuclear weapon’s control system is hacked by AI, it may cause even greater disaster.
It will be more and more difficult to pursue security for one country alone. Big powers and the technologically advanced countries should take on more responsibilities to discuss and assess the common challenges in the medium and the long term. The technologically advanced countries should contribute more with AI technology to fight against terrorism, transnational crime, disaster early warning and human terror assistance missions. The international community should cast more concern on retroactive liability for AI weapon abuse, trying to reach a consensus on international law enforcement.
The law of armed conflict holds individuals responsible for the decisions they make. If it is a robot that kills somebody mistakenly, who do you hold responsible for it? We have enormous challenges in trying to have cyber policies keep up with the pace of change of the cyber threat and cyber capabilities. The challenge for policymakers is to have ethical codes in place, which must change with the degree and the magnitude of technological change.
Emerging technologies will also change the way the military operates, some of which will be culturally challenging. There was some resistance in the US to airplanes without pilots because it was so counter cultural, and some of the change was delayed because it was not the way the military traditionally operated. There are issues between macho Rayban wearing fighter pilots and drone pilots sitting in an air conditioned cubicle far from area of operations. The intellectual development and ethical education of all members of the military will be more important as decision making becomes more widely distributed and as decisions are made at a lower level in the chain of command.
Every domain of life will be challenged. What is law enforcement, what is military, what is civilian, what is not, is going to be contested. Recently, voting systems in a variety of countries have been challenged. As the government process is slow and as technology moves fast, the political pressure will perforce lead to more and more executive action, more and more quick decisions, not coming through a democratic process, but coming from either a dictatorial authoritarian type of situation. In addition to raising the issue of whether we are going to have autonomous decision making with the robotics taking charge, the question is: is democracy becoming obsolete in the nano world in which we are living?
The emerging technologies of the fourth industrial revolution offer great opportunities for countries to enhance their defences against critical threats such as terrorism. However, to fully realise the potential of these technologies, militaries must change how they think, how they operate, train, force structure and develop capabilities. Even as we do so, we must be cognisant of the new vulnerabilities that are created by a reliance on these technologies. We must create new structures to defend ourselves against these new emerging threats that can exploit those vulnerabilities.
Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM is from Corps of Signals, specialises in Cyber, Signals Intelligence and Electronic Warfare issues. He has been Senior Directing Staff (Army) at National Defence College. He does free lance writing, enjoys travelling, interested in Military History. He runs a blog site and website http://strategicstudyindia.blogspot.in and http://indianstrategicknowledgeonline.com for benefit of people interested in strategic issues.