Throughout history, technological advances have had significant effects on military command, control, and logistics. In turn, military establishments — and war — often accelerate advances in technology.
Man has been using technology to improve the precision, pace, and proximity of combat throughout time. Yesteryear, technology afforded man new delivery mechanisms for gunpowder. Today, we use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to eliminate specific threats in distant and isolated territories while military personnel remain at safer distances. Yet, we are now relinquishing far more influence and decision-making to thinking machines. Devices are now equipped to fix, track, target, assess, and engage in the dull, dirty, and dangerous missions. As artificial intelligence continues to progress, military personnel may no longer directly control the remotely-operated devices, but rather supervise independent actions of robots. Beneficially, combat medical robots could save lives by autonomously identifying and retrieving wounded soldiers behind enemy lines. Yet, society must heed the necessity for much caution and preemptive regulation. Lethal Autonomous Robots (LARs) might progress to a level of autonomy in which the machine is qualified to decide whether humans live or die.
Civilian zones have often been used for military purposes; war propaganda is nothing new. Yet today, we march into digital military theaters with a mere click. Cyberspace renders warfare more accessible, unabridged, and prevalent. Cyberwarfare is waged daily. Combat is streamed on-line. Militaries use social media for digital militarism to strengthen military capability . Wars are announced on Twitter. Soldiers post photos demonstrating selfie-militarism . Executions are uploaded on YouTube. The warfare moves to the palm of our hand. Is this lasting state of ongoing tension an emerging mode of Digital Perpetual War? Will those of us who are untrained and ill-equipped civilians become susceptible to “digital combat fatigue”?
Society is encountering shifting paradigms relative to human-machine interactions. Our times are not utterly unique; similar quandaries were encountered in such previous times as the cybernetics movement . However, we do have noteworthy considerations to contemplate in this contemporary context. What is the trajectory if we allow the amalgamation of human-machine interactions to yield a machine with far more control and influence, and humanity with far less?
Christine Perakslis is Associate Professor in the MBA Program, College of Management, Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.