Weapons and computer and robotics technology will continue to spur the decentralization of violence, making it ever more difficult to combat insurgency. From Peter W. Singer at defenseone.com:
The author of “Ghost Fleet” has some guesses — and some questions that U.S. defenders will have to answer.
Robots, artificial intelligence, cyberwar, 3D printing, bio-enhancements, and a new geopolitical competition; the 21st century is being shaped by a range of momentous, and scary, new trends and technologies. We should also expect them to shape the worlds of insurgency and terrorism.
With so much change, it is too early to know all that will shake out from these new technologies in the years leading toward 2030 and beyond. But we can identify a few key trends of what will matter for war and beyond, and resulting questions that future counter-insurgents will likely have to wrestle with. Below are three, pulled from a recent New America report on what the tech and wars of 2030 might portend.
The End of Non-Proliferation
A common theme in the diverse technology areas expected to change warfare most significantly (the hardware of robotics to the software of AI, to the “wetware” of human performance modification) is that they are neither inherently military nor civilian. Both the people and organizations that research and develop these technologies and those that buy and use them will be both government and civilian. They will be applied to conflict, but also areas that range from business to family life. A related attribute is that they are less likely to require massive logistics systems to deploy, while the trend of greater machine intelligence means that they will also be easier to learn and use—not requiring large training or acquisitions programs. These factors mean that insurgent groups will be able to make far more rapid gains in technology and capability than previously possible.
In short, the game-changing technologies of tomorrow are most likely to have incredibly low barriers to entry, which means they will be proliferated. In addition, some of the technologies, such as 3D printing, will make it difficult to prevent the spread of capability via traditional non-proliferation approaches such as arms embargos and blockades. Interdicting weapons routes is less workable in a world where manufacturing can be done on site.
This issue is not one merely of the hardware, but also the spread of ideas. As vexing as the extent of terrorist ideology and “how to’s” have been in a world of social media, these platforms are still centrally controlled. The Twitters and Facebooks of the world can take down content when they are persuaded of the legal or public relations need. However, the move toward decentralized applications reduces this power, as there is no one place to appeal for censorship. This phenomenon is well beyond just the problem of a YouTube clip showing how to build an IED, or a cleric inspiring a watcher of a linked video to become a suicide bomber.
Decentralization crossed with crowd-sourcing and open sourcing empowers anyone on the network to new scales. Indeed, there are already open-source projects like Tensorflow, that allow anyone to tap into AI resources that were science fiction just a decade ago.
All this suggests a few key questions: How will U.S. and allied forces prepare for insurgent adversaries that have access to many of the very same technologies and capabilities that they previously relied upon for an edge? Will lower barriers to entry make it easier for insurgencies to gain the capability needed to rise? Will it make it more difficult to defeat them if they can rapidly recreate capability?
Whether it was the Marines battling the rebel forces in Haiti with the earliest of close air support missions a century ago or the Marines battling the Taliban today, counterinsurgents of the last 100 years have enjoyed a crucial advantage. When it came to the various domains of war, the state actor alone had the ability to bring true power to bear across domains. In enjoying unfettered access to the air and sea, they could operate more effectively on the land, not just by conducting surveillance and strikes that prevented insurgents from effectively massing forces, but by crucially moving their own forces to almost anywhere they wanted to go.