In string theory, all particles are vibrations on a tiny rubber band; physics is the harmonies on the string; chemistry is the melodies we play on vibrating strings; the universe is a symphony of strings, and the ‘Mind of God’ is cosmic music resonating in 11-dimensional hyperspace — Michio Kaku
The word ‘Warfare’ sounds ominous. In reality, it is a race to obtain and maintain technological superiority. After nuclear deterrence, warfare turned economic. With the advance of the internet, cyber warfare became the next frontier. The wars of the future will use Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnology, Quantum computing and vast troves of data. In other words, Mars (the god of war) is entering a quantum world. The war of the future will be literally played at the subatomic and genetic level. Thus, it will be defined by our capability to understand and manipulate physical qubits and biological genes.
After World War II, war, over time, has become more subtle, less visible but more sinister. This article traces the historical developments in warfare and maps out a likely future of warfare. At the end, war by any means is a primal instinct. This article concludes by offering a way forward to removing the edge of the other side of this Damocles’ sword and envisions a world without warfare. More importantly, this article looks at the things we need to do to overcome inequality and a dystopian future where the disenfranchised live under a dark cloud of acid rain. After all, science fiction, eerily enough, is a very, very strong self fulfilling prophecy. Let’s make it a positive prophecy.
Warfare Becomes Subtler
Sun Tzu wrote, in his 5th Century BC treatise ‘The Art Of War’, that the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. That approach is the quintessential approach behind the creation of many empires. The idea is to use diplomacy, strategic alliances and counter alliances to break down the enemy mentally. Calling the infantry is the last resort.
Arya Kautilya, an ancient Indian monk, philosopher and master strategist wrote ‘The Arthashastra (IAST: Arthaśāstra) ’— an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy, in Sanskrit. The story behind Kautilya (also known as Chanakya) is that of an Indian ‘Brahmin’ (learned scholar) who pledges revenge after he is scorned by having his hair cut to disrespect him. Kautilya, aligns with Chandragupta Maurya (a Kshatriya or warrior) to incite a civil war within the Nanda dynasty’s empire using intelligence and ultimately, establishes Maurya’s rule by defeating the dynasty despite not having any strength in numbers initially.
Genghiz Khan, the Mongol, who established the worlds largest empire was known as a savage marauder. However, once his enemies surrendered to him, he would allow them to practice their faith. In fact, Khan would take the best practices of the subdued empire and make them his own. Thus, his empire became an agglomeration of world knowledge and treasures.
In modern times, the approach is known as psychological warfare. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the British empire would promise the general of an Indian Kings’ army the kingdom. In return, the general must defect and serve the British. Thus, the king was already beaten even before he entered the battlefield.
The two World Wars saw conventional warfare at unprecedented scale until Oppenheimer and Einstein realized the dark side of the technology they created. Nuclear Proliferation followed by non-proliferation dialogue meant that overt warfare was a thing of the past. Therefore, economic warfare became the next battleground. An example of economic warfare, although not by a government but rather by George Soros’ hedge fund is when it broke the British Pound and consequently the Bank Of England by taking the opposite trading position as the BoE. Malaysia had at a point in time banned Soros from speculating against its currency — the Baht.
As demographics would have it, technology became the next frontier of GDP growth in the western world. The result was a war by other means — cyber warfare. Hacking government computers, defense networks and paralyzing businesses by taking down their networks became the next battlefield.
Today, Machine Learning and AI have become the next arms race. However, a parallel technology that is being worked on is quantum computing. Although, in its infancy, the technology has the power to break all of our current encryption, render data naked making the first government or business to commercialize quantum computing a natural hegemony.
The War Of The Future
While AI is already very visible, quantum computing and genetic editing are not so hotly discussed besides a few major developments. However, technologies that upturn classical physics or allow man to play god are exponentially more powerful.
Today Artificial Intelligence can only learn by aping humans. Data fed to algorithms becomes the memory and the algorithm itself becomes the brain. This is the paradox of privacy and truly transformational AI. It is very hard for AI to achieve its full potential without encroaching on privacy to gather as much as data on civilians as possible. Think about it, the CEO’s of Facebook and Google testifying before Congress is part of a larger, unstoppable mega trend ie the hunger of the AI machine for more and more personal data. Facebook is asking for more data from you for its AI algorithms to target ads precisely. It will be in business as long as you think what you are getting in return for lesser privacy is worth it-in Facebooks’ case, connectivity with friends or temporary pleasure from an overt display of narcissism . Similarly, Amazon’s recommendation engines become more powerful the less private you choose to be ie as long as it is a fair trade in the eyes of the consumer. Of course, lesser privacy always comes with more sinister side effects such as the manipulation of elections, propaganda and misinformation. Thus, the advance of AI means the peeling away of layers of our privacy. China has sensors on the streets to recognize people’s faces and its authorities use glasses that can perform facial recognition. This is an unstoppable megatrend and CEO’s of US tech behemoths testifying before the US Congress is just a symptom.
The next question that arises then is how will be government data be secured in the future. The answer: Quantum Key Decryption. Read my article on the topic. Also, Let me give a couple of other reasons why this megatrend is likely to continue unabated. Masayoshi Son, the CEO of SoftBank Japan created a $100 billion ‘Vision’ fund to invest in disruptive technologies primarily AI. As per the MIT Technology Review, China is building a $1 billion National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences in Hefei that will open in 2020.
In September 2017, a Chinese satellite named Micius transmitted data from China to Austria using Quantum Key Decryption (QKD). It is also helping the Chinese experiment with quantum teleportation. Teleportation, the ‘Beam Me Up, Scotty!’ kind, needs matter to travel faster than the speed of light. That is not possible but the teleporting quantum bits using their properties to space and back has already been tried.
The wars of the future will be fought by platforms which will transcend nation states. While nation states will remain geographical boundaries, the next weapons will be algorithms. The war of the future will be a giant game of chess. Quantum computing will help secure and break into a platforms data and algorithms. One vision of that future is described at length in my article ‘The Shogun and Samurai’.
The future super soldiers will be equipped with a physical exoskeleton to begin with but will gradually transform into cybernetic organisms (cyborgs) ie humans with a chip in the brain. At a microscopic level, platforms can use nanobots to infiltrate servers and deliver surgical strikes. Another grim possibility is genetically manufactured supersoldiers using technologies such as CRISPR and RNA interference. It’s like the book ‘The Island Of Dr Moreau’ but only more frightening.
The third battlefield will be outer space. Intergalactic travel, again will be a public private platform. The reason I say platforms will be the next armies is because Google and Facebook today are good approximations of the future. Their raison d’etre is that their technologies are global and local at the same time. Algorithms, to be more precise need global data. Ask any medical practitioner and they can tell you the prevalence of a disease or chronic condition depends on genetics and therefore, varies from ethnicity to ethnicity. Algorithms, by that same logic, must have a global outlook.
In sum, the capability of mankind to wreak havoc, engage in conflict which is a primal instinct will be exponentially magnified by enabling technologies. Mars, the god of war, will truly operate from a quantum world. Quantum, both from a biological (genetic editing) and digital (computing) perspective.
Again, the war of the future will be a permutation or combination of new technologies eg quantum computing and AI. Therefore, we are heading into a seemingly unpredictable future where the interplay of powerful forces will redefine warfare as we know it. This will be a future where we will be closest to either becoming more human or more demonic. Let me explain why.
An Idea Called Human Beings
Utopia is a myth but it is also an idea. An idea that can guide our efforts to blunt the bad side of a double edged sword called technology. Perhaps, the closest real world interpretation of Utopia is a society maniacally focused on fairness, equality and justice- the cornerstone of modern democracies. That maniacal focus begins with our acknowledgment that disruptive technologies such as AI will radically reshape the world and we need to focus on neutralizing it’s unequal effects on people.
Micius, the ancient Chinese philosopher wrote : ‘If every one in the world will love universally; states not attacking one another; houses not disturbing one another; thieves and robbers becoming extinct; emperor and ministers, fathers and sons, all being affectionate and filial — if all this comes to pass the world will be orderly. Therefore, how can the wise man who has charge of governing the empire fail to restrain hate and encourage love? So, when there is universal love in the world it will be orderly, and when there is mutual hate in the world it will be disorderly’
Following the teachings of Sadhguru-a celebrated Indian mystic and Guru, there are 16 dimensions of a human mind which can be categorized into 4 broad categories ie buddhi , ahankara, manas and chita. Humans need to rise above buddhi (intellect) , ahankara (an ego born out of a limited concept of identity), manas and reach the ultimate state of consciousness called ‘chita’. Chita is consciousness unsullied by memory. Most human beings operate using intellect and identity which are nothing but things born out of our memory- a memory passed on from our forefathers. This is the very reason why we get caught up in identity politics and a narrow version of the world that propagates inequality and war.
Ironically, when AI reaches Singularity, machines will have both intellect and identity (biased algorithms which are unequal and limited by our narrow view of identity). They will resemble the present day ‘us’ in the future. Therefore, everything most humans do today will be automated. This will free us to focus on acquiring chita-a consciousness unsullied by memory. This is the end point of AI because chita cannot be programmed as it has no memory.
When we reach the stage of chita, our job will be to return to our roots and become one with the universe. In other words, our work, in a post singularity world, will be to use our consciousness to become ‘human beings’. This is the very reason why AI will be the most transformative technology — not because it will automate boring tasks and free our time but because it is the only technology, which if used rightly, will keep war out of our lives and will free up our time to ‘be’ what we were supposed to be — an idea called human beings.