War In The Digital Age

Technology is changing the commercial world through the practice of creative destruction. But it is also shaping the tools for how future wars will be fought.

The machine age

Since the end of the Second World War there has been little threat to the existence of countries in the West, although the same sense of security has not been universally shared. Terrorism, in all its forms, is a constant danger but has been contained to a series of single incidents, albeit appalling in nature and consequence. Cyber attacks are increasing, however, as the private details of tens of millions of people are leaked or held to ransom on a regular basis.

But just as revolution in the digital domain is affecting everyday life, it is also altering the nature of war and how it will be fought in the future. War has always been a feature of mankind regardless of its collateral damage; wars are brutal in nature and horrific in execution as killing is normalised.

Even in peacetime, the mechanisms and strategies of war are maintained to safeguard a destructive readiness for our collective safety. Such preparation uses the technologies of the time. In the past, it was guns, bombs and planes; in the future, it will be digital connectivity, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The technologies of war are changing at incredible speed, as previously impregnable large-scale military infrastructures are vulnerable to small-scale precision missiles. Control of land, sea and air is no longer guaranteed to the big powers, as drones target with lethal accuracy from long distance.

The digital age

In the digital age other less sinister tools are deployed, as the Internet and social media are used to undermine the democratic process in countries around the world. Using social media to gain power in a world of fake news and mass manipulation is in vogue as the levers of today’s wars are virtual in an ecosystem where information rules.

The mechanics of war are moving from machines to machine learning, from gathering intelligence to artificial intelligence, from advanced weapons to autonomous weapons, from drones to nano-drones and from top-down to real time decision-making.

Cyber war and cyber security attacks are a new battlefield for countries that want to control and corrupt. Just as digital technology is changing the commercial world, it is also forcing the military to rethink everything it knows about warfare.

Today’s military terrain is 24/7/365 and driven by advances that cannot be stopped or slowed down. Machines infused with the ability to think are growing geometrically smarter and will soon operate beyond our ability to understand or control them.

So, the solution is not to try to stop the unstoppable but to embed the best human values into the technologies that will fight future wars before it is too late.