In the history of armed conflict, the intelligent use of
evolving technologies has been shown to overmatch even the most
tested tactics and courageous warriors. The fourth NexTech
war-game, organized by the Rapid Reaction Technology
Office/Emerging Capabilities Division of the Office of the
Secretary of Defense and Noetic Corporation, was a convention that
sought to better understand the legal, ethical and political
considerations that come with the use of the next generation of
potentially “game-changing” technologies in warfare. As an intern
with the Noetic Corporation as part of the UCDC program in Winter
Quarter 2013, I was able to participate in and observe the war-game
as it happened. The gathering brought up the question of whether
using emerging autonomous technology operated by military personnel
from bases on the other side of the world may begin to take
precedence in carrying out reconnaissance missions and targeted
strategic strikes. Participants also debated what would happen to
the world’s militaries and social and political dynamics when these
unmanned vehicles begin to operate more efficiently without a human
operator. The war-game brought a wide range of attendees, from
military officers to philosophers, lawyers and industry experts to
Annapolis, MD from March 27 to 28 to discuss the issues that could
rise from the use of technologies and tactics, such as cyber
warfare, biologically engineered weapons, autonomous and
semi-autonomous “drones,” 3D printing, directed energy weapons and
human performance modifications. Four vignettes were presented,
each rooted in contemporary security threats. There was a naval
blockade over disputed islands, a conventional brigade assault to
oust an invading force from an allied state, a rogue state
attempting to develop a chemical, biological or nuclear weapons
program and a coordinated terrorist strike in an urban center
during a high-profile event. In every scenario, nearly all the
participants, from pacifistic philosophy professors to experienced
infantry officers, were all concerned with the need to “target”
civilians and the ability to convey an escalation of force when
using these technologies. If, for instance, biologically engineered
technologies, such as a microwave “pain ray,” have the potential to
minimize death and destruction by incapacitating the enemy or
preventing them from hiding behind civilians but would require the
deliberate targeting of those civilians, is that ethical or legal?
Likewise, could biological weapons — even nonfatal ones — ever be
deemed acceptable for use in warfare? The future may bring military
commanders that are less hesitant toward using these technological
approaches in conventional warfare, but ethical, legal and policy
considerations have grown to be a limiting factor in the creation
of these warfare technologies. Though they have the potential to
play a useful role within the frameworks of conflict and
escalation, the nature by which they are deployed is difficult to
reconcile with concerns of civilian safety.     A
version of this article appeared on page 9 of May 21st’s print
edition of the Daily Nexus.