Justin’s note: Yesterday, Doug and I discussed how future wars will be fought differently than they are today.
Today, in part two, Doug explains what a possible shooting war between the U.S. and China would look like… how artificial intelligence could be used in future wars… and what he believes will be “the single biggest technology that’s going to change the nature of warfare.”
Justin: What about a possible shooting war between the United States and China? You said there was a high probability of that happening recently.
Doug: Well, it seems like all these horrible people Trump has surrounded himself with—like that fellow with the bushy mustache—are banking on one, a conventional war. They seem to figure US aircraft carrier groups will allow them to bring the war to the enemy, but avoid going nuclear.
Unfortunately, the carrier is equivalent to the battleship in World War II. It has many sophisticated defense mechanisms, but there is no defense against the hypersonic weapons that the Russians, Chinese, and soon everybody else, are developing.
The carrier group’s Aegis systems, phalanx guns, and anti-aircraft missiles are useless against hypersonic attack.
Even nuclear weapons are becoming dinosaurs. In our last interview, I mentioned the space weapon, the “Rod from God.” Now, this won’t be deployed anytime soon. That’s because—and this is speculation—each rod would be 20 feet long, a foot in diameter, and made out of tungsten, which has an extremely high specific gravity, about 19, the same as metallic uranium. Even lead is only 11. Each rod might weigh 10 or 15 tons.
There are major technical hurdles of getting just one of those into high orbit. Then, there’s the challenge of building a launch platform for a battery of them in space. Then keeping the satellite, the battle station, safe from a preemptive strike.
The basic idea is sound from a number of standpoints, however. I first encountered it in Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, a really great sci-fi book he wrote in the ’60s. The idea was that the colony on the moon revolts against Earth, and simply launches big rocks down the gravity well to win the war. Something like that will undoubtedly happen in the future.
Justin: Yeah, I read somewhere that it would cost $230 million just to get each one of those rods into orbit.
Doug: Expensive, plus billions more for the launch platform needed to deploy it. But considering the cost of a B-2 bomber, maybe $500 million, they might go for it. I’ll wager the future of warfare is going to be decapitating enemy leadership cadres. And it would be much more precise and useful than a nuke.
My guess is that the first decapitation of a major state’s leadership will be done by a nongovernmental organization with an agenda.
ISIS and Al Qaeda are excellent examples. They use open source warfare. Instead of having a very expensive think tank planning out ultra expensive, high-tech weaponry, these people deal with off-the-shelf products, ultra cheap. Somebody does something. They learn from them. They make a mistake. They incorporate what’s learned from that mistake.
When you’ve got hundreds of thousands or millions of young males that can be deployed at near zero cost, they’re much more effective than spending a million dollars training a special ops soldier. Or three million for a cruise missile. Quantity has a quality of its own.
A Muslim teenager with a bomb pack strapped around him can do almost as much damage as a cruise missile. But he’s a lot cheaper and there are a lot more of them. So that’s where things are headed.
If these guys were smart, they’d start attacking individual government officials. They’re backward types, generally ignorant, saturated with medieval theology—but they certainly all know about Hassan-i Sabbah, who originated the term assassin during the Crusades. He was quite effective against the invaders.
Then what would happen if they stopped attacking innocent civilians, and went strictly for government officials? Where are the nomenklatura going to hide? Is the government going to have to encase itself in concrete? How will these individuals protect themselves and their families? The answer is: They can’t. Just protecting the President alone, even now, is almost impossible and hugely expensive.
That’s the way it’s going to evolve because conventional warfare is too expensive, too destructive, and highly ineffective.
Justin: What do you think about artificial intelligence (AI) being used in future wars?
Doug: Well, science fiction has long been much better at predicting what’s likely to happen than any think tank. AI is going to be huge. As will other computer warfare, because the whole world is now run by software.
But there are other weapons rapidly evolving, like drones. It’s amazing what the US is able to do with their Predators, Reapers, and so forth. All the world’s armies are working on their own versions. No doubt the next generation of fighter aircraft will be drones, run by AI, with no need for a pilot. F-35s will be little more than targets for them.
But the next generation of drones will be tiny things, the size of insects. Instead of one big Predator, you’re going to have thousands or hundreds of thousands of little bumblebee-sized drones. And each will have a high-explosive payload. Each big enough to take out one individual. And they’ll be very hard to stop.
They’ll be very effective at going after the people running governments, as opposed to just countering other armies.
Plus, anybody is going to be able to deploy them. You’ll be able to make them with off-the-shelf-type products. They’ll be cheap. Even a well-to-do individual will be able to launch his own micro-drone war against offensive government officials. But it goes beyond even that.
Everybody’s seen the movie The Terminator. That scenario used to seem impossible. But AI is advancing at the rate of Moore’s Law. So, there’s no question that within a generation there will be robot soldiers that are as effective as any of today’s individual soldiers. Actually, they’ll be more effective, much stronger, and harder to kill.
Organizations are already working on these technologies. It’s going to happen. It’s unstoppable because the technology is already cheap, and getting cheaper, and it can be used off the shelf by clever people.
So, it won’t just be governments that possess this firepower. Individual war entrepreneurs will develop terminators. And they’ll be able to do so faster and cheaper than governments, which are slow-moving bureaucracies.
In essence, technology is headed towards giving small groups, or even individuals, ways to cut the head off the snake.
In the days of ancient warfare, generals and kings led from the front. It was rare for a general to control things from miles behind the front; his army would see him as an unworthy coward. In the Iliad, leaders would go out in front of the army and fight it out, in personal combat. It’s hard to imagine chicken hawks like Cheney or Obama doing that—although Putin is a different matter…
I don’t think we’re going back to the way things were in the days of the Iliad. But technology is going to make the actual miscreants who run governments, and actually start wars, be held responsible—personally. This is a cause for optimism. They’ll be much less likely to do something stupid if their own necks are on the line.
Justin: So, do you think this could lead to less bloody conflicts?
Doug: It should. If politicians are forced to accept the consequences of their actions on a personal basis, they’re going to be a lot more cautious about encroaching on others’ lives and property.
Justin: Since you mentioned TheTerminator, I have to ask…are you worried about AI or robots trying to destroy the human race?
Doug: I’m not worried about that. You have got to recognize that the ultimate problem of life is death. Technology is the only way there is to cheat the Grim Reaper. At least for a while.
As a result, I’m intensely interested in seeing all types of technology continue to accelerate. It’s genuinely stupid to try to slow it down or regulate it. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen 50 or 100 years from now—chances are, even if we have something that looks like World War 3 in the next few years, our grandchildren will pity us, and see us the way we see medieval peasants.
Unless technology makes some near-term breakthroughs in life extension, we’re all going to be dead by then anyway. It’s possible, however. And the prospect of attaining it is worth any risk.
There are going to be some negative aspects to the rapid development of technology—mostly in the ways the State uses it to control its subjects—namely us. But the good news is technology may find the key to letting us each live as individuals for hundreds of years. So, I’m all for completely letting the genie out of the bottle.
The only way we can solve the problems of the material world is with technology, so you’ve got to let technology expand as quickly as possible, instead of trying to put it back in the bottle because it might be too dangerous.
Of course, all new technologies are initially controlled by governments—gunpowder and rockets being two examples. But once they get into the hands of the average man the tables are turned. Gunpowder gave the peasant the ability to take down the armored thugs that were suppressing him, and brought down feudalism. Rockets were the means to destroy civilization when they were the exclusive province of governments—now there are a half-dozen private companies that will use them to further free and expand mankind.
Things can go wrong. Sure. But that’s a chance we’re going to have to take.
Once again, I’ll say that Ray Kurzweil is almost certainly right that we will have the singularity within a generation. That will change the whole nature of reality unrecognizably, permanently, and totally. We haven’t even discussed nanotech, which is going to be the biggest game changer.
People should be thinking about things like this. Instead we’re wasting huge amounts of capital on things like the F-35 and new aircraft carriers, which are already dinosaurs. It’s criminal because that capital could be used constructively. That stuff is all going to be junk in 20 years. By that I mean actual junk.
Justin: Yeah, I’m sure all those F-35s are going to be collecting dust somewhere. Plus, by then they’ll probably be shelling out billions of dollars to build the new fighter jet.
Doug: What do they care? It’s not their money… And I’ll make a prediction…The military technology being developed right now that’s going to make the biggest change is going to be microdrones.
Think about it. If you can launch a fleet of 10,000 microdrones against an airfield where all the F-35s are stationed, they’ll destroy every one of those planes. They’ll probably also kill every carbon-based lifeform that’s anywhere near that airfield.
The same is true for aircraft carriers. If you could get those microdrones within striking distance, you could totally wipe it out.
Microdrones are going be very cheap and readily available. You can forget about individual soldiers in the field. A whole army would be dead meat against a swarm of these.
There are quite a few game changers out there. But I’ll put my finger on microdrones as being the single biggest technology that’s going to change the nature of warfare.
Justin: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today, Doug. Good stuff, as always.
Doug: You’re welcome.
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Do you agree with Doug’s take on what future wars will look like—and that microdrones will change the nature of warfare? What do you think will be the biggest game changers? Let us know here.
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