Emerging tech in 2016

By Andrew Ivers | December 22, 2016

It’s easy to see the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons. Same goes for global warming. But are there new technologies that present the same kind of danger? That’s one question we’ve tried to address this year with our expanded coverage of things like artificial intelligence, cyber security, and automated warfighting. In addition to some excellent articles about new biotechnology (more on that here), below are five of the best pieces we’ve featured under the banner of emerging technology.

Undersea cables and the future of submarine competition by Bryan Clark

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of underwater fiber-optic cables—not just for everyday communications but for critical military and financial transactions. And yet, according to Bryan Clark of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, “changes in undersea warfare threaten to undermine … essential underwater infrastructure like submarine cables.” Clark gives a helpful overview of those changes, especially the “unmanned revolution” that has the potential to upend maritime stability—including nuclear deterrence—as we know it. It’s also worth mentioning that James Holmes of the Naval War College discusses that same threat to deterrence as well, in a companion article from the same issue of the journal.

Frankensteins and space odysseys: Our history with technology, our future with machines by Braden Allenby

What does it mean for humans to merge with their machines? The question is not as new as it might sound, and in this lucid essay Brad Allenby traces the Western version of the idea from medieval Europe through the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution to the present day. At a time when technology seems particularly invasive, this article does a good job of reminding readers how much work has already gone into the problem—and how far along the merger already is.

It’s already too late to stop the AI arms race—We must manage it instead by Edward Moore Geist

To the average person, a ban on “killer robots” probably sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately, artificial-intelligence research already has something of a long history with the US and other militaries, which means “an AI arms race is already well under way.” According to Edward Moore Geist, who offers a rich tour of the subject in this his latest essay for the Bulletin, nations should take an informal approach for now, with researchers developing a responsible security culture while practitioners use “Track II” diplomacy to work towards future arms-control agreements.

The quest for cyber norms by Elaine Korzak

Develop a new military technology and you’re sure to attract a debate about how best to use it—and whether to use it at all. These debates can draw out for decades before governments agree to, and codify, their practices, yet all the while norms are emerging, maturing, competing with one another, and shaping behavior. When it comes to cyber warfare, this process is still just getting started, but Elaine Korzak’s review essay is an excellent introduction to the debate.

The cyber threat in outer space by Patricia Lewis and David Livingstone

The idea of electronically hijacking a satellite sounds like something out of science fiction, but space assets and their ground-based support networks are actually quite vulnerable to cyber attacks. According to Patricia Lewis and David Livingstone, who authored a report on the matter this fall for the London-based think tank Chatham House, “it is real and it is happening right now.” 

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