We are in a time of rapid technology development. Technology leaps like Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) or quantum computers may be, if not around the corner, possible within the next 20 or so years, i.e. within the long-term defence planning perspective. The promises (and fears) of these and other new technologies for civil and military applications mean that both the civil society and the military organisations may stand before enormous challenges within the next few decades.
From 4 to 6 September 2019, a team of experts led by Sweden with members from Canada, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Norway and Allied Command Transformation met at the at the Collaboration Support Office for the first face-to-face meeting of the one-year Exploratory Team (reference SAS-ET-EJ) on How could Technology Development Transform the Future Operational Environment. The ultimate goal of the team is to help NATO explore the potential consequences of technology development on the future operational environment in the 2040 to 2050 perspective.
As demonstrated by the participation in the meeting, many nations and organizations are trying to understand the potential of the ongoing technology development. Areas like AI and autonomy are analysed both from their potential to increase existing capabilities or to shape new capabilities and from their ethical or legal implications. Some countries are looking for regulations while others want to learn more before deciding on such measures. A number of other technology areas promise applications that may benefit both civil society and military organisations, but may also in part be controversial. NATO needs to exploit the opportunities made possible by the technology development to meet future operational challenges and threats in order to improve both effect and force protection.
Through the three-day meeting, the team recognized the broad scope of the problem and identified two main areas of work for which they intend to submit two proposals to the SAS Fall Business Meeting. The first proposal will explore the possible consequences of potentially game changing technology development on the future operational environment in the 2040 to 2050 perspective to help advise decision makers on where to initiate changes in military capability development (using the DOTMLPFI framework). The second proposal will address the dimensions, assumptions and potential impacts of technological change on Ethical, Legal and Moral (ELM) standpoints with respect to NATO’s Operational Advantage. It will enable us to understand the ELM constraints assumed to be imposed by novel and emerging technologies on NATO operational advantage by developing a conceptual framework that provides situational awareness of ELM risks and issues.
All of the work will build upon existing analyses of technology and strategic trends, including identified science and technologies of interest from each of the member nations. Please contact the SAS Panel Executive if you want more information on the activity.