Technological Development in Modern Warfare

On Monday, April 11, author Peter Singer visited Colgate to shed light on technology’s influence on war in his talk titled, “Next War: The Tech and Geopolitics of Tomorrow’s War.” Singer works for the New American Think Tank, an organization specialized in technology, law and war.  His lecture focused specifically on key forces that shape potential future worlds but cannot predict them. In doing so, Singer highlighted five key areas that are most significant in the rise of technology and its influence on the world: hardware, software, waveware, 3D printing and human performance modification.

Hardware, as Singer described, has dramatically transformed over the last 10 to 15 years.

“While in 2003 there were only a handful of drones in the air, today, there are 10,000 drones in the air, which completely changes the way we experience war,” Singer said.

Singer also noted that drones have improved to nearly a state of perfection over the last 10 years and will only continue to grow in the years to come. Furthermore, Singer discussed the role software plays in war. For example, smart phones,  smart cars and other devices have given individuals a new level of comfort with technology and has allowed for not only its growth but its spread. Software acts as a “game changer” in war, as it continues to improve and perfect in ways similar to hardware.

Singer also illuminated the ways in which waveware and 3D printing can affect wars in the future. Waveware has allowed for weapons to transform from simple bullets to weapons that utilize energy waves. Singer used the lasers, which have recently shown their ability to take out high speed rockets. This type of destruction is due to waveware. Additionally, Singer mentioned 3D printing as crucial in the advancement of technology’s role in war. Singer noted how a key to unlock handcuffs has been 3D printed in the past, allowing an individual to unlock handcuffs that regularly would never have come off.

“3D printing has the potential to change not only what is made but where it is made, which could completely transform wars and weapons used in them,” Singer said.

Lastly, Singer noted human performance modification as a crucial element in technology’s influence on war. He specifically referenced genome sequencing and drugs that “hack the body,” in order to again “perfect” an individual to a science. Furthermore, Singer discussed subnets, which have the ability to make computer code from brain signals. This ability would allow for torture in war and the manipulation of emotions and memories.

However, despite these advancements, Singer also described the vulnerabilities that exist when technology rises quickly. For example, hacking has proved problematic, as individuals have been able to hack into computer systems, drones and other devices to manipulate enemies’ resources.

“Hackers have transformed from individuals to highly organized threat groups,” Singer said.

Singer also gave the example of Russia attacking the communication networks of the Ukraine so that the Ukraine could no longer receive orders.

“Ukraine had already lost the cyber war before the real war even started,” Singer said.

First-year Will Dooley expressed his satisfaction with the lecture.

“I originally came to learn more about how private military contractors influenced war; however, I found the fact that the civilian market is nowadays more advanced than the government itself to be most interesting,” Dooley said.

Dooley also attended dinner with Singer, mentioning how he enjoyed learning more about such an important topic in a smaller setting, as it complemented Singer’s talk well.

Singer concluded his lecture arguing the rise of technology is both an advancement and obstacle when it comes to the future and specifically the future of war.

“We must succeed by keeping our eyes on both horizons: the future and the past. We must draw lessons from the future, while looking back on the past,” Singer said.