The technology surprises discussed at the 2010 symposium came from one of three sources:1
Product and process technology breakthroughs. These breakthroughs are enabled by experts in various areas of science and engineering. They are likely to be achieved by nations that are technological peers of the United States and that have comparable access to resources, or by non-state entities with specialized expertise in a specific technological area (e.g., cyber, nuclear, or biological).
New uses of existing technology. Examples might be the innovative use of the Internet for mission planning or training purposes or the use of cellular phones to trigger improvised explosive devices. These innovative uses are generally accessible to individuals and small groups as well as to nation-states.
Unexpectedly rapid progression to the operational use of the technology. Adversaries may acquire their technological capabilities or bring them into operation sooner than anticipated, whether through efficient acquisition systems, deception, or transfer from more technologically sophisticated patrons.
One important factor that may lead to surprise for the United States in each of these categories is that the intentions of an adversary may be misunderstood because evaluations were carried out on the basis of U.S. cultural biases and historical trends rather than the adversary’s own culture, history, beliefs, and value systems. This concern was recognized in the report of the first symposium but became a major theme in this second symposium (see the text of Admiral Hogg’s
Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow’s Warfighter
Admiral James R. Hogg
I think we can agree that [avoiding technology surprise] is a terrific objective and an enormous challenge, both in importance and complexity. Especially so, given that we know little about avoiding Technology Surprise today, no matter how hard we try, let alone tomorrow. Yet, more so than others, this group is composed in a way that gives it a chance. We have here today Warfighters, Technologists, and Intelligence experts, joined together.
Among you, we need linguists. Linguists who understand the cultures of the ethnic groups whose languages they translate. So, a show of hands, please. How many of you are culturally aware linguists in the Muslim or Asian languages and dialects? Numbers are small. That’s no surprise! And that explains a fundamental weakness in our Western approach to problem solving.
I say that because we will only be able to avoid Technology Surprise by thinking differently than what I will call the “Western norm.” We will only do it by thinking the way a Muslim or an Asian thinks, not the way we in the West “think they think.”
If we can’t figure out how to get inside, way inside, their cultural mindsets, then for sure, we will not recognize Technology Surprise until it is too late. For example, how many of us in this room ever thought a large commercial passenger jet aircraft could generate Technology Surprise? Probably none of us. Let’s just say few, if any. Why? Simply because Technology Surprise is generated by two things: disruptive technology and disruptive thinking or, even more challenging, a combination of the two!
I am going to focus now on disruptive thinking, because nations or radical groups that are incapable of developing disruptive technology will continue to “take us to the edge” through disruptive thinking. It goes like this: We in the West, in the main, tend to solve problems in a deductive manner, with precision, definition, and rule sets. This is prevalent among
presentation in Box 2-1). Indeed, while at the first symposium the notion of “surprise” was limited largely to technological surprise, participants in the 2010 symposium preferred to generalize the concept to include an adversary’s actions that would be surprising based on “Western norms” but might be anticipated with sufficient knowledge of the adversary’s culture, value system, and available resources.
engineers, for example, who are taught to “bound” problems in order to define and then more easily solve them. That makes sense.
Muslims and Asians, on the other hand, tend to approach problems in an inductive manner. With logic, based on ethnic and cultural beliefs, and without rule sets as we understand them. No rules. Anything goes! This inductive approach is amenable to continuous exploration. It is not bound by anything—in any way, in any dimension.
A rational conclusion is that a combination of the two is the best approach. To think inductively at first for exploration and discovery; then, to think deductively in order to come up with practical solutions. This sets up a balance between the open space that spawns creative thinking and the defined space that enables construction of solutions.
So, with all this in mind, and returning to the challenge of avoiding Technology Surprise, there is no immediate solution, but there is a way ahead. Every significant military command needs an “innovation cell” dedicated full-time to an inductive-deductive thinking process that is focused like a laser on Technology Surprise. By that, I mean Technology Surprise that might be generated by either disruptive technology or disruptive thinking. The composition of these innovation cells must be diverse in every possible way, including language and cultural skills. In addition, they must be netted, each a node in a DoD-wide web, ensuring seamless information flow and collaboration.
Over time, similar webs should be established in the Departments of State and Homeland Security, and across all agencies in the National Intelligence Directorate [Office of the Director of National Intelligence]. Let’s call this approach “Deep Red” for now. It’s a new way to organize, to think, to analyze, and to collaborate in order to anticipate and counter Technology Surprise during its developing stage and, absolutely, before its deployment.
PRODUCT AND PROCESS TECHNOLOGY BREAKTHROUGHS
Many of the presentations at the 2010 symposium (unclassified summaries are given in Appendix C) described cutting-edge research in such fields as biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, cryptography, quantum physics, communications, and electronics. Any potential threats emerging from these areas of research were generally thought to be longer-term concerns, i.e., not yielding surprising or disruptive applications for years, if not decades. This belief was articulated by many in the blog discussions, which posited that the nature of these research areas—which require sophisticated infrastructure and substantial funding, for example—makes them unlikely to be accessible to adversaries having only modest technological capabilities or resources, unless these are transferred, inadvertently or otherwise, by a more sophisticated patron. Further, many participants opined that concerted efforts to operationalize these research areas into deployable tools tend to be highly classified and fairly rare undertakings. The discussion thread went on to indicate that development efforts of this scope require a long time and are difficult to keep secret; the discussion captured the notion that this was true especially for complex technological undertakings, given that their human architects are derived from an increasingly globalized university-based research system, which is ever more tightly connected in its communication and other enduring relationships. Of course, if a breakthrough—one that transformed the seemingly impossible into the doable and operational—were to occur secretly, then the adversary would indeed possess a highly disruptive and surprising capability.
It is important to distinguish between product and process technologies. The products enabled by technologies (e.g., quantum computing) are tangible, whereas process technologies are methodological innovations (e.g., just-in-time logistics). In economic terms, process technologies are more often the source of innovation and productivity increases and can be brought into operation faster than product technologies. In sociological terms, process technologies generally require more coordination and generally leverage communication technology. For example, “blitzkrieg” could be considered a process technology innovation that was fairly effective at disrupting a then-traditional deployment of product technologies (the Maginot Line). Another example, total quality management (TQM), was hugely disruptive in the 1970s when it was applied to the car manufacturing industry.
NEW USES OF EXISTING TECHNOLOGY
Symposium participants noted that U.S. operational capabilities have been surprised or disrupted by available technologies in unexpected ways, and they suggested that it would be wise for the S&TI community, S&TI customers, or the operational community as a whole to contract for research focused on exploring ways in which technologies could be integrated to enable radical capabilities.
Many participants commented on this concept, including one who wrote
that the S&TI community frequently missed “the diabolic, innovative, and often simple repurposing of tech” to achieve an end goal. Another noted that real-time, functional brain imaging, for example, which was developed to improve understanding of the disruption of cognitive pathways and disease, was being repurposed to explore and assess how people from different cultures and educational backgrounds feel about themselves, the enemy, warfighting in general, risk, and evasion in theater operations.
The emergence and increasing penetration of virtual reality and augmented reality technology into daily life was recognized as a potential vector for technology surprise. New technology, combined with innovative uses, has “constructed” a new reality, whereby users can participate in a parallel “world’ with varying levels of utility, fidelity, and realism. Of particular note in the behavioral discussion was the emergence of a common understanding of the significance of virtual reality as a tool for teaching or developing new behaviors. The discussion turned to the use of virtual worlds and alternate realities to develop surprising and innovative uses of technologies or new strategies. Additionally, the bridging of the virtual world into the real world through “augmented reality” frameworks could be a force multiplier across a number of markets, battlefields, and political landscapes. Finally, the inclusion of augmented reality in the discussion provided insight into an increasingly common technology that has seen broad applications by U.S. adversaries in asymmetric warfare.
SPEED TO OPERATIONAL USE OF TECHOLOGY
Technologies that surprise and disrupt us could result from an adversary’s speed in developing or acquiring a technology newer than that used in the United States. The long time it takes to procure (or the long waits involved in procuring) new technologies in the United States was cited repeatedly, with several embarrassing examples given. The feeling among many participants was that such delays in acquisition gave adversaries a better opportunity to observe U.S. technological advances, including more time for them to counter—both offensively and defensively—new technologies before fielding them. Of even greater concern to many participants was the speed with which adversaries can catch up, and are catching up, by reverse engineering existing technologies, appropriating intellectual capital (as can happen when students are educated abroad and then return home), and even by simply acting more rapidly than U.S. bureaucracy can manage. The ideals of transparency and of open inquiry that the United States seeks to defend can, ironically, leave it vulnerable to adversaries who benefit from more agile, less democratic forms of development and acquisition. Moreover, there was some recognition on the part of participants that in many areas the United States no longer enjoys the technical superiority it once did, owing to the combination of less U.S. R&D funding, fewer U.S. graduate students, and the repatriation of foreign U.S.-educated students who create their own domestic university programs
and commercial enterprises to carry out research, development, and production, as well as to the now much more accessible global technology market. While all of these are significant, the greatest concern was the increase in S&T R&D investments and the rise of centers of S&T excellence worldwide.
During a lively discussion on how far behind in technology development certain adversaries are, one participant warned that “the 10-15 years [of lag behind the United States] is dynamic and the gap is closing.” Another went even further, writing, “We are giving most of it away (e.g., we educate them; they go teach their own [people] what they learned from us, then leap ahead of us)!” While such statements obviously reflect a U.S.-centric position, there were recurring discussions throughout the symposium on the unintended negative consequences of a globalized economy and the access to heretofore difficult-to-obtain technology and knowledge.
The adoption of a technology may also be more rapid in other countries by virtue of the price differences of labor. If 10 years can be reduced to 5 years in a foreign country in terms of the cost in U.S. dollars, then this needs to be considered. The discussion continued with several people recommending that analysts should look at the need to normalize measures to account for variations in labor costs throughout the world when estimating the resources required to develop a specific capability.
Speed of adoption, in general, is not the same in different countries, especially when they are not starting at the same point in time or from the same baseline. Because the United States is frequently on the cutting edge of defense technologies, the cost of early adoption places a premium on the time, the available supporting technology, and the supply of people/experts with an understanding of the field. When U.S. adversaries enter the same market years behind us, they can benefit from a number of factors that reduce the cost of acquiring a similar technology:
Access to open research,
Availability of a trained workforce,
Cost-of-living (manpower-cost) differences among nations,
Availability of supporting technologies at lower costs than in the original timeline,
Ability to buy technology at “production rate” prices from other countries,
Willingness to adopt technology without regard to legacy issues or complex environments, and
Tolerance of higher failure rates and associated casualties to accomplish a particular end goal.
THE EFFECTS OF CULTURAL VALUES ON SURPRISE
Surprise may come from the use of tactics or disruptive behaviors that are not typically sanctioned by Western norms, such as the use of commercial airliners as weapons in the 9/11/2001 attacks or the emergence of suicide bombing as a common tactic in asymmetric warfare. Such behaviors may be employed by individuals, small groups, or nation-states and do not necessarily involve technology per se to create surprise.
There was a rich and continuing discussion of what constitutes—or may constitute—“ethics and culture” in this context. Many participants believed that the different values of different cultures should not be labeled “right” or “wrong” or even “pathological.” On the other hand, there was widespread disagreement about the extent to which other countries conduct research on human beings that would not be ethical in the United States.
In some parts of the world, S&T research is carried out under constraints that differ dramatically from those in the United States. Specifically, the issue was broached of how different ethical or cultural standards might permit varying approaches to technology development. This topic was raised in the discussions on advances in technology and applications for the neurosciences and in virtual reality. One participant noted that the development of brain interfaces would be more advanced in some other countries because they did not have the restrictions surrounding research that apply in the United States, giving those countries a research advantage.
Another participant observed that, from the perspective of U.S. research into behaviors and innovations, the use of virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft (WoW) and Second Life2 is often constrained by ethical considerations derived from the real world. One symposium participant noted that it turns out that the players in virtual worlds take the experiences in them so literally that the same ethical constraints regarding real-world research tend to apply in virtual worlds.3 Nonetheless, many participants said in their blogs that the set of norms that appear in the virtual world are very broad because people understand that such a world is not real. Although most people act in virtual reality gaming as they would in real life, a few intentionally deviate because reprisals are less severe and there is no enforcement. Clashes among cultures can be seen both in the virtual world and in
the message groups and conversations taking place in the “real” world. The differences, which are instructive and important, can be modeled by the intelligence community (IC) to avoid surprise.
Asymmetry in research and development caused by different ethical and legal constraints worried another symposium participant, who noted that, while he did not advocate careless research, he nevertheless felt that current regulations and their associated cost put the United States at a huge disadvantage and were forcing research to move offshore.
Research advances achieved through processes not subject to the same ethical and policy standards that constrain U.S. research were said to have placed the United States at an increasing disadvantage, not only in terms of the availability of specific research opportunities but also in terms of hindering a better understanding of the potential of certain emerging technologies. For example, one participant opined that “the nation that best leverages exploring understanding of the mind will dominate the future,” and went on to express concern over research investment strategies in the United States.
In avoidance of surprise, understanding behaviors and their effects is at least as important as anticipating technology breakthroughs. Such behaviors range from turning benign technological advances into threats and being willing to accept more risk by deploying new capabilities more rapidly, to emphasizing greater agility in acquisition and deployment, to acting according to differing values that eliminate constraints on the conduct of research and exploration. Thus, surprises and disruption cannot be forecast solely on the basis of anticipating technological breakthroughs, as Admiral Hogg noted in his remarks on disruptive thinking.