Challenges of Technology Surprise for the Warfighter
There was robust discussion at the symposium regarding analysis of the surprising behaviors that permit or accompany the disruptive use of technology, the noteworthy result being the idea that cognizance and analysis of surprising behavior in addition to cognizance and analysis of technology alone represents an expansion of the contemporary community practice of addressing technology surprise. The views aired at the symposium explored the idea that predicting surprising behaviors requires more insight than can be derived from technical expertise alone. Participants noted that the widespread dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge and know-how could combine with the inherent cleverness of people everywhere to create an essentially unbounded set of possibilities for disruptive surprise based on technology and behavior. Several contributors noted that avoiding such surprise would probably require a multidisciplinary analytical approach that included country experts and societal specialists; such an approach might also need augmentation from selected psychologists, sociologists, political experts, religious specialists, and others. Concomitantly, it was noted that deep understanding and current knowledge of foreign cultures are rare among Americans, a view widely stated by symposium attendees.
It was pointed out that the suggested multidisciplinary approach to analysis that focuses on technology surprise faces many obstacles in addition to a paucity of potential participants within the intelligence community. For example, one participant posted the explicit question of whether technical experts should learn current cultural and country details so that they could produce more relevant sets of technology surprise predictions. Another participant commented that appropriately educating technical experts in cultural and country details requires a nontrivial investment of time and a high degree of motivation; the confluence
of the three—awareness of culture, country, and the associated potential for surprise—is currently “unusual” to the point of being nonexistent. Many participants discussed this issue, pointing out that resolving it is also exacerbated by the manner in which technical experts are managed and rewarded—time spent learning “soft” skills is not generally rewarded and may in fact detract from the time that might be spent writing a peer-reviewed paper, attending a conference, or making a technical breakthrough, all of which are generally highly valued in professional performance evaluations. Similarly, motivating country or societal experts to devote time and effort to understanding technology so that they are equipped to make optimal predictions and rankings is neither quick nor cheap, nor is it likely. Some pointed out that if improved and broadened prediction of technical surprise is truly desired, there may be no choice other than better educating the participants and/or including a broader range of actors, i.e., using collaborative teams made up of technologists as well as country experts.
As Admiral Hogg and the symposium attendees stated, the world is increasingly more complex and challenging, driven by globalization of resources and ideas as well as enabled by worldwide information and communication systems. This situation has given rise to new threats, new adversaries, and a changing environment that the United States has not defined (or redefined) in its doctrines of warfare and operations. The warfighter will still need to deal with the current traditional threats on the battlefield, including enemies who quickly start using technology that the U.S. military has just implemented. Surprise will come not only from the traditional areas but also from new enemies—some not declared— who adopt both available and new technology as well as improvise in its use. Because of these new challenges of surprise, the nature of warfare will likely change in the very near future.