Sensors and network connectivity
Some – certainly not all – of the more striking potential changes arising from the technology themes might include the following examples.
Both the civilian and defence realms are experiencing an increasing proliferation of sensors and network connectivity, with vast amounts of different types of data being produced, captured and exploited for a variety of logistical, commercial, health, safety, security and other purposes. Cheaper and smaller sensors combined with better memory and processing power may therefore result in ‘ambient intelligence’ throughout society – the creation of an Internet of Everything, connecting a multitude of devices embedded in, on or around people, objects and the environment.
At the same time, developments in automated and algorithmic analysis are improving the collation, processing and analysis of this ‘Big Data’, leading to a further reduction in the data-to-decision process and enabling European commanders to grapple with the complexity, fog and friction of the battlefield. This sensorisation and datafication of society generates a wealth of real and near-real-time data, enabling remote monitoring of everything from individual soldiers’ health or performance, through to analysis of civilian population movements, or early detection and warning of concealed threats. The result is a need to securely access, fuse and exploit data from a wealth of civilian and military sensors throughout the operating environment, so as to enhance situational awareness and decision-making – as well as to find ways to allow European forces to operate safely in sensor-rich environments where the adversary may always be watching.
Artificial Intelligence and human-machine teaming
Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds the potential to affect ever more aspects of civilian and military life. Varying degrees of sophistication of AI and machine-learning might be incorporated into virtually any application or service to improve efficiency and escape some of the limitations of human thinking. At the same time, keeping ‘humans in the loop’ remains essential or even required in many roles, meaning that intelligent machines must learn to work closely with humans and vice versa, with new concepts of man-machine teaming. Addressing the ethical and trust-related implications and risks associated with the integrity and security of these systems will not be easy, but is essential if the potential benefits of AI for defence are to be realised in full. If European defence organisations can get this balance right, this new technology offers vast potential in mitigating some of the adverse effects of conflict: improved speed of intelligence gathering and analysis to improve command functions; automation and optimisation of logistic systems; AI support to medical diagnosis and treatment; and a reduction in the number of human personnel to be deployed to dangerous environments and missions.