Futurist P.W. Singer takes stage to talk trending tech, cybersecurity at Maneuver Warfighter Conference

Author P. W. Singer talks about the future of technology, security, and threats during the second full day of the Maneuver Warfighter Conference.

Story by Bryan Gatchell, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs

Photos by Suhyoon Wood, Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs


FORT BENNING, Ga. (Jan. 16, 2018) – Writer and futurist P.W. Singer opened the second full day of the Maneuver Warfighter Conference at the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, Georgia, with a talk on the future of technology, security and threats Jan. 10.

Singer, a contributing editor for Popular Science who has authored several books on cybersecurity, talked about technology and technological trends of today that may significantly alter the technological landscape of the future.

“When it comes to predicting the future, we’re not very good at it,” said Singer.

Singer gave the example of a writer in The New York Times predicting a possible flying machine being the laborious product of scores of mathematicians and mechanics and being years away. The piece in the Times appeared in print two months before the Wright brothers, who repaired and sold bicycles, made a successful test flight of the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

“While we don’t have a good track record of predicting specific events, there are certain things that we can and should do,” Singer said. “The most important of these is to try and identify what are the key forces that are out there today that are shaping the likely future worlds – the possibilities – that lie ahead of us.”

Singer identified a wide swath of current technologies that may significantly alter the world.  Singer began by talking about drones. At the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan there were a “handful of unmanned aerial systems” or drones, which were not armed.

“Today in the U.S. military, we have over 10,000 drones, many of them, of course, armed,” said Singer. “Another 12,000 unmanned ground systems.”

And other militaries and non-state actors have access to drone technology as well.

Singer then also talked about robotic systems being able to replace humans, such as autonomously driving vehicles.

He talked about the “Internet of things,” wherein everyday non-computer objects and sensors connect and upload massive amounts of data online. In addition to its implications for surveillance, this great amount of data means new statistical insights would be available.

Another new technology Singer addressed was 3D printing, which has the potential of changing the manufacturing industry. End consumers may no longer rely on centralized manufacturing plants and distribution, but may be able to print physical products and spare parts.

Technology that directly interfaces with biological lifeforms, or “wetware,” can make technology operable through thought. In one example Singer gave, a person was able to fly a small plane with a brainwave interface.

“It’s the idea of an incredibly complex task that someone is controlling with their mind,” said Singer. “Think about all the other tasks that you do out there that are less complex than flying a plane.”

After citing the up-and-coming technologies of today, Singer shifted focus to cybersecurity.

Author P. W. Singer talks talks to the Maneuver Warfighter Conference audience.

“All these areas are exciting, but they also open up new vulnerabilities that we have to think about,” Singer said. “We’ve already seen the hacking of cars, the hacking of human bodies, the hacking of drones. The Internet of things that I talked about, 70 percent of it has known vulnerabilities in it.”

Hacking is one consequence, but other consequences of the proliferation of new technologies include the spread of disinformation and influence campaigns. Also, information is also at greater risk of theft, Singer said.

“It’s the same thing as James Bond going in and stealing a file, but now you can steal on a scale you’ve never seen before,” said Singer. “It is literally millions of files. It’s a lot like how someone is stealing your wallet versus stealing millions of credit cards. That scale changes the impact of it.”

Intellectual property theft could have severe implications for the defense industry and warfare.

“It is going to be very hard to win an arms race if you’re paying the R&D for the other side,” said Singer.

Singer ended his presentation by providing a disclaimer and a warning.

“These are trends we need to be aware of,” said Singer. “There is one takeaway I’d like you to receive from it: To stand still in today’s environment is to choose to lose. We are at a time of change, and individuals, organizations, and nations that don’t keep pace with that change will fall behind. So being innovative, being adaptive, these will be the key to success or failure.”

To see photos from Day One of the Maneuver Warfighter Conference, visit www.fortbenningphotos.com/Maneuver-Center/MCoE-Events/Conferences/Annual-Maneuver-Conference/Maneuver-Warfighter-Conference/Maneuver-Warfighter-Conference-Day-Two.

For more Maneuver Warfighter Conference stories, visit https://benningnews.org/tag/manwarcon.

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