The future of warfare

The future of warfare

Every business leader is bombarded with promises of groundbreaking new technology that will singlehandedly shatter their existing business model. They must adapt or be eaten alive by unimagined competitors faster than ever before. This is probably true, although it is highly nuanced. It is hard to predict the impact of each new technology and released product. In Acandos new insight analysis, we have reviewed the technologies to come and their combined impact on the world. 

We are about to exit the era of nuclear warfare and enter a new era. The era of cyber warfare. Since the second world war, geopolitical power has been decided by innovation in warfare, most notably by leading the nuclear arms race. One can argue that the ultimate purpose of government driven innovation is to increase geopolitical power. As the clear winner of the last century’s arms race, the American government has funded their engine of innovation from basic research to innovating companies. This has created a booming economy and the most dominant military capability in human history. 

It is, however, not given that this geopolitical dominance will last. As more and more of our devices are getting connected to the internet, our dependence on an available internet and effective cyber security increases. As we bask in newfound wealth acquired through immense productivity gains, we are leaving our vulnerable backs open for new kinds of attacks.  

The threat on society 

In the nuclear era, a country needed a highly developed scientific community, large funds and a dependence on a very scarce resource that were tracked by international institutions to be a major player in the geopolitical power play. In the modern era, one only need a group of highly productive coders and a small datacenter to pose a serious threat. This can decentralize military power and the modern power structure can include completely new players. One can easily imagine how Google or a distributed hacker group can be positioned as a military superpower. 

As of today, commercial devices are mostly used for entertainment and increasing productivity and the threat of cyber warfare does only seem mildly irritating. One can, however, imagine a future, where humans are held alive by connected devices like pacemakers. More and more systems like traffic control, water cleansing, autopilots, robot surgeons and financial systems are connected and digitized. This gives us unimagined opportunities for both creation and destruction. When Bitcoin started to boom in 2013, hackers shattered the market by taking down Mt. Gox. This is a continued threat related to digitizing all financial systems. The price winning series, Mr. Robot, gives a breathtaking view of how fragile financial institutions can be. 

Perhaps the scariest part of cyber warfare is in relation to the accumulation of big data. More and more data are gathered about people that can be aggregated to create personalized advertisement to connect individuals with their most appreciated offer. There is however a shadow side to this development. Some examples include Alibaba’s decentralized social credit system that tracks every citizen’s loyalty to the government. After Brexit and Trump’s election, we learned about how Cambridge Analytica used personality traits to target political messages with the highest possible persuasion power. Cyber warfare targeting big data information on populations opens possibilities of population control that religion and dictatorships could only dream of. 

According to Alec Ross, in the book “The Industries of the Future”, the higher the officer’s rank, the more terrified he is of cyber warfare. 

The new geopolitical power play 

The largest cyber-attacks until now, have most likely been government-backed. Countries like China, Russia, USA, Israel, Iran and others, have been both the initiators and subjects of cyber warfare. Their strategies wary however. China has huge financial stakes in the west, and their aim has not yet been to destabilize governments and systems, but rather to steal commercial and government intellectual property. China is now developing airplanes that are believed to be based on the blueprints of Norway’s newly bought F-35 airplanes. This seriously undermines the effectivity of Norway’s aerial defense system. A short while ago, Norwegian planes had to fly without GPS systems for a week because the Russian military held a large military test. 

Russia has taken part in a more aggressive cyber warfare, with the aim of undermining western political systems. During the Ukraine invasion, cyber activity soared, and both the French and American intelligence agencies believe Russia has interfered in their elections. North Korea seems partly to be using cyber threats to pressure institutions in the west for money. The Wannacry hack is an example of this activity.  

Cyber security – the new stockbroker  

After this dark and dystopian article, however, there is good reason to be hopeful. Almost every internet company and research institution is focusing on cyber security, developing new tools and methods to protect customers and citizens. I will not make an official statement about whether machine learning experts or cyber security experts will be the highest earners of the future, a career path in either one can be lucrative.

Quantum computers offers new possibilities of both decrypting and encrypting software, which can have profound effects on the cyber security in the future. A deeper look into how quantum computing work and the state of quantum technology is the topic in the next blog post. 

Published 20.12.2017


Om bloggeren:
Wilhelm følger Acandos treårige traineeprogram for å bli en av Norges fremste konsulenter med mindre enn 5 års erfaring. Han har en bachelorgrad i fysikk fra Universitetet i Oslo og en mastergrad i mangepartikkel kvantemekanikk. Han interesserer seg for ledelse, strategi og digital disrupsjon. På fritiden spiller han bandy for Frigg.

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