Welcome to 2020! The Central Blue is delighted to launch the new decade with the third part of Mick Ryan’s AugoStrat saga, a part of our #SciFi #AI and the Future of War fiction series. Check out parts one and two and then read on!
The holo-screen froze, the people and scene it depicted now a static photograph shimmering over the assembled group in the dimly lit room.
“We are now at a key point in the decision-pathway. Notice the elevated levels of stress in Kathy and Carl in their bio-feeds.”
Jason looked around the circle of AugoStrat trainees seated at the holo-sim platform. They were a mix of backgrounds, genders and ages. It was just as it should be if they were to generate the required intellectual diversity that made the AugoStrat Corps so valuable to his nation’s strategic leaders and planners.
“We now know that the interruptions were not due to any interference from outside entities, particularly the Red Accord. Unfortunately, Strategic Command had not informed several AugoStrats about the installation of a new quantum encryption that day. It caused some disruption to strategic communications but unfortunately also affected COGLINK.”
The Hobart Incident was still highly classified. The reality was that it had caused minimal damage to strategic capability. But the potential had been far worse. The key roles played by several AugoStrats in the incident three years ago made it a tailor-made case study for new AugoStrats. And for more experienced AugoStrats to retain their humility.
One of the AugoStrat trainees spoke up. “What about communications outside of the military? Was the Government secure-net also impacted?”
Jason considered his response. It was a reasonable question.
“At this point, none of the AugoStrats were aware of any degradation in government comms.”
Jason paused, and then added, “and, by now, I also expect that you should be using your COGLINK more for such questions.”
Today marked the halfway point in their formal course of training and education that inducted new AugoStrats into the Corps. It was a tough year by design. Almost as tough as the months of neurosurgery, recovery and rehabilitation that preceded the course. There were several new types of non-surgical brain-machine interfaces that had been trialled. But ongoing advanced research and experience had proven that only deeper neurosurgery could provide the required augmentation to their cognitive functions.
“So, from here, I would like each of you to produce an analysis of options that are open to Kathy, Karl and Izzy in their advice to their commanders. Remember, we are looking at strategic options to achieve the larger objective here. Include risks and resources in your analysis. Submit it through COGLINK no later than 2345 this evening. Thank you.”
The group rose from their chairs individually, some lingering to chat with a classmate or make physical notes on their wrist tabs.
They are an impressive group, thought Jason. Perhaps the best class of new AugoStrats he had seen. He had seen a few over the last decade.
Jason stayed behind briefly to discuss elements of the quantum encryption used by the Strategic Strike Force before excusing himself. He had a briefing to attend. And he did not want to be late – or keep his boss waiting.
The theatrette was small. Semicircular in shape, it contained two dozen seats in three rows orientated around a large holo-platform.
Jason had moved through two security scanpoints before he could enter. It was perhaps the most secure room in the headquarters, and no one got in without multiple scans.
Jason sat behind his boss, the Chief of Defence Force, who was chatting with a slightly younger three-star General sitting next to her. There was a relaxed air in the room. There was some joking among the senior officers, while their accompanying AugoStrats sat behind them either studying their commanders or taking notes on their wrist tabs.
The local time display at the head of the room clicked over to 1100 hours. The room quietened.
The Chief spoke: “Strat Command, lead off please.”
She always started her morning briefs with the head of strategic planning and operations. It provided excellent context for everything that followed. And it ensured that the senior leadership did not get overly distracted by urgent matters at the cost of the important ones.
The head of Strategic Command got up from her chair and walked to the front of the theatrette.
“Maam, the Indo-Oceanic coalition remains in good shape. This week we have a strategic planning meeting that will underpin next month’s meeting of Ministers in Delhi. Strategic indicators and warning all remain unchanged. Peacekeeping in the former European states is still distracting the U.S. and former British countries. Red Accord forces remain of low or medium readiness.”
Nodding at her head of strategy, the Chief paused and turned to Jason. It was normal for senior leaders at this type of brief to quickly consult with AugoStrats to see if any issues needed to be raised. Jason had none.
“Thanks, Strat Command. Strat Strike please.”
The brief worked through the normal commanders, who provided short updates. Strategic Strike Force had validated its new rapid space access capability but had little else to report. The Strategic Support Force had just concluded a range of new logistic and industrial arrangements with other members of the coalition.
The Operations Directorate was last to brief. “Maam, our main effort remains support to the Northern Task Force. Red Accord forces remain within their quarantine zone. Normal movements of forces and supply, as well as their deployment of multiple attempted i-war activities. The South Pacific task force is conducting operations as normal. The Antarctic Task Force is continuing its support to the Anomaly Special Research Division.”
The operations chief returned to his seat. Taking his place was the new three-star General that had been sitting next to the Chief.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am here to provide a briefing on a significant tech breakthrough.”
The General paused as a presentation came to life on the holo-platform.
“For many years, we have used autonomous vehicles in the air, on the land and at sea. These have been terrific supplements to our military forces, particularly where there are political sensitivities to large death tolls or in remote or contaminated areas.”
A depiction of an autonomous air vehicle followed by an autonomous land supply vehicle appeared on the holo-platform.
“But we have been constrained in the full application of these capabilities for several reasons. First, regardless of their sophistication, the design of autonomous machines means they can only do exactly what they built to do. Even after all our advances, they still lack the agility and imagination of humans to shift between unanticipated missions. Second, security and latency have been a challenge for control. Third, the integration of machines into human organisations, while continuing to advance, remains a command challenge. Finally, the post Anomaly accords and our own legislation on the development of human-level AI and the use of autonomous weapons prohibit autonomous weapons killing humans.”
He paused. The room was still, the occupants focussed on the presenter. Jason quickly called up on his wrist pad the relevant legislation and international agreements in case his boss needed some quick reference.
A new image appeared over the holo-platform. It was a large group of people, who for all intents, looked a like an average sample of people taken off the street. Old and young, thin and not-so-thin, male and female. Long hair and short, some with bio-tattoos on their faces and hands. One even had a blue mohawk haircut. It was quite a bunch.
All except for the fact that they each wore a blue-grey coverall. With a badge on their left upper arm that Jason had not seen before.
The Chief stood and addressed the assembled senior officers.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, after much trial and error. And a lot of resources and a certain amount of secrecy, we have cracked the nut on a new capability for our military. For the first time, we have developed a totally secure, extremely high bandwidth and zero latency network that can support our unmanned capability. Coupled with the low-cost manufacturing breakthroughs by our industry partners, we can now afford to deploy large numbers of a new type of remotely operated robot.”
The room stirred and then quietened as the Chief resumed her seat, and the three-star General resumed his briefing.
“Of course, we have always had human-controlled robotic systems. But, by and large, we have deployed these systems in only the hundreds and required sophisticated, bespoke training for its operators. Now, advances in brain-machine interfaces and developments in rapid training have allowed us to develop a new generation of robotic systems.”
Jason nodded to himself. He had been monitoring this program for some time, as had other AugoStrats advising the key strategic leaders. But the potential for this new capability was extraordinary. He knew what was coming next was also transformative.
The three-star General continued, describing the people that would be behind this new robotic capability.
“Their operators – which do not need to pass our normal age or physical screening – only need to pass our character requirements. They need only minimal training, using our new fast-learn methods, can be based in any city, and the systems they use may be deployed on a range of land, sea, undersea, air and space missions.”
The Chief of the Air-Space Force spoke up.
“I was able to observe a couple of trials of the new robotic systems and visit the recruit operators. I was impressed. I really was. And this is an excellent way to increase our recruiting base a hundred-fold. But I have a couple of questions: how much of this can we afford? What does the Neuro-Tech Ethics Board think? And, is this a sovereign or coalition capability?”
They were questions that were on the minds of nearly every participant in the room. Jason’s COGLINK lit ups with multiple discussions from AugoStrats in the room wanting to discreetly discuss the applications and strategic impact of this new technology.
After several seconds, it was Jason’s boss who rose and took the floor.
“They are the real questions, aren’t they? Let me answer each one in turn.”
The Chief then described how multiple meetings with the Neuro-Tech Ethics Board had discussed the legality and ethical issues with the new human-brain interfaces and their use of robotic systems. Jason had been part of this engagement process, and after some deliberation, the board had given its approval for the military to use these new systems for non-lethal and lethal missions across all domains.
There were murmurs of support from several of those present.
The Chief went on to describe her interactions with the National Security Committee and various members of Government. After some initial misgivings, they had given the approval to deploy the new capability and had provided assured funding for the next decade. Lots of funding.
“And of course, this has been a collaborative program with our great and powerful friends. We will share the technology, although each nation will apply its own laws and ethics frameworks.”
Jason’s COGLINK highlighted one interesting discussion thread. It focussed on their efforts to wargame options for the balance of investment across the various domains, or whether they might establish a single integrated Robotic Service. Service Chiefs were always keen to hold on to activities in their domain. But this new capability was clearly a multi-domain one. So perhaps, in this instance, a new approach might work.
Jason hoped so. He and several AugoStrats had worked for weeks simulating the optimal command and control mechanisms. In a meeting last week that briefed the outcomes of these simulations, the Chief had decided on the initial approach to command and control.
The Chief continued. “Ladies and gentlemen. I know we have had some good discussions on the C2 for these new systems. I have listened to you all and taken heed of your counsel. I have also considered the large body of analysis and simulation that our AugoStrats have undertaken. So, in the interests of better integration of cross-domain activities, I will be establishing a new joint, integrated robotics command.”
The Chief turned to the three-star General.
“General Carter, you are appointed as the inaugural commander of this new capability. You are to immediately commence large-scale production, and work with industry, the Services and other Commands on deployments in the next quarter. You are to employ our AugoStrats in all strategic decision-making. Jason here will support you in your endeavours. Your command will have the status, responsibilities and standing of an independent Service.”
The Chief paused, regarded her audience, and then continued.
“We all wish you the very best for your command of the new RoboCorps.”
Jason sent a flash message to the AugoStrats in the room, as well as several AugoStrats and support staff who were standing by for this very communication.
“Prepare the sim-room. We have a couple of long days ahead of us.”
This story is from the developing AugoStrat Corps saga. It tells the story of cognitively augmented humans operating in a high-tech milieu where there has been a significant realignment of global power. Watch out for the next tale from the AugoStrat Corps called Urquhart Redux, an illustrated story in the United States Marine Corps’ Destination Unknown, Volume 2 coming in 2020.
Mick Ryan is an Australian Army officer. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the United States Marine Corps Staff College and School of Advanced Warfare, he is a passionate advocate of professional education and lifelong learning. He is an aspiring (but very average) writer. In January 2018, he assumed command of the Australian Defence College in Canberra, Australia.