FORT MOORE, Ga. (WRBL) — Hundreds of soldiers filled the room, but it wasn’t a general who commanded their attention. Instead, bestselling author and founder of Useful Fiction LLC Peter Warren Singer stood on the stage in front of them.
It was the final morning of the 2023 Warfighter Conference held at Fort Moore’s Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE). The three-day event focuses on the future of the Army and warfighting over the course of the next decade and more, as far out as 2040.
“For literally thousands of years, we’ve been saying, ‘What if machines started to become intelligent?’” said Singer as he began his speech, which focused largely on the future of robotics use and artificial intelligence (AI) in the military.
The author continued, “It’s happening now in our lifetime and you are tasked to lead through this challenge … We’re only at the start of this journey.”
Singer is widely known for his books, such as “Ghost Fleet” (2015), “LikeWar,” (2018) and “Burn-In” (2020). The works, a mix of nonfiction and fiction, explore the impact changing technology may have on the future of warfare.
The question is no longer if- but how technology will be implemented, according to Singer, who has served as a consultant for multiple U.S. military branches and the FBI.
“Technology doesn’t stop, it continues to advance,” Singer said. “And we’ve seen that in Ukraine.”
Singer presented examples of drone use and the impact of social media deepfakes on the war between Russia and Ukraine, which intensified in February of 2022 when the former invaded the latter. The increasing impact of robotics and AI not just in modern warfare, but also society, are evidence of “a new industrial revolution,” Singer said.
Though the author did not offer answers, he posed many questions about the future of mechanization within the Army. He urged soldiers to consider possibility, ethicality, strategy, structure and more, emphasizing the importance of experimentation and adaptability.
A successful implementation of AI and robotics will require evaluations of what role mechanical assistants may play as extensions of the soldiers, partners of them or agents, he said. Singer urged soldiers to consider this integration may also require a departure from the existing structure and management within the Army.
“The general asked me to be provocative here,” he said. “Which is more challenging for you to contemplate: using all those armed robots out there or changing the org chart of a squad? How many people are in it? Who should do it?”
Experimentation and will be key as soldiers seek their answers, Singer said. Beyond showing the capabilities of what works and doesn’t work, tests can supply opportunities to scout out soldiers who are successful with experimental technology.
In communicating innovation and structure changes, mixing logic with emotion can help information be more easily digested and remembered, Singer said. In past work for the Air Force, Singer’s endeavors with Useful Fiction have involved creating false speeches, recruiting posters and more examples of what the military could look like 25 years in the future if they follow a particular path.
He also expressed use of historical and personal anecdotes can also provide this narrative element. Ultimately, Singer emphasized the importance of adaptation as technology continues to advance.
“You are living and leading through a time of change, and organizations and individuals who choose to stay still in that time of change will be making the choice to lose the future,” said Singer. “And I hope none of us do that.”