So it's encouraging that the U.S. and other militaries are showing more interest in these areas. War is one of the most ethically problematic areas of human life. As such, there is much humanitarian and practical value in accounting for ethics, policy, and law--especially around emerging military technologies that give rise to novel scenarios and issues. Beyond sparing civilians from harm and safeguarding human rights, a commitment to ethics and the rule of law is what sets apart a military, with honor and professionalism, from a band of mercenaries.
As we have learned from the U.S.-Vietnam war and arguably current drone-strike campaigns, superior technology by itself is not enough for victory. Winning "hearts and minds" matters for a lasting peace, and this is difficult to achieve if a war is prosecuted unethically or illegally. Failing to think ahead about ethics, policy, and law could also deal serious blows to national reputations and key military programs, from pain-rays to drones to cyberweapons and more, all presently controversial and under debate.
The short analyses I presented above are far from complete. The NeXTech wargames were meant to kickstart a conversation, helping to understand the work in front of us rather than attempting to anticipate every scenario and offer clear solutions.
We still need to examine the issues more fully and methodically in a "whole-systems" approach. In wargaming with law professors, JAG lawyers, policy advisers, philosophers, theologians, and other domain experts, we saw the value of their different perspectives to the conversation. We also saw the need for scientists, technologists, futurists, journalists, military officers, as well as cadets and midshipmen (who will be on the frontlines of these next-generation weapons) at the table to ensure the conversation is guided by realism.
Noetic's NeXTech is unique with its wargaming methodology, and other efforts exist as well--such as by the National Research Council, Naval Academy, and Chautauqua Council--to cross-pollinate expertise and to engage the broader public on these weighty issues, a vital part of democracy. So we already have a nice head start and, with that momentum, now just need to keep running.
Not only do ethics, policy, and legal experts believe these issues are urgent, but cultural and religious communities also want to participate. And all of these stakeholders will engage the debate with or without the participation of the defense establishment, whether government or industry. Without that participation, decision-makers lose a valuable opportunity to help frame the debate, address public fears, and make better informed calls about a new technology and its risks. The Active Denial System again is just one poster-child of this lesson.
It will take work to integrate ethics, policy, and law into national security planning and military technology development, particularly as the emerging technologies aren't here yet. But the future may come sooner than we think, and we are always surprised. We hope that the U.S. and other governments have the foresight and commitment to stay with this challenge. It's not a bridge too far, but one that is worth the effort.
Acknowledgements: Some of this research has been supported by NeXTech wargames, The Greenwall Foundation, US Naval Academy, Office of Naval Research, and California Polytechnic State University. I thank Keith Abney, Brad Allenby, Ben Fitzgerald, George R. Lucas, Jr., Peter W. Singer, Wendell Wallach, and John Watts for reviewing this essay. The statements expressed here are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the aforementioned persons or organizations.