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Is technology a threat to security?

The boundary between the commercial and military worlds is blurring. Should we be concerned?

Next month, the world’s defence industry will congregate in London at the bi-annual Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition and conference. A key theme of the event will be how new technology from sectors outside its traditional exhibitor-base are transferable to defence and security.

Much like the commercial world, defence is changing and the development of high tech weaponry is having a significant impact on the industries supplying those weapons, as well as how future conflicts may be fought.

As we have seen with the collapse of barriers between the digital and physical realms in the commercial world, so what is being defined as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is promising to transform military technology and, in its widest context, international security.

Natural resources are key strategic industries, but oil and gas have been joined by ‘rare earth’ minerals – critical for computing, sensors and energy storage. Over time, those natural resources critical to strategic industries will change further.

With more commercial and military value embedded in the technology sector, rare earth materials will be deemed ‘critical’ in terms of national security and subject to political as much as commercial forces.

While the military is alive to the abilities of robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning and increasingly aware of the impact of cyber warfare, is this growing reliance on technology a good thing?

Those operating increasingly lethal weapons often do so remotely. The speed at which machines can now make decisions will challenge the military’s ability to cope and demand a new relationship between man and machine. Meanwhile, new capabilities in areas like artificial intelligence or in cyber-space could encourage more risk-taking and aggressive behaviour.

In this technological ‘arms race’, it is much harder for states to control the spread of technology and advanced weaponry – the international community is currently struggling to debate the ethical and practical issues associated with developing lethal autonomous weapons systems

technologies and many more non-state actors are now able to access and use technology.

Whatever the future holds, there is a need for fresh thinking about the implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on both defence and international security.

Neil Tyler

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