How to react when science fiction becomes reality
Frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), quantum, and high-performance computing are radically altering the national security landscape.
Organisations need to understand and harness these shifts if they are to master this disruption, enable effective change and deliver better outcomes.
In this new series from Shephard Studio, we explore what happens when technology challenges us to develop new ways of doing things.
In examining today’s technological landscape, we also consider Japanese cultural practices and concepts from which innovators can draw inspiration.
Kintsugi ("golden joinery") is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.
Innovation is a much talked about topic in national security circles today. For organisations to seize the advantage, it is vital to approach innovation not simply as a technological phenomenon but as a cultural and organisational priority.
Part of the challenge is interpreting current advances and determining the future impact they will have in terms of both technology and organisational culture.
Perhaps we can find some of the answers in fiction.
August Cole is an author and futurist who explores the future of conflict through FICINT – fictional intelligence storytelling. His work focuses on the evolution of warfare and the role that robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will play in the not-too-distant future.
His recent books are ‘fundamentally about the stakes and potential mistakes of digital transformation and defence and security’, not only for nations but in a global sense.
‘We used real-world technologies, either in development or available now, so there’s credibility to understanding how fast the future can move. And I think that’s what we’re living through in many cases, right now.’
Dr. Keith Dear is Managing Director, Centre for Cognitive and Advanced Technologies at Fujitsu UK. He has worked as an expert advisor to the UK prime minister and 2021’s Integrated Review.
In conversation with Cole, he points to key elements of the Integrated Review, such as the idea of systemic competition.
This idea – which he said comes through strongly in FICINT like Burn-In – is the concept that ‘adversaries of various kinds, whether organised crime or state and the nexus between those two things, deliberately seek to exploit the seams and silos in your system’.
Dear pointed to the review’s chapter on ‘Sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology’, saying this was the first international strategy to place this concept so centrally.
This ties into growing concerns over disruptive technologies like the Internet of Things and the potential future threats such innovations could pose. Such ideas ‘are now out there in a way that they weren’t before’, Dear said, including through such media as Cole’s books.
Cole’s FICINT includes a range of other technologies that have moved from fiction to at least the cusp of reality.
For example, he pointed to swarming autonomous surface vessels, or tactical paradigms such as questions over operating in an environment with degraded GPS or no over-the-horizon situational awareness.
‘That’s an “out there” idea, especially back in 2013-2014, when we were writing the book before it came out in 2015. Now, thankfully, that’s something that is regularly integrated into different military communities.’
These innovations are not simply a technological phenomenon. One of the major challenges revolves around the organisational aspect of grappling with such disruption.
For example, Cole pointed to hardware vulnerability in supply chains.
‘If you’re a senior leader, you might identify a risk like that, but how do you galvanise an organisation? How do you get people to have that same sense of urgency to commit budget resources?’
Cole said books such as Ghost Fleet ‘allowed people in the office of the Secretary of Defense who were very interested and worried about that issue to literally be able to pass the book to somebody and say “we’ve got to talk about supply chain vulnerability”’.
According to Stef Puc, Lead Deal Architect for Fujitsu Defence and National Security, the concept of technological disruption as a major driver of change is only part of the story. He said that enabling cohesion is one of the toughest challenges for organisations and militaries.
‘It’s not a technology play – it’s about collaboration, understanding, and the access to whatever you need to do to make you move forward at pace.’
While technology is an enabler, it is simply one part of a much wider story of disruption. For example, the creation of a true digital backbone is an enabler and a starting point, including for collaboration across allied Western governments and militaries.
‘The purpose of the digital backbone essentially is to ensure that the frontline commands, Army, Navy, RAF and Strategic Command, can collaborate, to pass information, exchange data etc.,’ Puc said.
‘At the moment, they are disparate systems in some ways. In some areas, it’s much better than others. However, to be a warfighter for the future, there needs to be a much more cohesive and better understanding [across services] of what each other is doing.’
The pace of innovation is also significant.
Dr Keith Dear argues that organisations need to innovate at a speed that constantly harnesses the changes technology introduces to the domain.
‘How do we evolve the way we fight to keep up with the speed of technological change?’
Against this backdrop, countries worldwide are strengthening their international relationships to increase the flow of technology and innovation.
One notable example is the creation of an 'Innovation Bridge' between the UK and Japan. This will employ technology to help solve problems facing business, government and society.
'Japan faces many of the big problems that we face, like ageing societies, difficulties with social cohesion, challenges from climate change and wealth inequality,' Dear explains.
'They are sponsoring grand challenges in science and tech to solve some of these problems. The UK is doing exactly the same thing - so our argument is, well, why wouldn’t you do those things together?'
As well as collaboration in areas such as quantum computing and cyber security, one avenue of partnership centres on the increased interoperability between Japan’s self-defence forces and their UK counterparts.
One crucial element in fostering innovation is the diversity of ideas within an organisation. That starts with a diverse workplace, explains Jo Etheridge, Operations and Delivery Director at Fujitsu Defence and National Security.
‘The best organisations that create the most innovation are definitely those that have that full breadth of idea generation, who take away the barriers to innovation as well,’ Etheridge said.
‘Producing innovation and moving with new technological advancements is far more about the outcomes we create than a list of requirements we’re meeting.’
Dr Keith Dear agrees and adds that technologies such as AI are increasingly becoming understood, but the central challenge is how to adopt them into organisations effectively.
‘And then how do we integrate them? How do we test them until we can do those things that August has written about so eloquently and the promise they seem to yield?
Kintsugi (‘golden joinery’) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.
For organisations, innovation is the ‘golden seam’ that brings things together, while Kintsugi also provides a model for innovating and learning from your mistakes, not punishing them.