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Navigating Technological Disruption

How 'failing fast' is key to a secure digital future.

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A series by shephard media

A New Frontier

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.

noun, shu-ha-ri (守破離)


Shuhari is a Japanese martial art concept which describes the stages of learning to mastery.

A Crossroads

Today, governments and militaries find themselves at a crossroads.

Faced with a rapidly evolving technological environment, militaries and national security agencies must adapt their innovation and procurement approaches – or risk being left behind.

Technological disruption is undoubtedly gathering pace. The effects are perhaps clearest in the information environment, where the ability to harness and exploit the vast array of data now available to operators presents a clear advantage.

Modelling Reality

Dr Will Roper is a former US Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

At a recent conference in London, Roper highlighted the reality of digital transformation: ‘The fact that we can model reality with a high level of fidelity. We can design things, test things, train for things, without having to do them in the physical world. This metaverse concept is now becoming possible.'

This shift is strongly linked to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies moving from behind-the-scenes internet applications to having a manifest effect on the physical world.

While there has been a growing focus on areas such as quantum computing, AI is crucial because it can give western nations the intelligence edge they need against rivals with far larger militaries.

Although most of us know that AI has now defeated human professionals in games such as ‘Go’, the use of AI is beginning to play a role in sports. AI was a big part of Team New Zealand’s 2021 America’s Cup win, allowing the crew to go ‘beyond human logic of sailing’.

Neil Dove, VP Head of Defence and National Security, Fujitsu UK, explains that AI, machine learning (ML) and automation will deliver a crucial information advantage.

‘To get information advantage, it’s a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning that is going to give us the intelligence edge. So we know what is going on before they do, and we can respond to it.'

Dove warns that technology is always evolving, moving from first-generation AI to ‘neuro-symbolic’ AI, which offers reasoning capabilities closer to the human brain.

‘It is a constantly changing environment,’ he says.

Such technological trends must also be viewed through the lens of today’s geopolitical situation and China’s emergence as an increasingly-assertive global competitor.

Dr Keith Dear, Managing Director, Centre for Cognitive and Advanced Technologies at Fujitsu UK.

Dr Keith Dear was a senior advisor on the UK’s 2021 Integrated Review (IR), which announced a strategic ‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific and the need to increasingly partner with countries such as Japan. He says the starting point of the IR was the ideological competition taking place between the Chinese system and that of democratic liberal capitalist societies.

'The second thing is all of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in the Indo-Pacific,' explains Dear, who is also Managing Director, Centre for Cognitive and Advanced Technologies at Fujitsu UK.

'And so that’s hence the geostrategic relationship through technology in Japan. We think there’s a lot of scope for national strategic collaboration in technologies like quantum, cyber and lots more. So, we’re talking about how we might enable technologies both for national security but also for prosperity.'

Collaboration is now a must

Neil Dove notes that 30 years ago, research and development funding would come primarily from the government. Today, however, finance for efforts in AI and areas such as quantum and high-performance computing are increasingly coming from the private sector.

‘It’s that commercial side that will actually make the investments and the advances, and we need to work out how we apply those back into the military.

’Militaries and industry need to collaborate in procurement,' Dove says. ‘It’s about working together. It’s about being agile. And it’s about industry bringing our knowledge and our private sector capabilities and R&D … It isn’t them and us anymore. It’s a joint team.’

A focus on software

Militaries are increasingly focusing on software in their procurements, notes Rupert Jones, a consultant who was formerly a General in the British Army.

This is right and proper, he says, while emphasising that the war in Ukraine is a reminder ‘that war remains fundamentally a clash of wills, and it remains a very kinetic activity’.

Still, the emphasis on software will demand an evolving procurement process, Jones agrees. While traditionally, a military would put out a requirement document and begin a long, slow procurement process, ‘with software, that is not the path’.

However, he says a host of dynamic, disruptive companies that believe in national security have lately entered the defence ecosystem. These companies are essentially start-ups, so they demand a different type of relationship with militaries.

‘If you go into a ten-year procurement cycle with them, they’ll have gone bust eight years ago. So you’ve got to interact with them differently. And you’ve got to come on the journey with them.

‘It’s got to be a much more dynamic partnership.’

You don't procure innovation

Neil Dove points to concepts such as the Defence Artificial Intelligence Centre (DAIC) of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD), which brings together commercial industry and defence professionals. ‘You don’t procure innovation… you create the frameworks, and you have multiple industrial companies within those frameworks.'

Neil Dove, VP Head of Defence and National Security, Fujitsu UK

Fujitsu participates in such opportunities with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). The company also works closely with a range of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK, and beyond, Dove says, 'looking for niche capabilities and products'.

This often involves adapting technologies and concepts not originally developed for the military space – for example, looking to specialists that focus on banking and finance.

‘Many of these companies will not necessarily have thought about working in the defence space – large companies like us need to build the ecosystems and provide the funding and support,’ Dove says, pointing to the company’s Digital Innovation Suite at its Basingstoke facility.

An alternative to quantum computing

Fujitsu’s Digital Annealer is a prime example of today’s technological development process in action. This new computing technology can rapidly solve complex combinatorial optimisation problems, and provides an alternative to quantum computing, which is currently very expensive and difficult to run. For certain problems, the Digital Annealer can run 40,000 times faster than a typical computer.

The technology was originally developed for the banking sector before being applied to manufacturing. The company is now working with the MOD in joint workshops to establish potential applications of the annealer in defence.

‘We take the fundamental R&D conducted by the greater Fujitsu organisation, bring it into defence, put the security wrap around it, and then apply it to MOD problems,’ Dove says.

'You’ve got to fail fast – it needs to be agile, it needs to be sprint, it needs to involve the customer.'

Why Shuhari?

Shuhari is a Japanese martial art concept which describes the stages of learning to mastery.

From “shu”, obeying the rules and repeating the forms, through to “ha”, when we detach and begin to innovate.

Finally, in “ri” we completely depart from the forms and open the door to creative techniques. Our learning no longer comes from other people, but our own experience.

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