New report highlights ethics and policy dangers of ‘military human enhancements’
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End the Lie
January 2nd, 2013
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The U.S. militaryâs constant move towards increasing so-called âhuman enhancementsâ or, as California Polytechnic State University researcher Patrick Lin says, âmutant powers,â has raised entirely novel ethical and policy concerns, according to a new report for the Greenwall Foundation.
Massive advances in technology are requiring a radical re-thinking of the future of war in other areas as well, such asÂ weaponized hallucinations, fullyÂ automated weapons systemsÂ (also known as âkiller robotsâ) andÂ rapidly advancing drone technologyÂ opening up the realistic possibility ofÂ perpetual drone flight.Â
Yet this type of research aimed at directly changing human body â in an effort to build what some call âsuper soldiers â is in a league of its own. The militaryâs âenhancementsâ cover a wide range of technologies from drugs and nutrition to genetic manipulation to electroshock to robotic implants, prosthetics and more.
In a newÂ 108-page reportÂ prepared for the Greenwall Foundation by Patrick Lin, PhD, Maxwell Mehlman, JD and Keith Abney ABD, the many risks are outlined along with some of the many âhuman enhancement projects recently or currently pursued by militaries worldwide.â
âInsomuch as the US military is the most transparent about its research projects as well as the most heavily invested, most but not all of our examples are projects based in US, drawn from open-source or unclassified information,â the researchers note.
Some of the technologies they outline include exoskeletons designed to radically increase a soldierâs strength and endurance, external devices designed to aid mobility and allow humans to scale walls like geckos and spiders, liquid body armor and flexible fabrics capable of stiffening into armor and âvirtual capabilitiesâ designed to prevent the soldier from even being on the battlefield at all.
One such project is the âAvatarâ program spearheaded by the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) aimed at creating âinterfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldierâs surrogate.â
In addition there are efforts to increase âsituational awarenessâ through âbetter communication, data integration from different sources, threat identification, coordinated efforts, and so on.â
Current projects include DARPAâs Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System, a visual aid that employs a computer to instantly identify threats that otherwise âwarfighters might only subconsciously see, given that only a fraction of our visual data is consciously registered.â
A similar project is DARPAâs Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras, or SCENICC, which âseeks to develop electronic contact lensesâ to accomplish similar superhuman awareness.
While caffeine has long been a staple in war as an attention stimulant, the US military now uses amphetamines to âincrease focusâ although there are quite obviously âpossible serious side-effects.â
Indeed, in one case, it seems that the stimulants were at least partially responsible for the deaths of four Canadian troops in Afghanistan, as Danger RoomÂ notes.
âCase in point: On April 18, 2002, a pair of Air Force F-16 fighter pilots returning from a 10-hour mission over Afghanistan saw flashes on the ground 18,000 feet below them,â David Axe writes. âThinking he and his wingman were under fire by insurgents, Maj. Harry Schmidt dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb.â
The flashes were actually Canadian troops conducting a live-fire training exercise and the Air Force eventually dropped criminal charges. Schmidt toldÂ ChicagoÂ magazine, âI donât know what the effect was supposed to be. All I know is something [was] happening to my body and brainâ that could have influenced his judgment.
Currently, the US and other militaries are âusing or exploring the use of modafinil and other drugs, which are already used illicitly to enhance academic and workplace performance,â according to the report.
Even memory is a target of potential manipulation with DARPAâs Human Assisted Neural Devices program, aimed at strengthening and restoring memories. Other programs are focused on developing drugs and treatments capable of erasing memories.
Programs are also aimed at using artificial intelligence to enhance decision-making and planning in military situations.
DARPAâs Deep Green, for instance, âautomatically infers the commanderâs intent and produces a plan from the commanderâs hand-drawn sketches to facilitate rapid option creation, and plan recognition and understanding capabilities ensure the commanderâs intent is fully represented in the system.â
DARPA is also researching enhanced learning methods with programs such as âNeurotechnology for Intelligence Analysts, Accelerated Learning, Education Dominance, Augmented Cognition, and Training Superiority programs.â
Real-time language translation is another area of DARPA research with programs like âBoundless Operational Language Translation (BOLT), Robust Automatic Translation of Speech (RATS), TRANSTAC, and other programs.â
Communication with military systems is also an area of increased focus with systems capable of facilitating âdirect communication between pilot and aircraftâ and âprojects [that] seek to enable communication through thought alone, such as the brain-computer interface workâor âsynthetic telepathyââfunded by the US Army Research Office.â
There are also programs focusing on specific senses such as telescoping contact lenses, DARPAâs RealNose project aimed at mimicking a dogâs sense of smell, a Canadian project aimed at filtering out âenvironmental noises while enhancing verbal signalsâ and another Canadian project seeking to develop âa tactile cueing system for pilots to detect motion without visual or auditory cues.â
Even human metabolism is an area of military focus with DARPAâs Peak Soldier Performance program aimed at âboost[ing] human endurance, both physical and cognitive.â Dietary supplements like quercetin are âbeing investigated for cognitive-enhancing effects under stressâ as well.
âRelatedly, US and UK scientists are researching genetic and cellular (mitochondrial) enhancements to enable soldiers to run for long distances and to survive longer without food, e.g., as Alaskan sled dogs are able,â the researchers add.
DARPAâs Crystalline Cellulose Conversion to Glucose (C3G) program is aimed at eventually allowing soldiers to âeat otherwise indigestible materials, such as grass.â
Avoiding that pesky thing called sleep is another focus of military research with DARPA-funded research programs into âlight and magnetic therapies to safely maintain wakefulness.â
The list grows considerably when one considers so-called âdual-use researchâ which includes âmilitary-funded research projects in therapeutics or healingâ with dual-use applications as enhancements for soldiers.
Areas of focus include research into stress, circulatory issues, metabolism, toxins and radiation, prosthetics, diagnostics, drug delivery systems and basic science which, oddly enough,Â includes DARPAâs âLiving Foundriesâ program.
Every single area includes ethical, legal and policy considerations, all of which are likely even greater than we think since this report relies solely on publicly available information.
The researchers conclude that the Pentagon needs to begin working on a framework for military human enhancement immediately.
However, as is the case with drones, this technology might â and, one might argue, likely will â be usedÂ extensively without any formal rules, guidelinesÂ orÂ legal frameworks in place.
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