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. militaryâ€™s constant move towards increasing so-called â€śhuman enhancementsâ€ť or, as California Polytechnic State University researcher Patrick Lin says, â€śmutant powers,â€ť 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 â€śkiller robotsâ€ť) 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 â€śsuper soldiers â€“ is in a league of its own. The militaryâ€™s â€śenhancementsâ€ť 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 â€śhuman enhancement projects recently or currently pursued by militaries worldwide.â€ť
â€śInsomuch 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€ť the researchers note.
Some of the technologies they outline include exoskeletons designed to radically increase a soldierâ€™s 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 â€śvirtual capabilitiesâ€ť designed to prevent the soldier from even being on the battlefield at all.
One such project is the â€śAvatarâ€ť program spearheaded by the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) aimed at creating â€śinterfaces and algorithms to enable a soldier to effectively partner with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine and allow it to act as the soldierâ€™s surrogate.â€ť
In addition there are efforts to increase â€śsituational awarenessâ€ť through â€śbetter communication, data integration from different sources, threat identification, coordinated efforts, and so on.â€ť
Current projects include DARPAâ€™s Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System, a visual aid that employs a computer to instantly identify threats that otherwise â€śwarfighters might only subconsciously see, given that only a fraction of our visual data is consciously registered.â€ť
A similar project is DARPAâ€™s Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras, or SCENICC, which â€śseeks to develop electronic contact lensesâ€ť 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 â€śincrease focusâ€ť although there are quite obviously â€śpossible serious side-effects.â€ť
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.
â€śCase 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€ť David Axe writes. â€śThinking he and his wingman were under fire by insurgents, Maj. Harry Schmidt dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb.â€ť
The flashes were actually Canadian troops conducting a live-fire training exercise and the Air Force eventually dropped criminal charges. Schmidt toldÂ ChicagoÂ magazine, â€śI donâ€™t know what the effect was supposed to be. All I know is something [was] happening to my body and brainâ€ť that could have influenced his judgment.
Currently, the US and other militaries are â€śusing or exploring the use of modafinil and other drugs, which are already used illicitly to enhance academic and workplace performance,â€ť according to the report.
Even memory is a target of potential manipulation with DARPAâ€™s 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.
DARPAâ€™s Deep Green, for instance, â€śautomatically infers the commanderâ€™s intent and produces a plan from the commanderâ€™s hand-drawn sketches to facilitate rapid option creation, and plan recognition and understanding capabilities ensure the commanderâ€™s intent is fully represented in the system.â€ť
DARPA is also researching enhanced learning methods with programs such as â€śNeurotechnology for Intelligence Analysts, Accelerated Learning, Education Dominance, Augmented Cognition, and Training Superiority programs.â€ť
Real-time language translation is another area of DARPA research with programs like â€śBoundless Operational Language Translation (BOLT), Robust Automatic Translation of Speech (RATS), TRANSTAC, and other programs.â€ť
Communication with military systems is also an area of increased focus with systems capable of facilitating â€śdirect communication between pilot and aircraftâ€ť and â€śprojects [that] seek to enable communication through thought alone, such as the brain-computer interface workâ€”or â€śsynthetic telepathyâ€ťâ€”funded by the US Army Research Office.â€ť
There are also programs focusing on specific senses such as telescoping contact lenses, DARPAâ€™s RealNose project aimed at mimicking a dogâ€™s sense of smell, a Canadian project aimed at filtering out â€śenvironmental noises while enhancing verbal signalsâ€ť and another Canadian project seeking to develop â€śa tactile cueing system for pilots to detect motion without visual or auditory cues.â€ť
Even human metabolism is an area of military focus with DARPAâ€™s Peak Soldier Performance program aimed at â€śboost[ing] human endurance, both physical and cognitive.â€ť Dietary supplements like quercetin are â€śbeing investigated for cognitive-enhancing effects under stressâ€ť as well.
â€śRelatedly, 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€ť the researchers add.
DARPAâ€™s Crystalline Cellulose Conversion to Glucose (C3G) program is aimed at eventually allowing soldiers to â€śeat otherwise indigestible materials, such as grass.â€ť
Avoiding that pesky thing called sleep is another focus of military research with DARPA-funded research programs into â€ślight and magnetic therapies to safely maintain wakefulness.â€ť
The list grows considerably when one considers so-called â€śdual-use researchâ€ť which includes â€śmilitary-funded research projects in therapeutics or healingâ€ť 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 DARPAâ€™s â€śLiving Foundriesâ€ť 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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