Science fiction has a lot to say about war, from high-tech warfare machines to supercomputers and killer robots. Some countries (like the United Kingdom and France) are now turning their attention to these imaginative stories in order to think about possible futures and ward off potential threats.
For many years, science fiction writers have made predictions about future technologies that have later come true. Arthur C. Clarke famously predicted the internet in 1964. In 1983, Isaac Asimov prophesied that without computers, modern existence would be impossible.
Governments have taken notice. Science fiction might not only help us picture a future formed by new technologies, but it can also teach us about potential hazards.
Many concerns are addressed in science fiction, which will undoubtedly feed into defense studies about warfare and risk mitigation. While we can never entirely forecast the future, we can only hope that our leaders and decision-makers take lessons from science fiction in order to escape the dystopia that some science fiction portrays.
Here are four science fiction issues that governments may be thinking about.
1. Super soldiers
Science fiction frequently features super troops, who can take many different forms. In many cases, they are “super” because to their technology, like in Joe Haldeman’s Forever War (1974) and Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein. Modern examples, however, also look at how super soldiers can be enhanced even further with stronger muscles and even extra organs.
Unsurprisingly, there are frequently several moral and ethical ramifications to these super soldiers’ function because they are stronger, faster, and better suited to conduct war. Any soldiers that disobey orders can be blown up by the battle computer in Forever War.
A third lung, a second heart, and numerous other implants are inserted into the monk-like fighters in the popular story-driven video game Warhammer 40,000 in order to enable them survive on the battlefield. They are so drastically altered that they have lost any sense of what it is that originally made them human. These people are known as Space Marines.
Drone operations are becoming increasingly crucial in modern combat, with the US and its partners using Predator and Reaper drones to patrol the skies and assassinate terror suspects from afar. We’ve lately seen examples of naval drones being utilized in Ukraine’s conflict.
But, of course, science fiction has long prophesied this form of warfare, and if anything, it is merely a logical progression of the computerization of ordinary life.
In the novel Ender’s Game (1985), the juvenile protagonist Ender Wiggin is sent to Battle School where he takes part in a series of intricate military drills utilizing computers to simulate a war against a distant extraterrestrial opponent. Only after destroying the alien home world does Ender realize he isn’t playing a game at all, but rather leading real-world soldiers fighting in distant space.
In a recent paper, I suggest that Ender’s Game both anticipates and engages with many of the main disputes in this area today. This encompasses the method by which targets are chosen as well as the moral and ethical issues surrounding remote killing. As drones grow increasingly widespread in everyday civilian life, these challenges will only become more important.
Beyond drones and powerful computer technology, we may think about biological sciences and the role of animals in humanitarian operations during wartime.
The protagonist of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Dogs of War (2017) is a bio-engineered dog – literally, a dog-of-war (a mercenary) – who blindly obeys orders until he discovers that his owners aren’t quite the “good guys” they say.
Dogs of War, like so many of the best works of science fiction, raises many ethical and moral problems regarding the human condition, such as how humans so often exploit others and how animals fit into our moral framework.
Consider the real-life example of Kuno, the dog who saved the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan and was awarded the dog equivalent of the Victoria Cross. If we are to send animals into risky circumstances to support soldiers or hunt for earthquake survivors, perhaps the animals could be modified to lessen dangers and make them better at what they do?
4. Behavioural modification
A lot of science fiction is about drugs and how chemicals can be used to alter reality and modify behavior. Philip K. Dick is perhaps the most well-known author in this field, with works such as The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964), Ubik (1969), and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974) dealing with variants on this theme.
There was also the film Serenity (2005) (and its much-missed TV series Firefly), in which Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew travel to the planet Miranda to learn about the negative side effects of pharmaceuticals used to control populations and make people more cooperative.
While these instances may appear sinister, they pale in comparison to the tests carried out by the real-life CIA.
Toward the end of the Vietnam War, it was revealed that the CIA had been carrying out unlawful human experiments in order to produce medicines for brainwashing and torture. This operation, known as MK-ULTRA, was made public in 1977 during a Senate hearing.
While we can only hope that such harsh and horrifying experiments are a thing of the past, the concept of behavioral modification is still important in defense research, albeit perhaps not to the same extent as it was in the mid-twentieth century.
Many would argue that social media has become a global battlefield, with information warfare posing a real threat to security and Russia and China accused of conducting cyber assaults against the West.