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Defense boffins take notes from sci-fi writers on the future of warfare

Neat! Everything's gonna be just like Call of Duty!

As the arch-nerd hangout of the web, we love a bit of sci-fi here at The Register, so imagine our surprise when we heard that the UK Ministry of Defence has tapped the writing talents of sometime collaborators PW Singer and August Cole.

It's true that politicians are often lacking in the imagination department. Even so, for every bumbling Matt Hancock in government, we'd hope there are actual boffins close by sighing and preventing real catastrophe.

In the case of the MoD, it's Dame Angela McLean, the department's Chief Scientific Adviser and a professor of mathematical biology at Oxford University. Her government role is to direct the ministry's research portfolio, and on that basis she observed that the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) could do worse than take notes from some celebrated futurists.

"The world-class teams at Dstl work with the top minds from across military, academia, industry… and now science fiction," she said, announcing the project.

"The writers of this genre have been years ahead of their time in predicting the modern world around us from the internet and mobile phones to the electric submarine and driverless cars.

"Defence needs to harness the creativity and vision of this sector to further stimulate foresight and innovation to develop agile and resilient solutions for the future."

Singer and Cole, both American, are not just sci-fi novelists but have been variously described as political scientists, international relations scholars, and defense industry journalists. Together they published Ghost Fleet, about a post-communist China crippling the US with cyberwarfare, and Burn-In, which follows the AI-assisted hunt for a techno-terrorist. Both have been noted for how they address nonfiction concerns in a medium able to entertain and educate.

The duo brewed up eight short stories, collected here, covering the various "emerging technologies and threats that may arise during the next 20 years" on behalf of Dstl.

In A Glimmer of Hope, a Royal Marine recounts a disastrous battle after the loss of "quantum advantage," A Model Peace examines the power that data-harvesting organizations might wield in the future, Silent Skies collects reports from the aftermath of a drone swarm attack on London, and The Solstice Cup follows enhanced supersoldiers engaged in a breakneck hockey match.

Other tales explore the future of AI, supercomputing, a net-zero world, and more – all within a military context.

Sarah Herbert, Defence Science and Technologies Futures program manager, commented: "We are always looking for science and technology that will meet the challenges of generation after next threats.

"In our choice of authors we have a unique combination of literary skills and defence expertise that can help us glimpse what the future may hold.

"This project is one of many innovative ways we strive to keep people safe and give our armed forces a strategic advantage."

Anyway, that's your lunchtime/bedtime reading sorted. The Reg's take is that, while fascinating concepts, it's a little bit Call of Duty, which Singer worked on as a consultant, in that the tech timelines seem optimistic (or pessimistic – a lot of it is used to kill people).

We cover high technology – that we're allowed to know about – on an almost daily basis, and some seems either eternally in development or hopelessly crap. Still, we see the benefits of defense researchers being presented with scenarios they may not have otherwise considered.

Drop your reviews in the comments. ®

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