Many of you already know that I am a huge Black Mirror fan. I am even willing to take the risk of questioning my credibility as a serious technology journalist by dabbling so much in the world of science fiction. It’s all harmless fun though. That is, until we start drawing parallels between Black Mirror’s “Men Against Fire” episode and Microsoft’s recently-won HoloLens contract with the U.S. Government.
A word of caution, just like I promised in my earlier articles, I am not here to teach you morality lessons. And an even louder disclaimer: I do not, under any circumstances, engage in conspiracy theories. However, I am genuinely interested in exploring the ways in which technology can change our lives in the near or distant future.
Today’s topic is particularly fascinating to me. Ladies and gentlemen, we will be exploring the future of warfare. Working for a defense contractor for several years, I got a significant amount of experience under my belt as a technical writer for the Navy. While I penned numerous Standard Operating Procedures, Information Technology Contingency Plans, and other technical documentation that is better said as an acronym, I developed a deep sense of respect for the way our military worships readiness and organization.
Now that I have bored you with reciting a chunk of my resume, let’s return to science fiction. “Men Against Fire” episode deals with something called the Mass system. It is a neural implant that affects the soldiers’ shooting precision, combat tactics, and conditioning. The Mass implant presents itself as the ultimate military weapon, elevating men and women in battle to a kind of super soldiers.
Of course, in the great tradition of Black Mirror, there is a sinister twist to the way this Mass implant affects the soldiers’ perception of their enemy. This is where I will leave it be, as I’m not writing an episode recap and I did promise you no conspiracy theories. Just go watch it and decide for yourselves.
We are better off discussing what is actually happening in the real world of U.S. military. At the end of last month, news broke about Microsoft winning a $480 million contract to supply its HoloLens augmented reality headsets to the U.S. Army. Particularly interesting is the fact that the Army intends to use the headsets both for training and combat missions. Training has been done before, but live combat is an entirely new territory for this technology.
Without access to the government’s solicitation documents or to Microsoft’s response, theorizing can only get us so far. The fact remains that HoloLens technology will develop to incorporate night vision and thermal sensing, offer hearing protection, monitor for concussion, and measure vital signs like breathing. The full scope of HoloLens evolution as a combat tool will unfold gradually over time.
Conspiracy theories aside, we still have to deal with ethics.
Here we do have numerous reports of Microsoft employees expressing unease with their technology being employed in waging war. We cannot overlook their strong conviction that technology should promote peace and not war. At the same time, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the military is advancing, whether in America or in other parts of the world.
To stand aside would render us anachronistic and obsolete.
Technology is evolving at the speed of light. Arguably, so should modern warfare. If we focus solely on the fact that we are trying to make our soldiers more lethal, we can indeed foresee a rather grim state of affairs. However, if we look at Microsoft’s partnership with the Department of Defense as a way to be better prepared, we are simply going along with the inevitable progress.
My bottom line is that we cannot stop technological innovation. Whether we use it for good or evil is up to each one of us individually. We must trust ourselves to usher us into an era of being equipped for war and peace equally.