On the Record

Beyond Software: The Future of Conflict

Peter W. Singer

Editor’s note: On October 22, 2013 at the Google Ideas summit “Conflict in a Connected World,” Peter W. Singer hosted a discussion entitled “Beyond Software: The Future of Conflict.” Singer and the panelists identified and assessed major trends in future conflict: autonomous robotics, the Internet as a global battlespace and the need for U.S. defense planners to innovate in order to keep pace with the civilian sector.

Peter Singer: As I was watching that video, I was reminded of another famous quote from the great Mark Twain where he said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” And we can see that in terms of both this pattern of predictions about the future not going well but also in how we may have been here before.

About a hundred years ago, there were a series of technologies that came along that had very recently been science fiction. Things like what Jules Verne conceived of as a boat that would go underwater or what H.G. Wells conceived of what he called a “land ironclad” which Winston Churchill renamed the tank. Or A.A. Milne, inventor of the lovable Winnie the Pooh, was also the first person to conceive of what he called the military aeroplane. Or even more darkly, to go back to H.G. Wells, what he came up with, the concept of an atomic bomb.

So you had these technologies that had been science fiction that became real and had huge consequence both on and off the battlefield. And we may be experiencing this again today.