top of page

USING SCIENCE FICTION AS A TOOL FOR MILITARY AND DEFENSE ORGANIZATIONS TO IMAGINE THE FUTURE OF WAR

Updated: Mar 8


Image: Leonardo.ai "Go see the Harry Potter films; they'll give you some good ideas for product development," the head of an international technology company recently told his staff when the Harry Potter films were coming to cinemas.

 

The Potter films had magic: brooms flew, students hid under invisibility cloaks, step patterns indicated the location of people on a magical map, pictures in a newspaper moved and on the walls of Hogwarts, paintings talked to each other, as the characters were alive.

 

Magic is about pushing the boundaries of imagination. It is also what technology does at its best: speech and images are transmitted from one part of the world to the other faster than the blink of an eye, a heavy aeroplane stays in the air and moves masses of people efficiently, a turn of a knob heats the stove to cook food, and a by turning the lever on the tap, water flows.

 

If we used a time machine to transport a person from the Middle Ages to the present day, (s)he would consider the whole world to be full of magic. Indeed, science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."


Technology is the magic of the modern age, and this magic is one of the biggest drivers of change in the world. By understanding technology and the opportunities and threats it brings, we can better envision, create, and prepare for the different futures that may await us. Science fiction offers an excellent tool for envisioning the future. Some organizations are already using science fiction as a tool for anticipating the future. These include not only businesses but also military and defence organizations. The use of science fiction in organizations, especially in military and defence organizations, is the subject of my current research. I am doing my second PhD thesis on the topic, "Using Science Fiction in Defence Organization's Anticipation Process," through National Defence University, Finland. In my thesis, I am developing science fiction tools for military organizations to better envision the future of warfare.  

 

WHAT IS SCIENCE FICTION?

 

There are many definitions of science fiction in the literature.  With my professor Aki-Mauri Huhtinen, I have put forward one definition of science fiction. According to it, science fiction consists of three dimensions: technology, the future, and society (see figure 1). In other words, science fiction is about the impact of new technology on people and society in the future. It is, therefore, not just a question of looking at new technologies and extrapolating them into the future, but of thinking about the significance of new technologies for society and people.



Figure 1: Definition of Science Fiction by Hiltunen and Huhtinen

 

 

Because I love formulas (they make life so simple!) I have developed a formula for anticipating the future. Consider this:

 

Anticipating the Future = Facts + Imagination

 

The idea behind the formula is that in anticipating the future, you need to look at the facts, i.e., data from the past and the present. Facts are, for example, trends, like the increase in the number of electric cars on the road between 2010 and 2024. However, it is impossible to anticipate the future by looking in the rear-view mirror: past and present alone. The only way to leap into the future is to use your imagination. “What if?” is the fundamental question for a futurist when envisioning the future.

 

My formula for the future also applies well to science fiction. In science fiction, it is essential to know the facts, for example, what new technologies are being developed currently. In addition to knowing the facts, it is vital to use imagination. How might these new technologies affect society and people in the future? This is how science fiction narratives are created.

 

Like foresight in general, science fiction is not intended to predict the future. Science fiction helps us to prepare for different (technology) driven futures. Science fiction also helps us innovate the future: many of today's technological innovations have been present in science fiction. Science fiction stories have inspired engineers throughout the ages to develop new products.

 

IMAGINATION IS A VALUABLE ASSET

 

An essential part of science fiction is imagination. Imagination is a powerful force for change. The world's most famous physicist, Albert Einstein, ranked imagination above knowledge. If we can imagine something, we can also, in the future, possibly make that vision concrete, make it real.

 

In organizations, however, I would argue that imagination is undervalued to factual knowledge. Imagination is vague. It is difficult to measure, unlike cold facts. Imagination is sometimes thought to be childish and does not fit into the serious adult world. Imagination can produce strange outputs. The result of imagination is fairy tales. Thus, it is sometimes considered dangerous.

 

Yet organizations and individuals can cope with the new situations that the future throws at us through imagination and the creation of new things. They also can use imagination to create a better future and to be a pioneer. Underestimating the value of imagination is dangerous, I argue.  It is essential to use one’s imagination because somebody there, such as an opposing force, is using her/his imagination. Especially in warfare, imagination becomes a powerful tool.




A CHEAP WEAPON IN WARFARE CALLED IMAGINATION

 

Warfare also involves imagination. When resources are limited, imagination can create innovations from the scarce resources. Examples can be found in history, such as Finland's survival in the Winter and Continuation Wars of 1939-1944 against the massive Russian army. In the 1940s, Finnish soldiers developed the so-called "Molotov cocktail" for anti-tank warfare because the most effective anti-tank weapons were in short supply. The Molotov cocktail consisted of petrol, alcohol, and tar in a glass bottle. The Spanish Civil War inspired this cocktail. When the bottle was thrown onto the bonnet of a tank, it set the tank on fire. Without anti-tank weapons, the Finns even pushed logs into the tracks of tanks to stop their advance.

 

Another example of using imagination in war is accordion music as “a weapon” in electronic warfare. In 1941, Russia mined Vyborg, and mines were detonated using radio frequencies. When the Finns detected the frequency, they began to play a song played by accordion called "Lake Säkkijärvi Polka" on the radio at that frequency for three consecutive days. This prevented the mines from exploding.

 

Among recent warfare innovations, one could mention Tinder, used as “a weapon” in the Ukrainian war. By creating Tinder profiles, the Ukrainians obtained critical intelligence on Russian soldiers and the location of troops.

 

MILITARY ORGANIZATIONS USING SCIENCE FICTION

 

Military and defence organizations are also beginning to understand the potential of science fiction in anticipating future warfare. Several public science fiction reports and books by military organizations describing the future of warfare can be found on the Internet.  The first military organization report, or in this case book, that I found on an internet search was Crisis of Zefra, a book commissioned by Karl Schroeder of the Department of National Defence-Director General Land Capability Development, Canada.

 

The book was published in 2005. Its events occur around 2025 in an African city-state where Canadian peacekeepers secure the first democratic elections while fighting the insurgency. The book was followed up in 2014 when Karl Schroeder wrote Crisis in Urlia. It describes the outbreak of a new disease in the 'Pakistan-India plurinational zone' called Urlia. A Canadian rapid-response team is working in Urlia to try to calm the situation.

A couple of exciting science fiction reports were published in 2016. Allied Command Transformation's Vision of Warfare 2036 and the United States Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory's Science Fiction Futures: Marine Corps Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045. The Vision of Warfare 2036 publication contained 12 different stories of future warfare. The stories mainly describe the actions of NATO forces in various conflict situations worldwide.  Science Fiction Futures: Marine Corps Security Environment Forecast 2030-2045, on the other hand, contained three different stories set in Nigeria, Taiwan, and Morocco.

 

A year later, in 2017, the U.S. Army TRADOC Mad Scientist Initiative’s Science Fiction: Visioning the Future of Warfare 2030-2050 report was published. It was based on a writing competition that attracted as many as 150 entries from 10 countries. The report published 23 stories that participated in the competition.



The Army Cyber Institute has published at least 14 science fiction stories since 2018. Examples of the stories are Invisible Force: Information Warfare and the Future of Conflict (2020) and Quantum Winter (2018). The most recent stories are from 2023. These stories are mainly presented as comics. They are referred to as "threatcasting science fiction novellas" and "future conflict graphic novellas", a designation that emphasizes the graphic nature of the reports. The reports deal with topics such as weapons of mass destruction, information warfare, cyber warfare and electronic warfare.

 

But why do military and defence organizations spend time and resources on science fiction? The reasons can be roughly listed in three categories. Science fiction is used:

 

1.) to anticipate future warfare, technologies and threats,

2.) to enhance the use of imagination, and

3.) to communicate the threats to a wider audience.  

 

These reasons can be found in the report themselves.

 

Army TRADOC Mad Scientist Initiative’s report underlines science fiction as an anticipatory tool:

 

“One of the founding ideas inspiring the contest was the notion of ‘Science Fiction as reality.’ Science fiction has been historically predictive of future technologies and ideas.”

 

The Vision of future warfare 2036 underlines the imagination aspect:

 

“The foundational hypothesis for this project is that leveraging the rich tradition of futurist storytelling will assist innovative and transformational thinking.”

 

The communication aspect is underlined in the report Invisible Force: Information Warfare and the Future of Conflict (2020):

 

“The intent of this graphic novel is to influence the thinking of U.S. leaders developing future policies, processes, and systems that will enable us to disrupt, mitigate, recover, and defeat any nefarious uses of technology by competitors and adversaries alike, in future information-age conflicts.”

 

 

A TOOL FOR CREATING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES IN MILITARY ORGANIZATIONS

 

In my dissertation work, I developed different methods for using science fiction in military organizations to think about future warfare and threats with my professor. An article presenting one of the tools was published in the Journal of Information Warfare in in the Autumn 2022 issue. It is a five-step tool that first develops different scenarios, considers the key elements of the warfare in question (in this case, information warfare), discusses possible potential technologies, and produces science fiction narratives about different information warfare scenarios. The tool is shown in Figure 2. The tool combines three theories: Yrjö Seppälä's Futures Tables, Shannon and Weaver's Communication Theory and Brian David Johnson's Science Fiction Prototyping Theory.

 


Figure 2: A five step tool by Hiltunen and Huhtinen to imagine the future of information warfare.

 

Using the tool, we developed two different scenarios of what future information warfare might look like in very different worlds.

 

One scenario, for example, included mini-swarm drones that aired as a display to show propaganda. In another scenario, micro-targeting of social media messages. Our paper also considered how to defend against different types of information warfare, such as using virtual soldiers in metaverse to fight false information.





CONCLUSION


Technology has changed and will continue to change our future more radically. Artificial intelligence, quantum computers, metaverse, internet of things, robotics, sensor technology, genetic modification, synthetic biology, green energy, geoengineering are just some examples of technologies that can radically reshape our lives. They will also shape future warfare. We must dare to use our imagination to prepare for the various threats posed by technology – and the enemy. Science fiction is an excellent tool for thinking about the impact of technology on society or future war. In this tool, the use of imagination is closely tied in.

 


__________________________________________________________________________________



Futurist Elina Hiltunen is a Doctor of Science (Business Administration) and Master of Science (Chemical Engineering). Her first doctoral thesis at Aalto University, School of Business, was about using weak signals in organizational futures learning. It was published in 2010. Currently she is doing her second PhD thesis at National Defence University, Finland, about how to use science fiction in the defence organisation’s anticipation process. She is the author/co-author of 14 books. She has been writing books about foresight methods, the future of technology, consumer trends, megatrends, the future of the world, and depression. She has also written children’s books and amigurumi crochet books. She is also a science fiction writer. Hiltunen is an active keynote speaker, columnist, and consultant. Currently, she is an entrepreneur, but she also has a background working at Nokia, Finland Futures Research Center and the Finnish trade promotion organization, Finpro, as a futurist. She is also a regular guest on the Finnish Broadcasting Company's science programmes, discussing the achievements of science. She lives in Espoo, Finland.

 

REFERENCES:

 

Allied Command Transformation. 2016. ‘Allied Command Transformation (2016) Vision of Warfare: 2036’,. Norfolk, VA: Allied Command Transformations.

 

Cole, August, and Peter Singer. 2020. ‘Invisible Force- Information Warfare and the Future of Conflict’. Army Cyber Institute. https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.14216/524.

 

Hiltunen, Elina. 2019. Tulossa Huomenna, Miten Megatrendit Muokkaavat Tulevaisuuttamme. Docendo.

 

Hiltunen, Elina, and Aki-Mauri Huhtinen. 2022. ‘’Future of Information Influence Operations: Scifi as a Tool to Imagine the Unthinkable’. Journal of Information Warfare 4: 79–99.


318 views0 comments

Commentaires


bottom of page