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I, Cyborg: The UK Interested in Making its Soldiers ‘Superhuman’

By Keelan Balderson February 25, 2022

Shocking UK Ministry of Defense report advocates human augmentation for warfighting purposes

The Detail has reviewed the disturbing dimensions of a report on human augmentation recently issued by the UK Ministry of Defense's Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre.

Drawn up in conjunction with Germany’s Bundeswehr Office for Defense Planning, the document starts by noting that while “significant thought” has been given to the implications of “advances in life sciences” for “artificial intelligence, automation and robotics,” comparatively little has been dedicated to “what this means from a human perspective.”

The MoD considers this a grave shortcoming, for “our potential adversaries will not be governed by the same ethical and legal considerations that we are,” and are allegedly “already developing human augmentation capabilities.” As such, “establishing advantage in this field” is of paramount urgency.

“Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomy mean that human processing power, speed of action and endurance are being rapidly outpaced by machines,” the report states. “People are defense's most valuable asset but also a key vulnerability; people get hungry, tired, scared and confused. Machines on the other hand are incapable of these things…The role of people is being challenged in three key areas: data, complexity and speed…Human augmentation is the missing part of this puzzle.”

The implication of this view of people is that the legal and ethical considerations apparently holding back the MoD’s vital work should be scrapped. People are just too weak to deserve the protections of legal rights preventing the military from implanting tech in their bodies to ‘augment’ them.

The report proceeds to delve deeply into a wide array of augmentation options, including wearable tech, psychedelic drugs, gene editing and engineering, exoskeletons, sensory augmentation devices, and invasive implants such as “brain interfaces.” Bizarrely, it likens such sinister, sci-fi-reminiscent applications to “augmentation” such as “humans [adorning] themselves with decorative garments to increase their social standing.”

Overwhelmingly too, the focus is on the theoretical positives of augmentation. Even a section noting that, “if not effectively regulated by law, such areas of inconsistency and/or ambiguity create the potential for individual privacy to be breached through what could come to be known as ‘under-skin’ surveillance methods,” is negated mere pages later by a passage seemingly advocating augmenting soldiers “against their will,” on the basis they could be “guilty of disobeying a lawful command” if they refused.

Accordingly, discussion of the hazards inherent in human augmentation is vanishingly rare in the report, beyond brief references to how “bioinformatic data, implants and wearables will create vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malign actors,” the “electromagnetic signature” of devices such as exoskeletons “could be easily detected” on a battlefield, and “implanted technologies” or “data-reliant human augmentation” could be “disrupted at a moment of an adversaries [sic] choosing.”

These prospective pratfalls are fairly severe failings, one might think, particularly given implanted brain-related tech could be hacked into, raising the horrifying prospect of someone’s mind and body being infiltrated and hijacked by sinister external actors.

Naturally, the MoD does not consider itself to be a “malign actor,” and the report argues such hacking to be a far lesser threat to that of “surrendering influence, prosperity and security” to countries more willing to experiment, invest and innovate in the field.

This cavalier approach extends also to ethical considerations regarding human augmentation. The report characterizes such concerns as “significant but not insurmountable,” on the basis that getting bogged down in trifling moral debates on the topic would result in “the ethics of human augmentation [being] decided for us” by other states. Indeed, “the imperative to use human augmentation may ultimately not be dictated by any explicit ethical argument, but by national interest.”

That is to say, if the MoD simply ignores ethical concerns and limitations, and adopts human augmentation regardless, ethical arguments become a moot point. Quite the vicious circle.

“National regulations dictating the pace and scope of scientific research reflect societal views, particularly in democracies that are more sensitive to public opinion. The future of human augmentation should not, however, be decided by ethicists or public opinion,” the paper ominously states.

The analysis goes even further, demanding that Western governments not only adopt, but optimize their use of human augmentation, stating, “governments will need to develop a clear policy position that maximizes the use of human augmentation in support of prosperity, safety and security.”

The Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) goes so far as to argue augmenting people may in itself be a “moral obligation…particularly in cases where it promotes well-being or protects us from novel threats,” suggesting in fact that augmentation could even “controversially” produce “moral enhancement” of humans and personally “to prevent malicious activity.”

If it looks like a dystopian nightmare, walks like a dystopian nightmare, and quacks like a dystopian nightmare, then it’s probably a report from the MoD.

The DCDC’s entry for the Philip K Dick award furthermore notes approvingly that “ethical perspectives on human augmentation will change and this could happen quickly,” recording how “creating genetically modified humans has been widely considered unacceptable for many years and is formally prohibited in over 40 countries,” but there are welcome indications this stance “is being challenged by the advent of new technologies.” No doubt the British state would also be eager and able to “nudge” citizens into reconsidering their “ethical perspectives” on the matter.

“The impact of legislative changes on moral beliefs is also important, with some evidence suggesting that changes to morality are often caused by legislative changes,” the report observes. “Defense, however, cannot wait for ethics to change before engaging with human augmentation.”

Disquieting stuff indeed, although even more troublingly, a determination to transform soldiers and citizens alike into cyborgs isn’t restricted to Britain. NATO’s ‘Innovation Hub’ throughout 2020 and 2021 published a number of bizarre papers and convened several conferences on the subject of “cognitive warfare” - a doctrine seeking “militarization of brain science” and answers to the burning question of “how to free humanity from the limitations of the body.”

The US-led military alliance aims to achieve dominance in this speculative, sinister sphere by 2040, and in service of the project the Innovation Hub employed a number of “futurists” to forecast scenarios for securing such primacy, and kickstarting “cognitive war.”

One resultant contribution was a 33-page fable authored by a French evolutionary biology professor, which imagined how in 2039, autopsies conducted on Chinese soldiers killed in skirmishes with US and Australian troops over Beijing’s Silk Road initiative in Zambia would find the dead were “supra-human,” the product of gene-editing in a lab, which imbued them with superior muscles, night-vision, and “resistance to sleep deprivation, thirst, extreme heat and humidity.” A “cognitive war” was duly declared the next year.

The academic concluded by declaring that the “human mind should be NATO’s next domain of operation.” Deranged doggerel the work may have been, but it was clearly influential – 10 months after publication, then-US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe accused Beijing of “developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities.” Despite providing no evidence for the bombshell assertion, media outlets the world over eagerly amplified his incendiary remarks without criticism or question.

Clearly then, just as in the Cold War, where bogus claims of Soviet nuclear supremacy prompted a planet-threatening arms race lasting decades, and crazed conspiracy theories about Chinese brainwashing prowess triggered unconscionable experimentation on unwitting human subjects, fear mongering over purported enemy state progress in the field of human augmentation is being used to justify a whole host of immoral policies and practices.

This time round, though, rather than entrenched medical ethics being criminally and covertly circumvented, they’re simply being rewritten to accommodate the national security state’s wanton and egregious excesses. After all, the West must maintain “full-spectrum dominance” in all matters, at all times – even if the threat that’s reportedly being countered is fantastical, farcical, or literally science-fictional.

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