Thinking About The Future: The Mad Scientist Initiative

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This is a podcast episode titled, Thinking About The Future: The Mad Scientist Initiative. The summary for this episode is: <p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51);">In this episode Terry Pattar speaks to </span>Luke Shabro, Deputy Director of the Mad Scientist Initiative to discuss thinking about the future. The Mad Scientist Initiative <span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51);">is a U.S. Army&nbsp;initiative and a community of action that continually explores the future through collaborative partnerships and continuous dialogue with academia, industry and government.</span></p>

Terry Pattar: Hello and welcome to this episode of Janes Podcast. I'm Terry Pattar. I lead the Janes Intelligence Unit. I'm joined in this episode by Luke Shabro, Deputy Director of the Mad Scientist Initiative at the U.S. Army. This is all part of a recent series of episodes we've been doing to where we're talking about thinking about the future. It's in a key part of what Luke is involved in and we'll hopefully have a chance in this episode to talk about different ways of thinking about the future. Luke, thanks and welcome to the podcast.

Luke Shabro: Hey, thanks for having me on, Terry. I appreciate it.

Terry Pattar: Maybe you could start off by describing the Mad Scientist Initiative for anyone who doesn't know and give them an understanding of what it is and what it does.

Luke Shabro: Yeah. The only Mad Scientist Initiative was really something that started in the mid 2000s. And we were currently, really, embroiled in Iraq, in Afghanistan. We were dealing with problems from IEDs and all these different asymmetric tactic. What we're trying to do was help the army figure out how to think differently and how to bring in differing opinions. That was a program that initially started very government heavy. We had some great scientist and engineers from NASA Langley Research Center from the Intelligence Community, from the FBI come together and try and think about what is the next set of problems that we're going to deal with. Around 2015, actually, we saw this resurgence, right? Russia was involved and Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. We saw what was happening in Syria and realizing this return of pre power competition and disrupted technologies, what is that going to do and shape our mission set. In that vain, Tom Greco had this idea to bring back Mad Scientist, but rather than limit it to the government, why don't we take in outside opinions of these outside inputs of so much expertise that we want to bring in and get those insights so we can think about the future of not only warfare but the whole operational environment. Because we live in a society, a world that is shaped by these technologies and friends that we're not just operating in some military vacuum. We have to operate in that. How do we do that? And that's by bringing in some of those expert. One of the things he's pointed to in the past that we like to use as a model is, go back when you look at the 911 commissioner report. It talks about a failure policy and a failure of execution and a failure of communication. One of the things they talk about was a failure of imagination. That is what we're trying to defeat. We don't want to get bogged down into the way we've always done things and miss the forest for the trees. That's when we start to bring in all these different expertise. We call it really harnessing the intellect of the nation. What we really do is try to envision the future operational environment and we do that across academia, across inaudible and other government agencies. It's really a whole of nation approach to figure out what does our future operational environment look like.

Terry Pattar: I think too many organizations find it hard to step away or look beyond the immediate priorities to think about, " Okay, what else could be out there? How is the operating environment changing in the future for us to adapt to or think about adapting to?" Especially when you're trying to think about the future and you're trying to think about the alternatives and things that could happen. It's difficult, I guess, to get people solid answers and say, well, we definitely need to do this or we definitely need to change to adapt to this type of operating environment because this is what we're going to be seeing in five years. There is not a level of certainty, so how much of a challenge has that been in terms of getting that buy in, not just from senior leadership but also from others, perhaps, across the army?

Luke Shabro: I think that's an excellent point. It's something, I would say, struggle with, but I think we enjoy the challenge because it's a great... I always say, you don't have to sacrilegious, but we prophesize. We're trying to convert people into believers in terms of thinking differently about the future. I think the ways in which you do that are important. Because again, you can't just throw it in their face and you can't just say, " These are the facts, so believe it." Again, you say it's not for.. There's divergent possibilities out there. Actually, a product that I worked on over the summer with Army Features Command. I was looking at 2035 and beyond, and what we're thinking about in the deep future. What we did was look at four alternative worlds. And those were actually just four of many, because we had to look at, okay, rate of technological change. Well, how has the world changed if it's high rate of change versus low? Or how do we look at it in terms of bipolar, in terms of world war and maybe, we are against another great power like China, not exactly similar to the inaudible war, versus in multi polar world where you're dealing with a lot of ascending power. We had to think about that because I can't give you point predictions. I can't say that in 2032, we'll have flying cars. We can't make those marks on the wall per se. Dr. Zoren Long, who was at one of the future war games I was at said, " Point predictions are a sucker's bet." One of my favorites was, I've heard, " If you try to make a lot of predictions with a crystal ball, you better get used to eating a lot of ground glass." So it's this idea that you can just predict it. So again, your question, is at, how do you get people to buy in when you can't tell them for certain? And I think the biggest thing that we have to get across is, we always try to describe the proper environment. I'm not trying to predict it, I want to describe it so that there are certain characteristics and features and trends within that, that I can't tell you exactly when it's going happen. But I can tell you what those trends and technologies are going to do to shape the overall future operational environment. And one of the things that we did with that work at looking at for alternative worlds, is identify what are those underpinning cross cutting trends and technologies that impact the future? What is always there? What is persistently in there in the future that we look at? And then we have to turn that around and say, What capability sets and what formations do we need to be able to operate and win in that space? And so, we have had pushback. So I started before I was even in that scientist, I was working as a futures analyst for the army. And I used to work at unify Quest, which was the Chief of Staff of the Army's Future War Game. It's actually Future Studies Program now but General Milley was basically running that before he was the chairman of Joint Chiefs when he was still the Chief Staff of Army. And General Milley I think, helped us with not getting as much pushback, because he had the authority to come in and say this is what we're going to think about. And I think having an open minded CSA, like that really helped us because he came in and said, " I don't even know, in 2035, if we're going to have a battalion, or if we're going to have a brigade. We can't just take today's organization charts, and throw it, 20 years into the future, we can't do it." So he was very open to thinking about, what does that look like differently. In terms of leadership, I think, generally speaking, we've been very fortunate to have a lot of leaders were listening, and wants to think differently and understand the kind of challenges and opportunities that we face in the future. But I think you brought up a great point where he said, not even just the leaders, but what about the rest of the force. And I think when you deal with field grade officers, and you deal with these various colonels, and people who are in positions of power, so we often think about the four stars and three stars that we breathe, and how important they are. And we get all this buy in, and they can go out and give marching orders. But at the bottom line, we have to convince the real power brokers. And that's not that's not to discount three and four stars. But these are the power brokers who are dealing with day to day operations with their force. And they are the ones who are shaping it. And so how do we convince them to think about it. And we've always had some pushback, I've been at these events. And if I had a dollar for every time somebody said, that'll never happen, I wouldn't be on this podcast, because I'd be on my mega yacht right now. But the point being that you get these folks in position, and I don't think we can blame them for the way they're thinking that they have. They have very real things to think about every day. Unfortunate. I get paid to think about the future to bring in all these experts, but unfortunate knew that I don't have necessarily soldiers lives in my hands every day. I don't have billions of dollars worth of equipment that I'm trying to maintain, and very real operational demands every day, but I can't really blame them for not being ready to jump 20 years into the future. But what we can do is convince them and bring them in again with that buy in. And I think unfortunately sometimes times, current events kind of prove us right sometimes, and we start to get those believers, because we see things. One of the things that we talked about was this idea of drone swarms in the future of unmanned and autonomous systems, and what kind of impact that's going to have. One of the things we've always brought up is this idea that it's not limited to state actors, this isn't something where it's just Russia, it's just China, or even mid tier countries, when it comes to economics. We're talking about non state actors being able to do these things. Because the cost of entry is so low, in terms of technology do. It's not quite plug and play yet, but it's getting there. And so then, when you see almost two years ago now, when you see the Houthis, attacking a Saudi oil field with a drone attack and kind of damage that was inflicted from that, that's proving the point, we're seeing pretty quickly, the kind of implications from those trends. And it's really only going to be exacerbated in the future. And so that was, a lot of people were like, " Oh, a drone swarm attack." Well, it wasn't actually a drone, it was a saturation back, where they essentially sent a number of drones in that area. But that even proved our point further in terms of, you have to look at the damage that this did. And this was a fairly rudimentary attack. So what do we see out of them the future. So when they see those things, then there's implications for operational unit. That means this is not some far distant thing out in the future, even though we have to start thinking that far in the future, this is something their operational units are going to have to deal with, in a very short period of time. And so we want to prepare them for that, that they can start thinking differently. I was previous to being a futures analyst, I was working with tactical army unit. Generally about brigade and above exercises. And what we did was replication of the operational environment. So what is this going look like if a lot of times you said, you went to Afghanistan, and you're going to Kandahar or wherever, and we will pump in six months worth of intel messages in two weeks, just to give them a taste of what this was like. And then we did a couple exercises, not in Afghanistan and Iraq. But looking at maybe operating in another nation state where we don't have air superiority, where we don't have these fobs and places, a lot more secure places, and operating kind of alone and unafraid. And so to get that into their heads, was very difficult to tell commanders who are used to owning the sky, you are going to have UAVs over your head. And this idea that, even if it's not armed, get used to someone being able to tell your location based on aerial surveillance. And so, those are very real challenges that we have to bring to the forefront. I think one of the tools that we use a lot to get buy in, or at least change paradigms is, when you had August on using pieces of sci- fi, I can take a cut of ghosts fleet, or a similar novel, where they're dealing with these future technologies as a threat, and show them that and that will have way more impact than any white paper that I can throw it.

Terry Pattar: Well, I'll just say that's really interesting, because obviously, that's what we talked to Peter about. And it's amazing yeah. That element of trying to get the impact trying to get that... It was part of getting the buy in, but like you said, also trying to get people to shift their mindset, because as you mentioned before, you've had 20 years of a similar type of warfare, a similar type of operating environment. And so I guess now you're at the point where you've got a generation of leaders at all levels, who only had that type of experience, to some extent, and maybe haven't had a lot of other types of experience. And so yeah, it's interesting what you're saying there in terms of trying to change their mindsets, because that presumably is a big challenge in getting people to think differently, all those different levels.

Luke Shabro: Yeah, absolutely. When we say 2035, can we really predict 2035? I would almost assuredly say absolutely not. Because, and I know that sounds antithetical to things I'm working on. But if you look at the phone that I have, right in my hand, this was something unimaginable. I wouldn't say unimaginable but to the level that it's been integrated. This was not something we would have imagined 20 years ago, we had this divergence of technologies So we have palm pilots. And we had of course fax machines and scanners and all these things. But it would take a lot for people to really think about, even if you look at like Star Trek tricorders, or whatever they were using. It would take people a lot to think about this, I won't say perfect, but close to perfect convergence of technology, of battery power, screen technology, processing, graphics, everything that came together to make these smartphones. And so, to imagine that 20 years out, I think, in a way, it's kind of foolhardy to think that you're going to predict exactly what that's like, always have inaudible thinking about.

Terry Pattar: Yeah, I was to say it's not part of the challenge when you're working in a military environment, because especially when so much planning is geared towards that kind of 20 years out sort of timeframe and beyond. I mean, the work we do in the Jane's Intelligence Unit, we work closely with a lot of national security, government, military clients around the world, and we're constantly operating in that planning for the 20 years, or 40 years out even. Because if you want to have your force ready for that timeframe, you're going to be procuring equipment, and platforms and vehicles, et cetera or at least designing the... definitely starting to design them now because it's going to take that long to get them operational. So you have to kind of think in that timeframe. Right. Like you said, it's so hard to plan for?

Luke Shabro: Absolutely. And I think there's two factors to that. So the first is, I say, 2035? Well, for two reasons, I say 2035, the army has looked at the MDO. Our multi domain operations, capable force in the 2028 timeframe of having the ability to execute multi inaudible and operations in a number of mixed formations. And then when you look out to 2035, that's supposed to be your MDO ready for it. So we should be fairly fully fielded at that point of being able to execute on multi domain operation. But I tell people 2035, because if I tell commander right now, 2028, or 2025, they're just going to think, very iteratively. From right now, to do the next step, and it's going to be only slightly evolutionary thinking. I need a revolutionary thing, which is exactly what you were talking about, we have to think about these things now because all the material is being built right now. And design, we also have to think about, I was at all going to collaborate and work together. This isn't something where we can create a fighting vehicle in a vacuum. And then we can create a future vertical lift in a vacuum. The whole point a multi domain operations, and working with the army and navy and Marine Corps on JADC2 to or the Joint All Domain Command and Control, working all those pieces together is that they do work together. So it has to be, Christian Brose wrote really good book called Kill Chain really kind of describes that well. And this idea that we can't think in terms of a line and block systems approach that we have go forward and before. We have to think about this Kill Chain, or kill Web ideology which can be a little scary to people this sound. The sound of it is scary. But really, it's an integrated systems approach. That is very inaudible you have to think about all these things. And so we're dealing with not just difficulty... we're dealing with complexity. And that involves a lot of different parts. And so I think that's where we have to think ahead, we have to start building that now. And to your point, these things are being built right now. So like ow do we future proof? That's one of the things we talk about. How do this future proof so that we can be Netflix and not Blockbuster? And so how do we build in that ability to be anti fragile. And one of the things is, is a base level of research. So through all this work, I've also done some work with the Army Research Lab, thinking about tech forecasts. And so part of that is a little bit of backwards planning. So we look at these are the technologies that we think are going to be most prominent in the future operational environment. And then we had to look at, if we're operating through this multi domain operations spectrum, then what are the most critical technologies? What do we absolutely no kidding has to have. And then backwards planning that through ARL who does a lot of basic research. What is the basic research that we have to do right now in order to get to that, because everything that we're doing right now in terms of research is going to build that. So for the US Army, a lot of people talk about the big six, when you talk about the Apache, and the Abrams, the all the different technologies that were helpful, or really vital for us when we talk about air land battle, and you got to see in the'91 Gulf War, the culmination of all that so you go from the story study of looking at the Israeli Arab war? And what were the permitting successful factors to that, to building all those programs, and then a method of war fighting, the regardless to this great success. And so we wanted to backwards, plan that to see what are we going to build now because those platforms didn't come out of nowhere. It wasn't they were magically born. General Abrams took a look at all this and said, what do we need out of this with General Dawn story. What are we going to have to have, and it happened over decades, not a couple of years that happened over decades. So the research that we do now the concepts that we're building, those are going to be culminating only, I think it's going to happen a lot faster. The future is coming at us very fast. The rate of change for technology, and for how those things are implemented, is very different from that model, which was still a very post World War II industrial model. We look at the fight that we had for OYF and OEF very information age, kind of flight. And we came into our own when it came to using, excuse me, precision guided munitions. And this reliance, this new reliance on space based systems and having assured communications, but now, we are going into not an information age, but an intelligent aid. And so how are we going to operate with all these intelligence systems on the battlefield, I think we have to have a whole different approach. And again, it's about convincing, all levels of soldiers and leadership about what we need to do. And I think we're getting there.

Terry Pattar: All the things you've described there, there's so many things I could pick up on. But a couple of things in particular that I wanted to ask about was to what extent you focus mostly on the capabilities of the army itself, versus the extent to which you're looking at how adversaries and their capabilities might develop. Because obviously, we need to wear multi domain operations, you're going to have to cater for a wide variety of adversary capability than perhaps has been the case in the past. But also, I guess, thinking about the fact that distinction between state and non state is becoming more and more blurred, as we're seeing more kind of gray zone activity, et cetera. What's the balance there in terms of looking at your own capabilities versus the capabilities of others?

Luke Shabro: I think there's three factors, really, you have to think about, there's your own. So you have to have pretty good self awareness of your own capabilities as you talked about. And then sometimes that's owning up to what are the fragilities and what are the exploitable weaknesses in some of our cases or what do we have over reliance is on. And we know what those organizational scenes are when it comes to that. So it's that self awareness, and then you have to get to read the adversary capabilities and understanding not only what are they building, but how do they plan to employ it. What are their intentions. Just threat, as working for James, as you know, threat is capability plus intent. So capability without intentions is often misguided. So we have to think about how would it be employed, and we have to work very hard not to do mere imaging. Say, this is how they would do it, because this is how I would do it. We have to understand the mindset of those adversaries, and it's something General McMaster previous National Security Adviser talks about, of strategic empathy. So this idea of not thinking through a US lens and starting to think about how our adversaries approaching that. So when I think about a nation state like Russia, I can't think about how I would employ it as a US and I have these gigantic borders of the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean and generally friendly neighbors to the North and South. I can't think like that, I have to think about NATO, is this hospital being to me, that's right on my doorstep and how am I going to defend against that. So we have to, we have to have that strategic empathy. And then I think the third factor is really I guess I would call green or white space, where is the world around us. So we can, again, look at a vacuum of their technologies versus our technologies. And that's useful, that's a useful exercise and net assessments to understand where your adversaries are and where you are, in comparison, but you also have to think about that world around you. Non state actors are certainly a piece of that, you have to look at one of the things that we thought about a lot, is the democratization of technology, this idea that, so much of the disruptive technology out there is widely available to a lot of people for not a lot of cost. This device, again, I keep going back to the smartphones, but this device in our pockets are multi spectral sensors. They're encrypted communicator, they are an ability to self organize and dis aggregate and do all these different things with this one device in our pocket that might be a couple$ 100 or a couple$1, 000. And so, we're talking about technology converged together, there was really only available nation states only a couple decades ago. And now we have innumerable capabilities. And that comes to like, satellite imagery too. When Google Earth first emerged, it was kind of this novel thing, like, " Hey, maybe I can see my house or I can see... Oh, cool, you can go look at the Great Wall of China or something like that." Whereas now, there's so much such a bevy of commercial imagery available, that now it's affected our ability to camouflage, to hide to get strategic surprise. We are dealing in a world of persistent stare. So we have to think about the world around us. Even when we've talked to like the modern war Institute, and they're thinking a lot about dense urban operations and operating in cities. The whole idea before that you could like just do siege operations against the city and not have to deal with it or you can go around the cities. I think we're coming to a point where we realize that's not going to be possible. And we're going to have to operate in among those populations. And so if you look at throwing, like an entire division will get swallowed up, if you threw them into Jakarta, it's just a huge, huge area. And you can't hope to just operate the same way you would, even in a Baghdad or somewhere like that. So you have to think about those things in sense of the overall society because now we're not only dealing with like physical obstruction, in terms of traffic, check choke points, or all these vertical structures, or buildings and subterranean and all those things are very challenging already. But now, we also have to think about the electronic congestion noise that we're going to have to deal with in those cities. Because, again, I'm going to talk about smartphones about 10, 000 times. But when you go back to it, and you have all these smart devices, not only your phones, but the Apple Watch is Fitbit, people will ware... more and more wearables that are going on. Smart devices in your homes. All these things are emitters and sensors and it's a lot of noise. And really, that is only going to increase. That is only going to get in I wouldn't call it worse, per se. Because for society in some ways, it's going to be very helpful. But from us in operating in that, it's only going to get worse, and wearables are going to become a thing that is really embedded with us, that is part of us that we're going to have in our everyday lives, as everything becomes smart. So to the shirts that we're wearing one day, are probably going to have some sort of smart technology. And that means more and more noise. And so how do I look for my adversaries in that space? How do I separate them from the civilian populace? So how do we do that when now you're kind of looking for a needle in a haystack of needles? And that's really, really a complex situation that we have to start thinking about in the future. And then we start thinking about other things in society. When it comes to human augmentation and things like that. How do we deal with augmented humans? When we, I mean, we have to recruit from our own population. General Milley said before, we are a service that is all and for the nation, that means we're pulling in that population. So how do we do human augmentation in the service. Do you allow somebody to come in who's got enhanced eyesight. If someone is enhanced in the forest? How do you do they get to keep those capabilities when they go back to inevitably being a civilian. There's all sorts of moral ethical dilemmas that we have to think about with that. So I know I just gave you a gigantic inaudible. There has to be a lot of consideration. And that's also why we have at least every time we look at a certain area, whether it be robotics and autonomy, or we look at bio convergence, or any of those areas, we always include an ethics piece to get an understanding of what that is, because we are not our adversaries. And while our adversaries do have ethics, so there's this idea that Russians and Chinese that we fight against surges these immoral, the inaudible of World War I ideology. They have ethics. Is very different from ours. And that's where we kind of start to consider that ethical asymmetry recall it, and have to think about, how does that align, because all the stuff, we just talked about all the things we want to build and do, and operate these, hopefully, these kill chains and kill webs in the future, they still have to have the inherent values and ethics of our nation at heart. We can't abandon all that for the sake of getting to the most disruptive solution.

Terry Pattar: Yeah, that's really interesting. And I mean, you covered so many things that, like you said, but because I guess it's important. When you're thinking about the future, all of these things do converge and they do come together, and you got to think about the impact of different factors on each other. And you mentioned ethics there. And we've already seen, I think, in China around some of the ethics of sort of DNA intervention et cetera. And there is definitely a strong ethical consideration for them as well. But like you said it could be different and it could be a very different perspective than we might have in the West. So yeah, it's really interesting. We take that into consideration. And I think vital as well, for planning for how you're going to operate in the future. And there's a couple of things you mentioned earlier where you talked about that sort of, I guess the combination of forecasting. So thinking about, I guess probably the nearer term things, but also then describing and creating those scenarios, those alternative futures, which is inherently a more creative exercise, and goes beyond the scope of forecasting. And what I really liked was how you talked about the timeframe in terms of trying to get people beyond that mindset of iterating. And the evolution aspect. For anyone else who's thinking about trying to encourage or inculcate the same kind of futures thinking or perspectives in their organizations, from the work you've done up to now, what advice do you give to anyone who's thinking about doing this. To try and do it effectively, to try and bring together those different elements, but also to do it over that sort of timeframe that you've been talking about the kind of 20 years plus versus trying to figure out, " Okay, well, is there going to be something short term that is going to be massively disruptive that we need to anticipate"

Luke Shabro: Yeah. It's a tough challenge, I'll tell people that it is a tough challenge. And I think the biggest advice I can give is to use empathy. And that seems weird. So we talked about a lot of intelligence, and I've just talked about all these military applications, and for lack of a better term, killing people, and doing all these, inaudible and all these kind of tough things to talk about sometimes. But empathy is important when you think about the future. So and what I mean by that is getting whether it's your subordinates, your customers, just whoever you have a relationship with, that you're trying to get this forecasting across, you have to get them put themselves in those shoes in those shoes. In those shoes of their future selves, to step out of the now, and start thinking about those things differently. And in order to do that, you have to change your mindset from right now, which can be difficult. And that's why I also talked about I think, science fiction storytelling are just an enormous piece of that. Because I want them to think about what it feels like to be on that future battlefield. Not a bunch of numbers that are going to give you budget projections at that time. Demographics are probably one of the easiest things to predict. Because I'm short of, I should knock on wood, but short of some genetic miracle, where we can just start creating babies that much quicker and things birth and death rates that much quicker. We are looking at fairly steady models. But everything else is very nascent and it can be hard to wrap your head around. But if I give them storytelling, I can put them into that situation. And have them think about it in terms of what it feels like, what it looks like. And that's where you have to engage all those senses. That's where I need my Pete singers and Martha Wells and these sci- fi authors to come in and help me to help those people visualize that. Because if I just began throw them a bunch of numbers are these projections that really doesn't mean much. And that's that goes back to the art of intelligence as well. As you should always be storytelling when it comes to giving these projections. And I think what you talked about with forecasting, we had Dr. Amy Zalman on our podcast before and she's done some incredible work. And that's what she gets back to as well is putting yourself into those shoes. And she's talked about what it was like to have grandparents who were immigrants, and coming in, and the experiences that they had coming in, and how impactful that storytelling was for her. And so how do you do that when you start talking about the future, and sometimes, I like to invoke people's relatives. And so that sounds weird. But I like to talk about my own kids. So I have a six and a nine year old boys. And I want to tell people, if you have kids, if you have even nephews or nieces, if you have kids, think about that future army, what do you want them to be able to operate with and how are they going to think about it. Because they're very different. And that's one of the things that we talked about when we were discussing AI and this idea of like, whenever I dealt with senior leaders, one of the biggest things I get a lot of times is, commanders are not going to be comfortable handing over decision making or operating with these AI systems. They want to trust a person to a person and there's just a relationship there that you can't replicate and everything else. And that's fine. And I do understand that intrinsic human value to an extent. But my kids will operate with Alexa right now. They don't care. This is something that they are used to. So the next generation of war fighters leaders, and this applies to business too. All these enterprises of business, the next generation and generation beyond, they're not going to have trepidation when it comes to dealing with. You have a whole other host of concerns from privacy and an influence and things like that. But they're not going to have trepidation when it comes to working with intelligence systems, we have to stop thinking about us and our own experiences, and step out a lot of times and think about the next generations that are coming. And that can help change mindsets as well when you're thinking about that forecasting. And then we got a great big ugly example, with COVID-19 to help us show people how you have to think about the future. And it was a great example too of, it's not like no one was talking about. It's not like, it didn't exist in anyone's mind and it was just completely unforeseen. It was a matter of focus, and a matter of attention. And we had a conference in 2018 on bio convergence with SRI International on Silicon Valley. And one of the things that we wrote in our report was the idea of pandemics and what was coming next. How are we going to deal with it? Now, our viewpoint was very much of what if this was created by an adversary, and it was targeted against not being able to use antibiotics and antivirals. And there was there were certain things we were looking at, and more of a future thing. But regardless, it was something that was being considered. And we saw some of the theoretical scenarios are being played out. Whether the World Health Organization or US organizations or across international cooperation, there was things that were taking place. But we didn't want to give it its due credit because it's boring. It's a boring dystopia, it's a boring problem, because we don't get to shoot things at it. And we don't get to the race to the moon for it. It is something that's very difficult. I mean, you look at people right now, don't want to have to sit at home, or wear masks when they go out. Um, but if you told them to, like rally against Xenomorphs that came down from space, they'd be all about it. So it's a problem. And so we have to start thinking about then what's the next boring problem. So we see supply chain fragility that it's come about, we see issues in communications, cyber defense, these are things a lot of times are not very exciting, but they're critical to our everyday lives. So how do we get people to think about that and we have to, again, use that big ugly example to say, this is not something people want to talk about. This is certainly not something you would have seen a lot of war games and things like that. But it taught us in a way, most people would not have imagined.

Terry Pattar: That's a great example. And what you mentioned there about some of those other potential issues that could be on the near horizon, which are, as you say, boring to talk about, but could be really important. I mean, is a lot of that down to the fact that we can't really see them. Like you said, it's not a visible enemy. It's not somebody you can shoot at. It's something that yeah, as with a pandemic, we feel the impact, but we don't really see it. In such a way that it's tangible for us. Within that, so obviously, you're doing a lot of great thinking within the army and trying to get that. You said that buy in and get that futures oriented planning going. And some of those exercises, you mentioned that 2018 exercise. In terms of the product of that and for the army as a really influential, I guess, actor, in general, across the sort of political military spectrum, etc. is the army able to influence sort of broader planning around that. In terms of saying, if you within the futures command, or the army more generally, if you're flying up a risk and saying, you know what we think? This is going to be way more important than people are maybe giving it credit or maybe aren't paying enough attention to this kind of thing that we see as a boring but potentially really important risk that we should pay more attention to. Is there a way for the US Army perhaps to use its broader influence to maybe message to a bigger audience outside of the military to get that buy in from across the public across government, maybe as well to start that sort of bigger planning I guess. Because even for the army, you can't work in isolation to sort of deal with a lot of these issues that might be coming down the pipeline.

Luke Shabro: Yeah, I think I would answer that as yes and no. So I think we do have a voice. And I think we have to, in a way be very careful with that voice. Because the military is still one of the most trusted entities in the United States. Above a lot of other institutions. But we have to be responsible and careful with that voice. And obviously, we have to be a political in everything else. But there's a limit to that voice as well. And we are with confined in a way within our lane. Even though everything else is, it's kind of like we're on the highway and we're stuck in our lane. Everybody's chucking stuff into our in our lane. But we can't necessarily reached out necessarily to influence the nation in that way. But what we can do is use our voice. You've listened to the convergence. And there's various other great podcasts out there from the army CCDC or sorry, it's called DEVCOM now. But Combat Capabilities Development Command, Modern War Institute. There's a lot of institutions that great podcasts to reach out. And there's a lot of work being done by the whole army team, who communicate these ideas out to people, because we want to permeate it out to the entirety of the society. However, I think, and I hate to use this example, given what we're going through right now. But I think virality is the way in which we do that. And what I mean by that is, reaching out to folks like yourself. We've reached you because of the podcast and the things that we've put out. We've had folks from UK and Australia and Spain, come to us and say, we're listening to this. It's really interesting. I want to connect to people in the society, whether it's in industry in tech, whether it's in other government, whether it's across other nations, I want to communicate to them and make them actual believers in some of these ideas. And some of these concepts, in terms of what... One of the questions we asked a lot on the convergence days, what are we missing? What do we not thinking about? And that question serves two purposes. One, it tells our senior leaders what people outside the army think. And not only think, but think about what we think. So they say, hey, your priorities, not enough on bio defense or something like that. That's the first factor of it. But the second factor is, they become self aware of that. And they start spreading the message more and more, the DOD wants to be a part of this but we have to get them there as well. We have to bring those ideas in. And that's where the virality takes place to start to spread those ideas.

Terry Pattar: You mentioned, obviously, that the podcasts and I'm a big fan of the podcast. You guys have done a great job with The Convergence. You've had some amazing guests. And you mentioned the episode with Amy Zalman, and I listened to that that was really good. I really enjoyed that one. We've had some overlap, I think it's something I guess through which is probably not coincidental. Obviously, we're interested in similar themes and similar things that are going on. But I wanted to maybe ask you, from all of the interaction you've had with other people, whether it's through the podcast or through other means from some of the people you brought in to speak to, from outside the military and other fields. What are the kind of big things you've learned in terms of not necessarily specific to any topics, but maybe around things that you've picked up from those experts in how to think about the future.

Luke Shabro: I will go back to the four methods that we like to use when we think about the future, the first thing that we like to do a lot is crowdsourcing. So you've seen this idea of bringing in a lot of differing ideas. And then we can do it in a number of ways. We can do it very formal, where we've done writing contests and sci- fi contests and things like that. And those are great because we then... Our sci fi contest, which August Cole was actually a senior judge for, we had over 130 contestants are writers from 38 different countries. And so to get this wide swath of people to come in, we were able to then take out of what they produced, where they gave us, what are these ideas about the future. And sometimes it can be really indicative when you pull out some of those ideas, and you see them come to fruition. Things that we saw being written about four or five years ago, coming to be now. And then you can do very informal crowdsourcing, we had people do a Twitter contest tell us about the future of war and whatever it is. 230 characters or less. And so you can get these differing ideas from all over the place. And people get concerned about that. You talk to large organizations like the army, it's like, well, you're just going take advice from random people all over the place. And ideas, yes. And you're going get some craziness that comes in with that where you have to take it all in together and you have to be willing to hear it. It doesn't mean you make all your decisions based on the wisdom of the crowd. But crowdsourcing takes a big place. And I think, when you're a large organization, especially one that's been grounded in a lot of history, you have to bring in outside people, you have to start thinking about those things differently with those people, because you can't just hire outside consultants, and you can't just get institutionalized knowledge brought in. That's very important institutional knowledge is critical to understanding your organization's history, and how its values are expressed and things like that. But you have to get those outside opinions as well. And then we like to use storytelling, I kind of beat that one to death already, but can't emphasize it enough. Another thing that we like to think about is edge cases. Whatever your field is, start looking at not what is being widely adopted but what is at the furthest edge of the possible. And a lot of times when we work with larger tech firms, IBM, Nvidia they have some really cutting edge technologies and some really intriguing ideas. But you have to understand that they are very focused on their profitability, and making sure their boards and their shareholders are happy. But sometimes the bleeding edge of that technology come from those small startups with two girls and a guy in a basement that are coming up with these revolutionary technologies and these ideas. And so we want to look at the edge cases of what's happening. And sometimes it's not even the technologies. I think I probably focus too much even in this podcast. I'm talking about material. But sometimes it's how all that stuff comes together. It's not that the technologies for a lot of these things didn't exist. It's the convergence. If I can name drop the podcast. It's the convergence of those technologies and those societal trends. Economic and political, those things coming together is where you see that changes across our timeline. It's not just that something was invented. Things are invented every day, and we see the advent of these technologies. But what does it mean when they all come together and those edge cases are really important. And that gives us visions into the future of what might be. What are the weak signals. We saw several years ago, this idea of behavior modification, this idea that we were looking at biological enhancement, and what was going to be the timeframe. We were thinking initially was more on to the 2030s. And then in China, you saw the researcher that came out with the CRISPR, twin babies. And that was something we saw maybe taking place over another generation, not happening right in front of our faces. And so even though that was a novel, kind of one off, if you will, that was something that gave us an indicator that biotechnology and human enhancement is maybe coming at us faster than we might anticipate. And then another thing to think about is historical analogies. So one for one analogies actually don't work that well. So if you think about things like the pandemic that was dealt with in the Spanish flu pandemic or The Great influenza. So this idea that our comparison of situations from then to now is not the same at all. There are some similarities there in terms of when we deal with things like this information and how it's handled by governments and what is the response in terms of vaccines and things of that nature. There are some similarities, but we have to use historical analogies for, is to change the way you think about inaudible. And the questions you're asking. The example that we constantly use, and I want to thank Harvard Business Review for this one was, there was a story about in the late 1800s, as US cities were urbanizing and we're kind of coming into this industrial age, we had a problem in the cities and that was horse manure. So you have more horses coming in for transport, whether it be personal or for supplies, and there's just horse manure piling up everywhere. So it's this hygenic problem. It's an aesthetic problem, and how do we deal with this? And so they brought together what was really the nation's first urban planners to say, what do we do about this, and they brought them all together, and they came up with nothing. And there was no panacea, there was no ultimate solution to fix it. But then it didn't matter. With in several years, cars were taking over the roadways, it's not something we would even think about to this day, unless you're talking about a hansom cab ride on a cobblestone street. This is not a problem that we think about. And so when we think about for the army, when we think about in the future, let's say we need to be able to go into some distant land, and we have to get there over what we call this, tooth to tail. And we have this long sustainment period. And one of the things we might think about now is, how do we take these, many ton vehicles and get them across. But what if that's not the right question for us? What if the right question is, should we be using those vehicles at all for this? Should we be approaching this threat in a completely different way? Those are the questions that we need to ask maybe. No how are we going to do the same thing we've always been doing in a different way.

Terry Pattar: So that's fantastic. That's a really great thing to sort of, I think, for us to end the podcast on in terms of people to take away and think about how they can use some of these techniques and maybe address some of those questions and start thinking about and planning for the future.

Luke Shabro: Thanks.

Terry Pattar: Look forward to talking to you in the future.

Luke Shabro: Thanks so much.


In this episode Terry Pattar speaks to Luke Shabro, Deputy Director of the Mad Scientist Initiative to discuss thinking about the future. The Mad Scientist Initiative is a U.S. Army initiative and a community of action that continually explores the future through collaborative partnerships and continuous dialogue with academia, industry and government.

Today's Host

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Harry Kemsley

|President of Government & National Security, Janes

Today's Guests

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Luke Shabro

|Deputy Director, Mad Scientist Initiative