There are two common predictions regarding the future of warfare. First, the arms race between military powers necessitates a continuous adoption of improving technologies. Second, the focus will increasingly be on attacking your opponents technology as opposed to their soldiers.
TrackingPoint, an optical system that automates almost all of the previously specialized knowledge usually required to accurately hit a target at long distances with a rifle, is an example of this. Such a system could greatly increase the accuracy of the average soldier while cutting training costs. Militaries that adopt such technology would have a distinct advantage over those that didn’t. The tradeoff is that the technology can be attacked and potentially render it useless:
At the Black Hat hacker conference in two weeks, security researchers Runa Sandvik and Michael Auger plan to present the results of a year of work hacking a pair of $13,000 TrackingPoint self-aiming rifles. The married hacker couple have developed a set of techniques that could allow an attacker to compromise the rifle via its Wi-Fi connection and exploit vulnerabilities in its software. Their tricks can change variables in the scope’s calculations that make the rifle inexplicably miss its target, permanently disable the scope’s computer, or even prevent the gun from firing. In a demonstration for WIRED (shown in the video above), the researchers were able to dial in their changes to the scope’s targeting system so precisely that they could cause a bullet to hit a bullseye of the hacker’s choosing rather than the one chosen by the shooter.
I’m sure somebody is going to claim this as a reason why merging firearms and technology is stupid. Such criticisms can be dismissed entirely because any military that fails to take advantage of this type of technology will be at a tremendous disadvantage. Merging technology and firearms is inevitable so we need to address the weaknesses.
TrakingPoint has stated that it will work with the researches to fix the vulnerabilities and that’s the proper response. This should also serve as a lesson to any organization creating military technology that software security, which will eventually become the primary target of enemy forces, must be a primary consideration.
As an aside it will be interesting to see if the death tolls in future wars decrease as focus on attacking technology increases. If one side can disable the other side’s ability to wage war it could lead to a bloodless surrender or an immediate retreat.
It’ll also be interesting to see how this plays out in the ancient battle of the state versus the people. Traditionally states, being centralized bureaucracies, have responded poorly to change whereas humanity as a whole has responded very well to change. In the future states will be entirely dependent on technology to both wage war and exploit its people. That could give the people a strong advantage since you could have the creativity of the entire world focused on rendering the technology and these centralized exploiters impotent. Imagine a world where a police cruiser pursuing a nonviolent drug dealer could be turned off with the push of a button. Suddenly the dangerous high-speed chase initiated by the officer could be made into a very safe getaway for the dealer. Family pets could be saved from police kicking in a door at oh dark thirty by merely using an exploit that would cause the officer’s identification friend or foe (IFF) to identify all of the house’s inhabitants as friendly and therefore prevent their weapons from discharging at them. Admittedly that is a farfetched vision but not one outside of the realm of possibility.