Remember the Kurt Russell movie Soldier? In "Soldier" Russell plays a genetically selected interplanetary soldier (war fighter) who get wiped out by a new generation genetically engineered model. Or maybe you remember Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier. The theme here is that soldiers who have been killed are "reanimated" and "enhanced" to become a super fighting force. Well, for quite some time the Pentagon has been working on creating the future "warfighter."
A trip through the public portions of DARPA's (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), is enlightening. I know that every time I visit, I can't help but think "If this is what is public, then what are the classified programs?" DARPA has a wide ranging research program on "improving" soldiers. However, DARPA (and indeed DoD "vision" documents) rarely use the term "soldier." They prefer the term "warfighter." The goal of many of DARPA's programs regarding warfighters is to improve them through a variety of means:
- overcome muscle fatigue and lack of sleep;
- directly convert "cellulose" into nutrients (grass and cardboard comes to mind);
- interfacing human and machine as with the HAND program;
- implanting nano-technology for a number of purposes.
Sharon Weinberger over at Wired wrote a fairly extensive article on a project that has gone out to bid colloquially referred to as "Luke's Binoculars" (though officially known as Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS)). This project involves merging a binocular function with extreme range and "threat detection" into the prefrontal lobe of warfighters' brains (see graphic from Wired).
Ah, the prefrontal lobe?
The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals.
The most typical neurologic term for functions carried out by the pre-frontal cortex area is Executive Function. Executive Function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social "control" (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially unacceptable outcomes).
Many authors have indicated an integral link between a person's personality and the functions of the prefrontal cortex. (Wikipedia)
"Luke's Binoculars" are not some long term, far future, research project. No, the bids have gone out with the goal of having them in use by Special Forces in three (3) years.
Now these projects - including the "binoculars" - seem fairly permanent to me. Once you have modified a warfighter, can they ever not be a warfighter? Do they then become a piece of military equipment? These projects certainly give the name "GI" (Government Issue) a whole new level of significance.
Are we really willing to commit people for life (not retirement) to be extended military equipment? Certainly the government seems willing to do so. Do we need permanent warfighters to fight a never ending war? Might such "enhanced" humans be useful in other areas besides war? Or might the technologies have uses beyond the military? I can think of a number of them actually. For example,workers that don't need to rest and can eat the recycling to keep going. Of course, much like the warfighter, the worker must become property as well - another resource of service until removed from service - sort of a high tech version of Jennifer Government by Max Barry.
The implications of the direction being forged are into a future that I, personally, find terrifying. I can't believe that we must be on this path. I must believe that we can, and will see the travesty we are becoming and turn aside.