We owe a lot to violence and conflict, as a big chunk of all of our technological innovations have come from violence and conflict. That makes perfect evolutionary sense, too. The threat of extinction was a huge driver of innovation in the early days. If you have better swords than the rival clan, you automatically know more about swords and metalworking, and are much more likely to survive and pass that knowledge on.
You’d think that it’s no longer the case – as technological innovation doesn’t need to rely on killing each other anymore – though you’d be surprised to know that weapons are still our best-made tools. Most of our top innovations in automobile technology, prosthetics, robotics, AI, and a bunch of other fields are still theorized and developed in a defense lab somewhere.
If you want a glimpse into what the future would look like, just look at the weapons we’re developing right now. From a crowd-control pain ray – which is exactly what it sounds like – to straight up seeing through walls, these weapons of the near future prove that we’re still at our innovative best when we’re preparing for war.
8. Invisibility Cloak
A working invisibility cloak has been a staple of fiction for a long time, even if it’s a pretty creepy idea in civilian situations if you think about it for two seconds. Imagine if invisibility cloaks were a reality; you’d never know if you’re truly alone in any room.
Apply that to military situations, however, and that honestly weird idea instantly turns into one of the deadliest improvisations we can come up with. If we can build a perfect invisibility cloak, it won’t just give us perfect camouflage on the battlefield, but could also be used to build new, unheard-of tactics. Combine that with our innovations in robotics, and we may soon have invisible killing robots that can be made to do anything behind enemy lines.
Nanobots are sort of like Ant-Man: he doesn’t sound too interesting or powerful on first look, but if you actually sit and think about the potential uses of being really, really tiny, you’d realize that it’s actually one of the most overpowered abilities one can think of. Tiny robots that can carry out advanced operations could be potentially used to do anything you want – a fact military scientists are only too aware of.
While we don’t know much about exactly what the military is developing – as the best prototypes are the ones we don’t know about – some recent research may give us a clue.
MIT researchers have developed something very close to what military-grade nanobots would look like. They’re no bigger than a grain of sand, float in the air and are able to continuously produce energy. While it’s still in the future, you could even expect them to have some kind of weapons of their own.
Exoskeletons are possibly one of the more popular futuristic technologies we know of, though it’s largely due to FPS video games and Iron Man. Exoskeletons have otherwise proven to be quite inefficient in almost all of our past experiments, either due to the power required to keep them going for longer periods, or simply the heat-based inefficiency of roaming around inside a huge metal suit. The idea of a robotic suit augmented with cool features is good on paper, but no one has been able to make it work. No one except the Russians, that is.
An exoskeleton made by the Russian military may have solved a lot of those problems, and may just be the first exoskeleton we’ve seen that actually works. Right now, the prototype allows the soldier to run faster while aiming a machine gun with just one hand. While it still doesn’t have enough batteries to outlast a typical battle, they’re confident that they could solve that and put a working suit on the battlefield by 2025.
The USA’s own exoskeleton program – TALOS – may not be that far behind, either, though we don’t know much about it yet.
5. Auto Kill Zones
There are growing concerns about the continuing use of AI in warfare, and justifiably so, too. Automated weapons are one of the biggest threats to life on Earth, and we’re not even talking about rogue AI here. We already have weapons systems that directly challenge the morality of using automated weapons: auto kill zones.
While Israel is the only country that is currently using them on the border, other countries are developing their own versions, too. It’s exactly what it sounds like: no-go zones protected by automated weapons that can choose when to attack. That last part is the most worrying, as auto kill zones – by definition – require the machine to take the call on who to shoot. How do you teach a machine to differentiate between combatants and civilians?
When it comes to weapons of mass destruction, we always think of nukes or chemical weapons. While they’re definitely the most lethal for human life, there are other weapons that can make life on Earth very difficult, too. An EMP – or an electromagnetic pulse gun – is one of them.
It’s a theoretical weapon that can wipe out all electronic systems in a given area, and if that doesn’t sound life threatening, consider that almost every part of our life – including heating, GPS, cooking, etc. – depends on electricity. As the world gets more and more digitized, a total EMP wipeout would hinder life in a variety of ways in most parts of the world. .
While we don’t have a full-fledged EMP ray machine yet – which is probably how everyone is imagining it – we do have the technology to build it. Known as CHAMP – short for Counter-Electronics High-Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project – the project has already been successfully tested in Utah in 2012, when it was used to shut off the systems of a targeted area.
3. The Pain Ray
With the global economy fledgling and unrest growing in many major countries around the world, governments are increasingly investing in crowd control tech to bolster their chances of not being overthrown by their people. To that end, many countries have developed something called an ADS – Active Denial System.
It could be understood as a huge machine with invisible rays that would start by gently warming up your skin, and move on to outright burning you from the inside if you don’t move out of its range. It’s non-lethal, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.
As seen in protests around the world, non-lethal weapons are actually used with much more impunity, as they don’t kill and cause a major problem, while still discouraging the protesters from organizing. The ADS system – or a pain ray – may be a good thing for stabilizing conflict in many parts of the world without causing casualties, though it could as well be used to quell dissent at home. To no one’s surprise, China is also building an ADS of its own.
2. X-Ray Vision
Seeing through walls is another one of those fictional powers that sound cool at first, though the more you think about it, the creepier it sounds. In combat situations, though, it could be a ridiculously powerful weapon, completely transforming counter-insurgency as we know it.
It’s not too far into the future, either. MIT has already built an AI that can see through walls, except for now, it can only read the radio waves inside the room. That means that it needs some kind of an input from inside the room – like a phone signal – to reconstruct it on the screen, and you’d only be able to see the general outline with stick figures.
While that’s not the perfect X-Ray, it’s still really close to completely reconstructing any space just based on signals from inside.
1. Autonomous Cyber Weapons
Cyber warfare is one of the biggest threats to global peace, and by extension human life, as anyone with control of our digital networks is also in control of our nuclear launch codes. Combine that with other upcoming tech like AI, and cyber warfare could possibly be as lethal as any other weapon we’ve ever made.
Worryingly, that is much closer to happening than we may realize. According to many experts, automated cyber weapons are the natural next step in the evolution of cyber warfare. An AI that can hack and learn from its mistakes may sound like the stuff of fiction, though there are many viruses and other malware that can already do that.