Pokemon Go, Call of Duty and the future of warfare

Posted March 13th, 2017

Imagine a swarm of 100 unmanned military drones being deployed from a fighter plane traveling at the speed of sound.

This swarm would be able to intelligently adapt as an individual drone is damaged or shot down with the swarm adjusting offensive and defensive tactics as environments change.

Well, quit imagining. It’s already real.

The title of the panel Monday with Will Roper, head of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities office, was “The Future a Warfare,” a moniker evocative of Terminator or Battlestar Gallactica. Roper’s office was only declassified last year.

“We went from being Men in Black to Men in Gray,” Roper said.

He spoke with Wired editor in chief Thompson painting a picture of a national defense system infused with robots and other fighting machines borrowing cues from Pokemon Go, Madden and Call of Duty.

“I am fascinated with the video game world and I want to find a way to use it for the defense world,” he said.

The augmented reality aspect of Pokemon Go is intriguing, Roper said. He imagined a soldier being able to drop pins on landmarks or even marking an enemy hiding behind a wall.

The small global maps employed by many games - basically a circular map that shows an overhead view of immediate surroundings - could also be very useful.

And for Madden, Roper said commanding drones in a mission would be a lot like calling a football play, with a human directing the mission while individual drones make small decisions.

“Games are made to emulate warfare,” Roper said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the chicken-and-egg cycle becomes complete; that you start seeing the military emulating video game.”

Unfortunately, Iron Man suits still seem quite a ways off.

The chief moral question for Roper is what happens to attitudes toward warfare when conflicts are being fought at the front lines by automatons. It doesn’t take a great logical leap to assume conflicts would become more commonplace.

“Our goal is to show fighting the U.S. is just not a good idea,” he said.