What do you expect to be the most important trend in the future of technology, terrorism, and/or armed conflict in the rest of this century?

Here, we come to our final week of full discussions. After more than 2 years of work on the Technology, Terrorism, and Armed Conflict in the 21st Century research network, it is coming to an end in terms of regular material. It’s been immensely interesting to read, watch, think about, and discuss a variety of topics and issues that we’re all interested in. But, the time to move on has come. Beyond technology, terrorism, and armed conflict there are more concepts to discuss and ideas to dream up. So, that’s what Mike and I (Josh) are going to do. We’ve started a podcast as a vehicle for us to discuss wider things. You’re more than welcome to come along for the ride. We’ll publicise it soon. 

The TTAC21 website will remain in place for at least another year. A few members who have joined later on have already sent in comments for previous posts. I’ll update the original posts with them in the next few weeks. 

If you have something new to say on the issues covered by the network, you are more than welcome to write a blog to be published here. Or if you want to comment on any of the pieces we’ve previously looked at, either pop your ideas in the comments box at the bottom or e-mail them over. 

The network itself will now become a mailing list for sharing interesting pieces, calls for applications/papers, and that sort of thing. We’ve amassed a really great group of people in TTAC21, so it would seem a waste to not keep in touch. If you aren’t on the mailing list but would like to be, just send an email and we will add you to it. 

Before we look at our answers to the question, I thought I would explain the pictures in this post. The featured image at the top of the page is one of Jean-Marc Côté’s pieces from his ‘En L’An 2000’ (In the year 2000) body of work. This was a series of postcards drawn for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris. They show visions of 100 years into the future. fittingly for us, several relate to military operations and I’ll put a few in this post. If you want to see them all, they’re available here.


Now, for the final time, let’s see what we thought … 


TTAC21 has been going now for over 18 months, and in that time, its given us some fascinating discussion points. I for one have certainly benefitted from being a part of the network. To respond to this, the final ‘official’ question put the group, I’m not sure I can come up with a single answer. Since this research group came into being, we’ve already seen examples of drones causing disruption in a civilian setting, and this sort of thing will only become more prevalent over the coming years. How the rise of drones will affect the military setting however is another matter entirely. From my own perspective, I imagine the major western powers will continue investing over the odds in overly-expensive, overly-complex systems such as Reaper / Predator, while smaller players will start to make use of the disruptive power of drones to take on major powers at their own game. As Josh and I have said many times before, it can’t be long before people start strapping explosives to the sorts of drones that can be bought in shops. This will pose a massive problem for law enforcement agencies, and for military powers, as enemies and criminals will both have access to the sort of powers that for a short while were solely the preserve of the major players. Fighting drone crime and drone terrorism will certainly prove a major challenge in the years to come. 

But while drones are certainly one of the most important trends, I can’t help but think cybercrime will also continue to prove a problem – in particular in relation to electric / self-driving cars. If hackers can already break into certain cars via their stereo systems and advanced on board electronics, we can only imagine what might happen when self-driving cars become ubiquitous. Fair dodging and going ‘off grid’ will be the least of authorities’ problems as criminals may be able to kidnap individuals remotely, or even commit crimes of murder or mass murder without even having to enter the vehicle they intend to use as a weapon. And that’s just the tip of a very big cybercrime-related iceberg! 

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University 


Perhaps I’ve been thinking about Paul Virilio a bit too much recently, but I think the biggest trend in the future of technology, terrorism, and armed conflict will be speed. Faster computing speeds allow for more computation and more complex computation to take place, leading to technological advances. Lots of people talk of artificial intelligence as being the future, yet AI is just computer programmes performing tasks that require human-level cognition. But as Alan Turing spoke about (in the 1930’s!) is that any universal computer can compute anything. So, what allows AI to be realised is the emergence of computing speed necessary to make these computer programmes work in an acceptable time. 

In terrorism, we see a battle between terrorist plotters trying to hide their activities and security services trying to investigate these activities. A terrorist can be as discrete as possible, but they will almost inevitably leave some clues. Thus, it becomes a race for security services to find these clues and stop a plot before the terrorists can put their plan into motion. Therefore, the faster a terrorist can move, the less chance they have of being caught. 

When it comes to warfare, the most significant trend we’ve seen in recent years is the revival of hybrid or non-linear warfare by Russia. Often, this involves changes in tactics or strategy to overwhelm the enemy in unexpected ways. For example, an adversary prepared for a typical military-on-military confrontation would be dealt severe blows if a force could melt into the civilian population only to pop up and carry out major attacks at irregular intervals. The sooner one force can adopt vastly different tactics to outwit their enemy, the more advantage they can gain. 

It’s also possible to conceptualise hybrid warfare as entailing temporary allegiances against common enemies. As such, the sooner allegiances can be made, then more force can be applied more quickly than otherwise. Plus, once those allegiances have run their course, the sooner one party can betray the other, the more advantage they can gain over them. Thus, speed is also a key concept in late modern warfare – and that is all before we even really look at the ever-increasing operational tempo of modern combat! 

In conclusion then, speed seems to be the basis of all major trends happening at the moment. I expect it to continue into the future. As it is the underlying trend, perhaps speed would be better conceptualised as a ‘meta-trend’? 

Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University  

So, that’s what we thought, and that’s it. What do you think? 

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