Human Enhancement Military. What are experiments in the military? 5 methods, ranging from drugs to exoskeletons and brain-computer interfaces.

To start, when I think about human enhancement in the military the image of movies like Edge of Tomorrow come to mind (picture above).

Enhancing soldiers

What role does the military apparatus play in research into and application of improvement technology? And vice versa: What consequences can human enhancement have on warfare?

I expect the army to be at the forefront of this, along with top-level sport. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, performing their duties requires enormous physical and cognitive pressure. Secondly, the military apparatus, especially in powers such as the United States and China, has an extraordinary amount of financial resources.

Super soldiers

In my article on human augmentation DARPA, a department of the United States Army that focuses on innovation and technology. DARPA is short for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. They deliver several programs, for example around artificial intelligence, robotics, drones and genetic modification.

The premise of the United States Armed Forces, as stated by themselves, is for the upgrades to be temporary [link below]. Rather an exoskeleton than a prosthesis. Rather non-invasive computer interfaces than electrodes inside the head of soldiers.

This temporality premise also creates risks. A report from 2015 states other countries might not have the same view. That could lead to an arms race and political leaders acknowledge this. In 2017, Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke about genetic modified super soldiers. He reckons it is a bigger danger than the development of the nuclear bomb.

Watch the video here:

Vladimir Putin about genetic modification for soldiers

Besides the United States Army’s programs, there are other nations that follow enhanced soldiers as a theme:

  • In december 2020, an ethics committee in the French Army approved the research towards human enhancement and augmentation among its soldiers [link below].
  • According to Jamestown Foundation researchers, the Chinese Army is working on programs to genetically modify their soldiers using CRISPR/cas9 [link below].
  • Armies in countries like Israel and Denmark focus on brain-computer interfaces and brain implants for their soldiers [link below].

As far as I know such initiatives are not present in the Dutch Army, apart from the example given about the haptic belt (from TNO and the University of Twente) and the exoskeleton made by Laevo. However, I was reached out to by the Dutch Navy a couple of years ago to contemplate together about this theme. Just like the premise of the United States Army Forces, we are talking about non-invasive technologies then (so no genetic modifications or brain implants).


What are methods in the domain of human enhancement in the military?

Methods

Because of the interests in warfare, after all it is about life and death, I believe there is an incentive to go further in testing improvement technology to make the soldiers even better equipped for their work.

A couple of examples on research in the military:

  1. Modfinil;
  2. Exoskeletons;
  3. Genetic modification;
  4. Brain-computer interfacing;
  5. Targeting decisions;

More information about these projects:

1. Modafinil

The US Army uses modafinil to investigate whether it can help soldiers and pilots stay focused for longer missions [link at the bottom]. From a historical context this is not that strange. The book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich is worth considering if you are interested in historical examples.

2. Exoskeletons

Sarcos’ exoskeleton provides support for lifting material up to 90 pounds. The U.S. Navy and Delta Air Lines test Sarcos prototypes. The Dutch navy uses light version exoskeletons to help employees in warehouses lifting heavy things.

3. Genetic modification

DARPA is the research and development component of the US military. Together with the Innovative Genomics Institute, DARPA is investigating the possibilities with genetic modification to make its soldiers more resistant to radioactive radiation [link at the bottom].

4. Brain-computer interfacing

Under the N3 program, which stands for Next Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology, DARPA is investigating whether they can use non-invasive BCI for driving vehicles and weapons. BCI stands for brain-computer interfacing [link at the bottom].

5. Targeting decisions

Researchers from the University of Delft (the Netherlands) investigate the use of advanced systems to enhance military personnel in targeting decisions [link at the bottom]. They examine how moral and legal objectives can best be implemented within the design and development of military command and control systems, and investigate how current and emerging combat systems and targeting technologies are challenging our understanding and interpretation of Just War Theory and the Laws of Armed Conflict.


Why is the military an interesting domain in human enhancement?

First destruction, later growth

Naval Ravikant is one of the most fascinating entrepreneurs and thinkers about our technological future. In an interview with Rob Reid in the podcast After On, he shared a historical analogy that stuck with me [link at the bottom]. This point is an excellent example of the relation between the military and human enhancement.

Here can you listen to the whole episode:

Ravikant argues that we as humanity are bad at using new technology wisely and responsibly. “It is in our nature to first use technology for bad causes. Only later do we learn that we can also use the technology in a positive way. “

A few examples he cites:

  • Gunpowder. First for cannons and guns, only then for steam engines;
  • Atomic fission. First for the atomic bomb, only then for nuclear energy;
  • Social media. Dependency and addiction first, later hopefully more connection.

I realize that his argument is not completely watertight. Let alone that those developments have occurred so successively. But somewhere I do remember that we, as mostly because of financial interests and power, do not always use technology for the collective good from the start. Another reason is that we first want to be sure that it is safe enough and that we have included it in legislation and regulations.

Soldiers first?

To continue that conclusion, does the same apply to human enhancement technology? Perhaps it is first deployed by the army, criminals and terrorists, causing more harm to society and the world than it does good.

Only then, as humanity, have we learned from it, do we make new legislation to prevent excesses. Is that the moment that we all become stronger, smarter and more social on average, plus that we live longer?


What are examples of movies about human enhancement in the military?

Super soldiers in movies

The idea of upgraded soldiers is part of some science fiction movies and series. A couple of examples are Universal Soldier (1992 and 2012, with Jean-Claude van Damme), Bloodshot (2020, with Vin Diesel) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014, with Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise.

Universal Soldier

The movie Universal Soldier is one of the first I clearly remember. When growing up, Jean-Claude van Damme was my hero. In this movie his character with the name Luc is being shot in a small village in Asia. He is being recovered, just like his superior Andrew (played by actor Dolph Lundgren).

With genetic modification and neural implants they are being made super soldiers with extreme capabilities. It is not per se a good movie, but if you like a numb thrillride: go for it!

Sequels have been made in 1999 and 2012. The original movie from 1992 scores a 6.0 on IMDB.

Trailer Universal Soldiers

Bloodshot

Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) awakes in a high-tech facility in Asia. After his death his body is used for a new experiment with artificial blood cells. These cells give him superhuman abilities. In the facility are more super soldiers, like Jimmy (with protheses), KT (with special breathing abilities) and the blind Toby (with super sight because of electronics). The director Harting (Guy Pearce) has special plans for Ray.

The action and technology in the movie is quite nice. The storyline has a nice twist, but in the end the movie is a bit disappointing. The movie scores a 5.7 on IMDB.

Trailer Bloodshot

Edge of Tomorrow

Soldier Cage (Tom Cruise) relives the same day, just like the movie Groundhog Day. Earth is being destroyed by an alien force and through a remarkable incident, Cage possesses the capability to start each day over again. He convinces Rita (Emily Blunt) to search for the enemy together.

I find it quite a good movie with some funny scenes and the philosophical idea to relive each day. The movie scores a 7.9 on IMDB.

Trailer Edge of Tomorrow

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Or if you want to book a session with me as an expert consultant on this area.


Reading list

I wrote these related articles about human enhancement:

These are external links that I used, subdivided by theme.

Part impact

Military

  • Article about modafinil testing by the US military
  • Article about exoskeletons Army
  • Article about CRISPR / cas9 by the army
  • Article about N3 program
  • Website about targeting decisions

First destruction


Do you have examples of the use or research on human enhancement by the military? Leave a comment!