How the Military Is Using Fiction to Think about the Future

Patrolling in the Infosphere: winner of the TRADOC Mad Scientist writing contest
Patrolling in the Infosphere: winner of the TRADOC Mad Scientist writing contest

Presented by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Mad Scientist Science Fiction Contest Winner: Mr. Mathison Hall, Senior Analyst, Johns Hopkins Universi...

Paul Hair

When most people think of fiction, they probably think of anything from literature to some fan making himself the hero in a terrible story set in his favorite fantasy universe. But there probably aren’t many people who think of military leaders being interested in fiction as part of their work. And yet they are. Fiction is becoming an increasingly popular way for the armed forces, intelligence community, and others who work in the national security industry to think about future trends and what warfare will look like years from now.

I just published “Human after Next” at my website Liberate Liberty. It’s a short story that considers how genetically altering people might affect future warfare. More about that in a moment. First, here’s a quick look at how people throughout the armed forces, IC, and national security industry are realizing that fiction is an excellent way to stimulate thought about things yet to come.

Real Clear Defense published “Science Fiction and the Strategist 2.0” on Aug. 27. Fiction titles have long been on military reading lists. But leaders are taking an increased interest in how it (particularly science fiction) can shape thought, as the first paragraph of the RCD article demonstrates.

Back in February 2017, we published a short piece on why reading science fiction should be part of the professional reading program of military and national security professionals. Given the feedback we received on that article, and the continued stream of high quality science fiction being published, we decided to provide an updated reading list.

The interest has gotten strong enough that people in national security aren’t just reading fiction, they are encouraging people to write stories that examine how current and forthcoming technology will change the face of warfare.

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has an initiative called Mad Scientist “that continually explores the future through collaborative partnerships and continuous dialogue with academia, industry and government.” Original speculative fiction (a term I prefer over “science fiction”) is a part of how Mad Scientist explores the future.

And the Army isn’t alone in being interested in speculative fiction. The U.S. Naval Institute (a non-profit, non-government organization) published “Automated Valor” in May of this year. And the Atlantic Council released an anthology—for free—in 2015 called, War Stories from the Future.

This brings me back to “Human after Next.” Technological advances are leading to a day when superhuman troops will become a reality. So I chose to look at how they might change the battlefield and other areas of national security (such as intelligence collection). Visit Liberate Liberty and read it (for free) to see how I used speculative fiction to think about this future trend.

Fiction is an important part of literature. But it is much more than that, with people interested in military, intelligence, and national security issues now using it to help develop thought on what the wars and battlefields of tomorrow (and beyond) will look like.