Information Disruption Industry will impact the future Operational Environment

By David MillerMay 21, 2020

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. -- The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative and Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies hosted an online discussion on May 20, 2020, focusing on the weaponization of information.

Vincent H. O'Neil, a U.S. Military Academy graduate and renowned science-fiction author, was the featured guest after submitting his article, The Information Disruption Industry and the Operational Environment of the Future, part of the 2020 Mad Scientist writing competition: The Operational Environment in 2035.

The Mad Scientist Initiative continually explores the future through collaborative partnerships and continuous dialogue with academia, industry, and government. The team directly contributes to the understanding of the OE and the changing character of warfare from now until 2050.

The information dimension is continuously changing with the explosion of data and hyper-connectedness enabled by social media, the Internet of Things, and emerging technologies.

Weaponized information will permeate our daily existence, fundamentally changing how we compete and fight.

According to O’Neil, “The use of everyday technology to collect personal data is increasing and has already raised concerns about violations of privacy. As these efforts become more intrusive, popular resentment will also grow. A tipping point is likely to be reached where the resentment changes to action. At that time, existing privacy protection services will expand enormously—and create a new industry dedicated to disrupting the collection, storage, and sale of personal data. This new industry will be referred to as the Information Disruption Industry”.

The increase of technology and the interconnectedness of systems will allow IDI to impact a variety of systems in known (first-order effects) and unknown ways (second-order and third-order effects).

“Regardless of the form the IDI takes, the result will be a kaleidoscopic information landscape populated with data requiring frequent verification and systems that malfunction randomly,” said O’Neil.

IDI has the potential to seriously damage the operational environment in 2035 or sooner. The spread of false information can be just as damaging as gathering information. Spreading misinformation can quickly erode trust in alliances and institutions.

“In the near future, a comprehensive assault on authenticity could be achieved through disruptive technologies like deep fakes, artificial influencers, AI-generated news and dialogue, and virtual/augmented reality,” said Allison Kuntzman, Mad Scientist deputy director.

The gathering of information is a grave concern, and the disruption of systems can have a global impact. Compromised communication systems, global positioning systems, power grids, and supply chains can wreak havoc on governments, militaries, businesses, and individuals.

The use of GPS and having immediate access to maps and directions is something many take for granted. A disruption in GPS service or malicious information inserted into mapping software could have dire consequences.

“Any disruption of satellite location functionality could have enormous impact on the operational environment. Lost units, misdirected supplies, and errant ordnance are just a few of the potential ramifications,” said O’Neil.

The use of off-the-shelf consumer equipment or military equipment modified for consumer markets has the potential for vulnerabilities that may degrade the usefulness of the equipment or make it completely useless.

Former military members may join disruptor organizations to utilize their skills and knowledge of military systems to inflict damage.

Technology continues to change rapidly, and looking at future trends and determining the best way to address changes in the operational environment has to be a concerted effort.

O'Neil stated, "Operating in this future environment calls for a broad approach designed to combat the wide-ranging impact of the IDI.”

Previous Mad Scientist Initiative events have focused on future learning, bioengineering, disruptive technologies, megacities, and dense urban areas and identifying other opportunities for further assessment and experimentation.

More information about the Mad Scientist Initiative can be found at