Reading science fiction drives us to think about the future and frees us from the constraints of the present, allowing us to see the trends affecting today’s military in a new way. It draws our thinking out of current operations, out of the day-to-day meetings and PowerPoint presentations. In many ways, science fiction is the forward-looking, speculative complement to history, which provides past precedent and ways of thinking to be considered. Consciously or subconsciously, reading science fiction leads to thinking about the future of our respective services and the profession of arms.

Major General Mick Ryan and Major Nathan Finney, ‘Science Fiction and the Strategist: A Reading List’

The incorporation of artificial intelligence and automation into the planning and conduct of military operations is a significant contemporary topic that involves the key stakeholders talking past each other. This is generally because many stakeholders – such as the military, industry, non-governmental organisations, and interest groups – all approach the topic from different perspectives and with various philosophical foundations. The arguments surrounding ‘killer drones’ is one example.

The philosophical, ethical, moral, political and social aspects of artificial intelligence and automation have been explored through science fiction – including discussion of what it means to be ‘human’ vs ‘machine’. As Ryan and Finney point out, science fiction enables the exploration of topics in a manner that is free from contemporary constraints and narrow perspectives caused by the limits of our experience. Sci-fi writers have explored these issues through their work.

Author Yuval Noah Harari argues that sci-fi is the most important genre because:

It shapes the understanding of the public on things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which are likely to change our lives and society more than anything else in the coming decades.

A group discussion was held in Canberra on 14 November 2014, with the purpose of using science fiction as a means for uncovering some of these philosophical, ethical, moral, political and social aspects of artificial intelligence and automation. The use of stories in this manner makes some of these associated complex issues accessible and easy to discuss. Over the following weeks, The Central Blue will be publishing some of the papers prepared for this group discussion. The intention is to inspire our readers to use the holiday period to explore some interesting works of science fiction and reflect on the ideas found in these works through the prism of the profession of arms. The first post from this series will be published on Wednesday.