The U.K.’s Ministry of Defence is investing millions into research on the future of cyberwarfare, including the use of psychological techniques and social media to manipulate people’s beliefs. According to the Guardian, this research includes “Understanding Online Avatars, Cognitive and Behaviour Concepts of Cyber Activities, and Novel Techniques for Public Sentiment and Perception Elicitation.” They will be managed under a “centre of excellence” overseen by BAE Systems, which has received millions of pounds of funding from the MoD. The targets of such programs are “young internet users deemed at risk of being incited or recruited online to commit terrorism.” This strand of BAE’s research falls under the Defence Human Capability Science and Technology Centre (DHCSTC).
It seems that much of the technology is being developed to create autonomous forms of “propaganda.” A previous 2011 MoD report, for example, “examined how chatbots – computer programmes that make human-sounding small talk and which have been used in everything from customer relations to sex industry marketing – could take on military roles in intelligence and propaganda operations to influence targets.” By emulating human conversion, the 2011 Daden report states that such chatbots could gather intelligence and scout for potential at-risk targets.
The Guardian lists details of multiple covert projects currently under development at the MoD, and this one is probably the most interesting:
• Full Spectrum Targeting: ” a sophisticated new concept that is growing in influence at the MoD and measures future battlefields in social and cognitive terms rather than just physical spaces. Emphasis is put on identifying and co-opting influential individuals, controlling channels of information and destroying targets based on morale rather than military necessity.”
Here’s the kicker: the future battlefield isn’t just measured in physical space, but “cognitive space.”