The Prototype Warfare Project

Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics have begun to radically reshape war. From the deployment of pocket-sized ‘Black Hornet’ surveillance drones in Afghanistan to the use of computer vision algorithms to automate the extraction of ‘objects of interests’ across surveillance footage, algorithmic and increasingly autonomous technologies are changing fundamental aspects of how we understand and act to achieve ‘security’.

These developments raise a range of questions: How are these technologies being made? Where and how are they developed, by whom and for what purposes? How do such technologies ‘work’ in detail? How do they determine ‘objects of interest’ and enable and justify lethal decisions? And how do these technologies ultimately transform our understandings of how war can be, or should be, fought?

In this novel research project, we seek to examine, explore, and ultimately answer these questions through the lens of what we call ‘Prototype Warfare’.

What is Prototype Warfare?

Prototype Warfare captures an emerging approach to warfare, one in which the overarching imperative of military ‘innovation’, set against the backdrop of increasingly fierce technological competition on the global stage, is driving the military to look to and learn from the practices of Silicon Valley. It is characterized by three core factors:

  1. Informality – relationships between different innovating units are ad hoc, dynamic, and more reliant on inter-personal networks than on formal agreements or working structures. Similarly, specific initiatives or projects are often undertaken outside of formal frameworks, escaping the ‘bureaucratic red tape’ that is imagined to unnecessarily constrain military innovation.
  2. Entrepreneurialism – units embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, taking the initiative to establish and carry out new initiatives often without formal approval or sometimes even required consent.
  3. Experimentation – Prototype Warfarefavors acting fast, taking risks, and accepting failure. Experimentation is a core feature of this approach to innovation, with a constant need for data collection driving both simulated and ‘in the field’ tests of prototype tools.

Who are we?

The Prototype Warfare project is a collaboration between the Intimacies of Remote Warfare and Deadly Design, a research project funded by the Dutch Research Council and coordinated by Dr. Marijn Hoijtink at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The Project Team consists of:

Dr. Lauren Gould

Dr. Marijn Hoijtink

Prof. Dr. Jolle Demmers

Jack Davies

Aoife Keogh