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Chris Fussell is president of McChrystal Group, a 100-employee leadership consulting firm in the Washington DC area. Chris Fussell is a former Navy SEAL officer, serving in the SEALs for[…]

Where the 20th century was an era dominated by organizational hierarchies, the 21st century is all about networks. This has implications for the business sector, which loves to see technology curves trend upward at exponential slopes, but also for other areas, including the battlefield. Former Navy SEAL Chris Fussell takes into account our changing world and explains why it’s concerning when technology pushes conflict beyond regulators’ abilities to rein them in. Fussell is a co-author of the McChrystal Group’s best-selling book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.

Chris Fussell: The 20th century was all about hierarchies. If you want to create something, if you want to start a country, create a product, whatever it is. Your goal is to create a highly efficient hierarchical model, scale it because that’s what the competition’s doing. And whoever does that the largest and with the most efficiency will eventually dominate the market, will be the dominant country, however you want to look at it. Everyone played some version of this game. The 21st century is dominated by networks because the introduction of the information age, we can suddenly create, free flow these globally distributed, organic, shaped networks of individuals. It’s a radically different environment for everyone. That translates into any space that you can imagine really. Everyone’s wrestling with some version of this because we grew up in the bureaucratic model and so we’re trying to change not just the way we act, but our psychology and how we view the world. And it’s going to change the battlefield as well. You know it’s inevitable — the technology curve continues to grow exponentially. One of the major areas we’re seeing that is the debate around unmanned vehicles.

So is a completely robotic battlefield out of the question at some point? No, I think it’s out of the question not to think about that as a possible end state. We’re so on the front edge of these debates that it’ll be laughable I imagine 100 years from now. But the fascinating part is if you look at the discussions around this type of technology, for the most part our nation states are still trying to solve it through their traditional bureaucratic thinking. How do I legislate for this? What does it look like, et cetera, et cetera. And there’s going to just be an exponential change in how this has the real effects on the ground as the technology continues to grow. So now we have, you know, a single Predator-type overhead aircraft, unmanned, that can do, you know, X, Y, Z. A very, very significant jump over the past 20 years. Fast-forward that 20 years and as the technology scale continues to increase exponentially that could be a single aircraft that has a network of thousands around it that are real-time monitoring on the ground, in the air, buildings, whatever the case may be. Where the technology is pushing conflict is moving so much faster than our systems ability to adapt and regulate it that it’s going to be a real challenge for us the next 10 to 15 years.