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Research Questions

  1. Which technological developments will likely shape the Generation After Next (GAN) information environment?
  2. Which technological developments will likely have the most significant impact on the GAN information environment?
  3. How is culture shaped through the information environment?
  4. How might the identified technological developments shape culture through the information environment?
  5. What overarching implications, threats and opportunities does the analysis suggest for UK Defence?

The information environment is an increasingly central element of UK Defence activity. In the future, this environment is anticipated to undergo a significant transformation that presents both opportunities and challenges for Defence. This transformation includes technological change and sociocultural developments that shape how current and emerging technologies are developed, adopted and used in society.

To support UK Defence in contextualising the future impact of new and emerging technologies, RAND Europe and Frazer Nash Consulting conducted a study examining how technological developments in the information environment may shape culture out to 2050.  The study aimed to characterise the landscape of technological change in the future information environment, develop a conceptual framework for understanding the links between technological change and culture, and apply this framework to an initial assessment of the cultural implications of selected technological developments.

Key Findings

The future information environment is shaped both by incremental advances in some technological areas and the emergence of new technologies.

  • Technological areas with most expected impact are: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, extended reality, human-machine interfaces, information and communication technologies, advanced materials, sensors, space technology, quantum technology and encryption, and security, validation and privacy-enhancing technologies.

Cultural implications of technological changes can be analysed through a four-step framework.

  • This framework determines technology as an 'actant' in cultural change and recognises that characterising this role depends on understanding a technology's intended use, the intentions behind its development, and its user applications and regulatory frameworks.

Though technologies have distinct cultural implications, there are four cross-cutting themes in the future cultural context of the information environment. Technological developments are expected to:

  • Drive a changing landscape of cultural identities, potentially diminishing the significance of demographic and geographic delineations, and 'hybridising' human identity through technological enablement.
  • Raise concerns about the cultural norms and values of privacy, equity and accountability.
  • Continue amplifying cognitive biases, affecting how individuals engage with information, and exacerbating difficulties in identifying and understanding facts.
  • Empower and constrain social movements, further shaping the paths of sociocultural change (e.g., through advocacy).

Recommendations

Findings of this study indicate the UK Defence should:

  • Ensure a holistic, recurrent and iterative application of the proposed cultural assessment framework to build a coherent research base on the cultural impact of new and emerging technologies.
  • Deepen understanding of the cultural impact of new and emerging technologies by developing cultural topographies, advancing application- or capability-centred analysis, and examining historical examples of the cultural impact of technological change.
  • Stay abreast of emerging research on technology-enabled social manipulation threats and audiences' (diminishing) ability to identify and understand facts, enabling UK Defence to operate effectively in a changing information environment.
  • Continue exploring and monitoring cultural norms and values around using key emerging technologies and how these may impact perceptions of acceptable use within Defence.

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and conducted within the Defence and Security Program of RAND Europe.

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