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What is it, and why is it important?
Threatcasting emerged from the work of futurists in trying to predict how current events might ripple into the future. It’s a cousin to what many large organizations due to ensure they are ready to meet a variety of possible disasters ranging from bad actors (extortion attempts) to natural phenomena such as volcanos, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Planning for the worst, in my opinion, is something every group and individual should make time for. I live between a seismic fault line and one of the world’s largest (and currently dormant) volcanoes. It’s very simple to threatcast that I should prepare for a major earthquake, the possibility of a volcanic eruption, and all that either event entails. The Pacific Northwest has a history of tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Threatcasting them is very, very simple stuff.
Most threatcasting is not as simple as looking around and noticing that you live between a volcano and an ocean that floats on top of a subduction plate that causes major earthquakes. The U.S. military uses threatcasting to imagine and prepare for various possible scenarios.1 Emerging technologies with military applications make this extremely important to the future of warfare and its outcomes. Full disclosure, I served as a journalist in the U.S. Marines and U.S. Army between 1992-2013. While I am not a hawk, the future of humankind is innately tied to the evolution of human conflict.
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The power of threatcasting comes from the details that arise from the narrative approach and the actions it specifies an organization can take. Threatcasting offers a framework and process to combine a wide range of inputs and exercises to imagine a broader range of future threat events. It also provides a systematic process to backcast (that is, look backward from the imagined futures), to understand the steps needed to disrupt, mitigate, and recover from these future threats.2
Two areas of interest that threatcasting may prove helpful to address are weaponized drone swarms and deep machine learning, which is a cousin to artificial intelligence. Combining these two technologies will change how war is waged and the conflict outcomes. This is not speculation - it has already been tested in the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Drone strikes — targeting Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh soldiers and destroying tanks, artillery and air defense systems — provided a huge advantage for Azerbaijan in the 44-day war and offered the clearest evidence yet of how battlefields are being transformed by unmanned attack drones rolling off assembly lines around the world.
The expanding array of relatively low-cost drones can offer countries air power at a fraction of the cost of maintaining a traditional air force. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh also underscored how drones can suddenly shift a long-standing conflict and leave ground forces highly exposed.3
Armenia lost the conflict because it tried to fight conventionally while Azerbaijan sent wave after wave of drone swarms carrying munitions to destroy everything Armenia sent its way. Drone warfare is a factor in the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well. It will only grow more relevant. The United States has used drones militarily at least 14,040 times4.
Predicting the evolution of warfare is only one facet of threatcasting. It has business applications.5 I plan to dig into threatcasting deeply in 2023, which will necessarily involve delving into AI and quantum computing. If those topics interest you, please stay tuned.