US Military Innovation for the Digital Age | 2021 | Events

US Military Innovation for the Digital Age
Audrey Cronin
Audrey Cronin
School of International Service
October 27, 2021


A dramatic shift is underway from 20th century “closed” military innovation to “open” innovation driven by commercial processes. The diffusion of modern technology—robotics, cyber weapons, 3-D printing, synthetic biology, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence—to individuals has given them access to weapons of mass violence previously monopolized by the state. But this is the resurgence of an historical trend.  The last time innovation was truly democratized was during the late 19th century.  From the invention of dynamite to the release of the AK-47, many of the most surprising developments in warfare have happened because of technological advances combined with changes in who can use them. Beyond US-China AI competition or US-Russia cyber contests, our changing social and historical contexts will be vital to the future of war.  The presentation will discuss why certain lethal technologies spread, which ones to focus on, and how individuals and private groups will employ them for malevolent ends. The same digital technologies that empower individuals are imperilling global security—unless we adapt. 


Audrey Kurth Cronin joined the faculty of the School of International Service in August 2016 and earned the honored title of Distinguished Professor in 2021. She is the Founding Director of the Center for Security, Innovation and New Technology at AU. Professor Cronin’s career has combined academic positions and government service. She was a faculty member and director of the core course on War and Statecraft at the U.S. National War College (2007-2011). Before which she was Academic Director of Studies for the Oxford/Leverhulme Programme on the Changing Character of War at Oxford University (Nuffield College), from 2005 to 2007. Prior, she was Specialist in Terrorism at the Congressional Research Service, responsible for advising Members of Congress in the aftermath of 9/11. She’s served in the U.S. Executive branch, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy. She frequently consults at the most senior levels of the U.S. government. Professor Cronin is widely published on strategy and nonstate actors. Her best-known book is How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns (Princeton University Press), which has been translated into Chinese. In 2017, The New Yorker called it “a landmark study.” Her newest book, Power to the People: How Open Technological Innovation is Arming Tomorrow’s Terrorists (Oxford University Press, 2020), analyzes the risks and opportunities of emerging technologies, especially their use by individuals, terrorists, insurgents, proxy armies, and other private actors. It won the 2020 Airey Neave international prize for “the most significant, original, relevant, and practically valuable contribution to the understanding of terrorism.”