Envisioning the Future of Computing

Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton commands the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton commands the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

By Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton, Commanding General, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command

As we invest in a future where technology will lighten the load and better protect Soldiers, we look to scientists and engineers from across the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command and ask, “What decisive capabilities will future computing bring for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation?”

With advanced computers, the U.S. Army continues to see improvements and efficiencies. But where will we be in 10 years?

Looking to the past may provide some clues. In 1976, the world’s most powerful computer was the Cray-1 supercomputer installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  The massive machine weighed 11,000 pounds.

Today’s common laptop computer is more than 1,000 times more powerful and, thankfully, a lot lighter.

I believe the future holds amazing potential. Through our partnership with the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, we are advancing research in computer-generated characters that use language, have appropriate gestures, show emotion and react to verbal and non-verbal stimuli. This “virtual human” effort has applications in training and education and, hopefully, intelligent agents and robots as well.

Imagine a Soldier of the future holding a conversation with a computing device or robot that has vast situational awareness, connectivity and resources. We look to future computers to communicate more effectively by processing natural language and advancing how we interact with machines.

As individual technologies mature and gain acceptance, autonomy is evolving layer-by-layer. Vehicles will eventually drive themselves. In the far future, we envision robots and autonomous vehicles as integral members of the team. This means advanced computing will play an even greater role in keeping our Soldiers safe.

Our goal is not to replace Soldiers, but provide a continuum of capabilities that will augment and enable them, while meeting some of the Army’s most challenging capability requirements.

Future software development will enable our systems, vehicles and devices to build on a common architecture that will foster compatibility and modular upgrades. Hardware is also improving at an exponential rate. These developments help with the bottom line.

In a resource-constrained future, training dollars are more precious. Advanced computer simulations will provide realistic training at a fraction of the cost. Additionally computer modeling and simulations provide our scientists and researchers with invaluable tools to predict how equipment will react in a myriad of environments.

Future lethality with enhanced computing need only be as lethal as necessary to accomplish the mission. As our advanced sensors, targeting and associated technologies match our improvements in lethality, commanders will have fine-grained control to minimize, if not completely avoid, collateral damage.

The Army has global responsibilities that require technological advantages to prevail decisively in combat. This is what Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Chief of Staff of the Army, has called “technological overmatch.”

At RDECOM, the search for technological overmatch is in our DNA. Within our core competencies, we find full-spectrum innovation to meet the goals of the Army of 2025 and beyond. I am inspired by the ground-breaking research and development that occurs at our centers and labs. Army Strong!

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Biography

This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on Future Computing. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness–technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment–to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.