The French military has just received the all-clear to produce "augmented soldiers' following a report from the ethical committee of the armed forces ministry. The report considers the use of prosthetics, medical treatments, and implants that either enhance "physical, cognitive, perceptive and psychological capacities" or that could connect to other soldiers or weapon systems, and notes that other countries are already working on such advancements and France should be allowed to keep up.
The announcement follows reports of the possibility that both China and the USA are developing soldier augmentations, with alleged reports by a former US spy chief that China are even creating ‘biologically enhanced soldiers’ surfacing just 1 week ago - China denies these claims, according to CNN.
However, whilst the ethics committee allow France to augment soldiers, some modifications are strictly forbidden. The report forbids the use of any implants or modifications that would "affect their sense of humanity." Ethical decision-making is at the forefront of military conduct, and any modification that alters a soldier’s use of force is banned from production.
“When we speak of augmented soldiers, we speak of a soldier whose physical perception and cognitive abilities are stimulated to strengthen their operational efficiency,” said Florence Parly, defense minister of France, in a statement.
“In other words, the augmented soldier has been around for a long time,” she continued. “But today, these increases become more and more sophisticated.”
Parly goes on to explain that France is not currently developing "invasive augmentations" – those that cross the body barrier in soldiers and change their physical, cognitive, or psychological capacities. However, Parly doesn't rule out the possibility that it could occur in the future.
"It's an opinion which isn't set in stone and will be regularly reassessed in the light of future developments," she said.
Presiding over regulations of scientific and technological developments with possible military applications, the defense ethics committee ensures that strict ethical guidelines are maintained within France’s Ministry of Defense research.
Military technology has been rapidly ramping-up over recent years, with sci-fi creations ranging from ‘do-it-all’ goggles, which monitor soldiers’ vitals while displaying real-time combat information, to invisible artificial skin. There have even been reports of advanced brain implants that allow direct interfacing with computers already in use for paraplegic people, which are similar to those described in the ethics report.
The production of augmented - or even 'super' - soldiers may be closer than many would think, and exploring the ethics of their use will likely become a hotly-debated topic in the coming years. However, with many nations failing to disclose military research that may lead to such soldiers, it is unlikely a unilateral agreement will be reached. Therefore, if countries do deploy the terminator into combat, it is very possible us mere mortals may not hear about it for some time.