Pentagon Scientists Discuss Cybernetic ‘Super Soldiers’ That Feel Nothing While Killing In Dystopian Presentation

The Pentagon is looking toward a future where the U.S. deploys “super soldiers” directly inspired by Captain America and Iron Man, officials said at a recent conference.

Militaries across the world are trying to give their soldiers an advantage and technology has long played an important role in that. On Wednesday, a group of military and military-adjacent scientists gathered at a conference to discuss the possibility of creating a super soldier. They discussed breeding programs, Marvel movies, The Matrix, and the various technologies the Pentagon is researching with the goal of creating a real life super soldier complete with cybernetic implants and thorny ethical issues surrounding bodily autonomy.

The talk happened at the The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, or I/ITSEC, an annual conference where military leaders come to talk shop and simulation corporations gather to demo new products. It’s the kind of place where execs and generals don virtual reality helmets and talk about the virtues of VR sims. You could even catch members of congress talking about the importance of simulations and war. “Winning the war of cognition by pushing readiness and lethality boundaries,” reads the official poster for the 2019  I/ITSEC. 

It was here, in Orlando, Florida, where five illustrious members of the military-industrial complex gathered to discuss super soldiers at the “Black Swan—Dawn of the Super Soldier” panel. Lauren Reinerman-Jones, an analyst from Defense Acquisition University, moderated a panel that included U.S. Army Developmental Command representatives George Matook and Irwin Hudson, research scientist J.J. Walcutt, and Richard McKinley, who works on “non-invasive brain stimulation” for the Air Force.

I/TSEC advertised the panel in its program with a picture of the experts next to a posing Master Chief, the genetically enhanced super soldier from the Halo video game franchise. Throughout the conversation, which covered the nuts and bolts of what’s possible now and what’s about to be possible along with various ethical concerns, references to science fiction and fantasy stories were common.


“So we have a wide range of panelists here to cover the kind of breadth that might involve a super soldier,” Reinerman-Jones said during the introduction. “Now, when we hear super soldier, what do we usually think? We think Marvel, right? Captain America…Iron Man.”

Early in the conversation, Walcutt talked about synthetic blood and replacing night vision goggles with eye drops (two things the Pentagon is working on) while a slide behind her showed off a “soldier of the future” whose body is “flooded with pain-numbing stimulants” and has the “ability to regrow limbs & quickly heal wounds like a lizard.”

Next to this was a quote that referenced Robocop. “Enhanced soldiers would be reduced to bionic men, who run fast, do not need to sleep, eat and drink very little, and can fight all the time. A new species is born: Homo robocopus,” it said. It’s a direct quote from a 2019 European report about the ethical concerns of the world’s superpowers attempting to engineer super soldiers.


Towards the end of the discussion, an audience member asked the panelists if they’d ever read a John Scalzi book about a near future where Earth wages war by offering the elderly new youthful bodies in exchange for military service. “Often, life imitates art,” the audience member said. 

“If you’ve ever read Old Man’s War, you’d be familiar with the concept of using an older part of the populace to be future soldiers,” they continued. “So is there any applicability for using this technology to either extend our veteran soldiers that have all those years of experience on the battlefield or bring on older, more mature, individuals that can perform those abilities at a more youthful rate?”

The panelists agreed it was a great idea. Walcutt said it might give retired veterans a sense of purpose and drive down rates of depression. “If we can use people, regardless of their physical capabilities or we can enhance their capabilities, why can’t we increase the longevity of service?” she said. 

McKinely, the non-invasive brain stimulation expert, said that The Matrix was starting to become real. Think of the iconic scene where Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, is instantly uploaded with proficiency in kung fu. 

“We’ve actually been working with a company called Teledyne to look at technologies that are able to write to the brain at a very high resolution,” he said. “This is very early, so there’s still a lot of development to do. But this is something that will be coming in the future, to be able to wear a device that non-invasively can write information directly to your brain without any surgery, without any sensation on your skin.”


A good deal of the conversation revolved around the ethical and legal boundaries of creating super soldiers. “What risks are we willing to take? There’s all these wonderful things we can do,” Matook said. “We don’t want a fair fight. We really don’t, this is not an honorable thing. We want our guys to be over-matching any possible enemies, right? So why aren’t we giving them pharmaceutical enhancements? Why are we making them run all week when we could just be giving them steroids? There’s all these other things you could do if you change societal norms and ethics. And laws, in some cases.”

Matook wrapped up his thoughts on pushing ethical boundaries by hinting that America’s enemies were doing eugenics to create better pilots. 

“We could find ourselves in a situation where our soldiers, as talented and trained as they are, are facing an unfair fight because another country is willing to say, ‘Hey, guess what, you, male, are a good aviator. You, female, are a good aviator. You’re gonna make the best aviator babies we’ve ever seen and I don’t care that you’re not married,” he said. The other panelists laughed nervously. “That’s a thing. Are they willing to go that extra step that we are not?”

Hudson pushed back and later noted that the cost-benefit ratios of these new technologies may not be worth it for the individual. He pointed out that steroids exact a heavy toll on the user, that there are consequences to engineering more performance into human beings. McKinley agreed and, staying on brand, touted the benefits of non-invasive enhancements. “I think the reversible piece is the big thing, right?” He said. “People don’t want permanent changes done to their bodies with technologies that are relatively new.”

Reinerman-Jones was ready with a follow up. “So if you do these kinds of changes to an individual, what do you do when their service is up? What happens? Or are they just literally owned by the government for life.”

“Termination,” Hudson said, making a grim joke.

The panelists laughed.


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