Super Soldiers: Is Charlie Brooker’s dystopian vision so far off?

According to ArmyTimes.com, the U.S. Army have recently made plans to acquire 40,000 pairs of mixed reality goggles to deploy soldiers with for use in battle. Derived from Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, that you can see our thoughts on here, IVAS (Integrated Visual Augmentation System) will be used to give soldiers new abilities. They will be able to identify friendly and enemy forces without directly seeing their target and will also be fed information regarding the surrounding battlefield, increasing their situational awareness.

Providing their soldiers with constant data and information has been an ongoing dilemma over the last decade, investing time and money into deploying their men with tablets, phones, PDAs and other devices. However, these all provided unwanted distractions from battle, causing unnecessary risk. In adapting the HoloLens, it seems they may have finally overcome that hurdle, allowing soldiers to receive information seamlessly whilst going about their missions.

The final IVAS product is expected to arrive in 2021. The system will include a coloured digital display that grants the system’s user access to useful information, thermal and low light sensors that make it possible to see in the dark, rapid target acquisition, aided target identification, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and several features all aimed at enhancing combat.

The Army has also made plans to integrate the MR goggles with the service’s Next-Gen Squad Weapon to make it possible to use them as their weapon’s sight, giving soldiers the ability to hold their weapon around a corner and see what it sees via IVAS, meaning they could neutralize an enemy target without physically seeing them.

But where could this technology lead? Well, comparisons could be drawn to an episode of Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed Netflix dystopian anthology Black Mirror. In Series 3 Episode 5, ‘Men Against Fire’ soldiers are fitted with a neural implant known as MASS, that provides data via augmented reality. The device proves to actually alter their reality completely and is used to censor their activity and allow them to kill without awareness, hesitation or remorse.

The title of the episode is inspired by Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall’s book ‘Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command’ (1947), where Marshall claims that during World War II, over 70% of soldiers did not fire their rifles, even under immediate threat, and most of those who fired aimed above the enemy’s head. This nod to hidden pacifism within army ranks alludes to the reasoning behind the army’s subsequent want to hide the soldiers’ actions from themselves. Whilst Brooker, as with all of these standalone episodes, refuses to comment on the meaning behind his plot points and premises, it’s clear that at the least, ‘Men Against Fire’ is a bold commentary on PTSD, and at most, well Brooker’s famous cynicism really knows no bounds, so use your imagination.

‘Men Against Fire’ is likely just another piece in the wider cannon of modern dystopian fiction rather than a prophetic warning. However, tales like this one do provide food for thought in a world that continues to catch up with sci-fi multimedia from the previous century, whilst perpetually offering up new realities that even the most creative of imaginations have failed to contemplate.