This is a followup to Zero Privacy: Culture.


In this future, technology advances in such a way that privacy becomes obsolete. In other words, no one has decided to give up privacy, it's just that trying to hold onto it is like trying to keep the horse and buggy around when everyone else has cars - it's a losing battle and isn't going to work in the long run.

The basic technology that allows this is untraceable, stealth micro-drones. They can be created anonymously and cheaply using 3D-printer farms. Defenses are possible but don't work 100% of the time, so any person, place or system can be compromised eventually. These drones also allow remote physical access to computer systems, and therefore given time will also allow an attacker to bypass any computer security.

For the purpose of this question, assume that the absolute best security in the world (government w/unlimited resources) only has a secure half-life of 6 days (so in other words after 6 days the chance you're compromised is at 50%). Note that you do generally know immediately when you're compromised, because you're watching everyone else too.

Your thoughts and internal body are safe.

Everyone has access to everything, from big companies to governments to Jim down the street. Even if there's an exclusive feed (the NSA compromising a foreign nation), the NSA is almost assuredly already compromised by several other sources, and that allows other people to see the "exclusive" data through them.

Computing resources are sufficiently advanced that you can scan all available data for behavior/keywords, ex: have a dumb AI that monitors all feeds for a specific scenario.

To keep things narrower, answers should be loosely based on Western (US/Canada/France/etc).

I am interested in answers for a mature culture with this kind of tech.


How would warfare work in a culture like this? Specifically I'd like to look at two scenarios - guerrilla warfare from an indigenous population (is this even possible anymore?), and a more traditional war between two nations over resources/territory.

Assume your enemies have similar tech, so they are watching you back.

  • $\begingroup$ You state that "everyone has access to everything". Does this mean that the indigenous population also has access to the same type of technology, and the same level of access to the attacking military's innermost secrets as the other way around? (This might be answered somewhere in your other question, but it's worth reiterating here anyway on the principle that each question should stand on its own, since it will definitely influence any answers.) $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jun 4, 2015 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling: Yes. "Assume your enemies have similar tech, so they are watching you back." This has been around long enough that even a goatherder in Afghanistan can go to a local store and get some drones ordered/printed quickly. $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2015 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ Your "6 day" maximum - is that a "before you have to go through the entire sanitization process again" number, or are you saying that after that period it's irretrievably compromised? $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2015 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ Information isn't the only advantage you can win in a war. I assume the other ones would become more prominent now (size, mobility, location, resources, morale, the ability to accurately read and interpret the data to figure out just what the enemy is trying to do). I may expand this into an answer if I get time... $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2015 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ Knowing everything doesn't necessarily mean understanding everything. Just like how NSA has literally too much information to process. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2015 at 21:07

10 Answers 10


In order to confuse the enemy and prevent them acting on "perfect" information, decision trees are created but the actual branches are chosen through a random process. The simplest way to describe this (and a low tech insurgent force would likely use this method) would be to roll a set of dice to determine the branch of the decision tree that will be used, then act on the revealed branch immediately so there is no time for the enemy to see the decision and react to it.

Wars will be much smaller scale and more chaotic, since this will only work well with very small units pursuing very limited sets of tactical goals. Trying to mass forces and synchronize actions will be a thing of the past, since even squad and platoon sized units would have to be taking random actions at all times to prevent enemy countermeasures from catching them. The defender will also need to implement some sort of means of stopping random attacks (which is quite difficult; even today armies and security forces attempting to stop non random attacks by terrorists and insurgents still get caught out). Defence may devolve into large concentric layers of passive and active measures to attempt to stop a barrage of random attacks by small units.

This also implies the ultimate goal of warfare will be to exhaust the enemies resources through random actions before their actions can exhaust your resources, essentially "swarms of wasps" attacking each other and trying to empty the enemy nest.

  • $\begingroup$ Which would be a really stupis thing to do. War is stupid, especially in the society that youd think would exist, so really its a great answer.+1 $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Jun 4, 2015 at 21:53

What you describe is a war of nearly perfect information. The only unknown is what individuals will do. I see two paths war can take. The first is important, but less interesting: war will take place using information hidden inside individuals minds, rather than by physical locations on a battlefield. If you say the only place I can keep a secret is in a person, I will intentionally craft my army around abusing that detail.

But what if I don't abuse that? What if the lack of privacy has turned people into sheeple who really don't do much on their own. Now we truly have a battle of perfect information. Each individual is like a Chess piece or a Go piece on a playing field, whose behavior is fully understood.

This offers a really interesting twist, because war is expensive. If I can achieve a goal cheaper without war, I will not pursue war. With perfect information and sheeple soldiers, I have something which is so similar to a game that we could substitute a game for war. Whoever wins the game gets to act as though they won the war.

The tricky part is that the enemy could double cross you. They could lose and not submit to the rules of the game. We need to use the rules of this no-privacy universe to commit people to the result of the game.

Let's use everyone's armor and arms as collateral. Everyone should modify their arms and armor with a "game chip." It's given the ability to render unusable all arms and armor instantly if anyone goes against the rules. You could also put the lives of your soldiers up for ante with some Saw style solution, but in a world with this much technology, losing all of your tech should be a sufficient disadvantage to make it worth playing by the game's rules. Because all computerized knowledge is considered "in the open," it will be trivial to vet that an opponent has a functioning game chip installed correctly.

So at any point, a combatant may send a "game request" to the other team. That game is reviewed, and correlated to the current battle, and the apparent strengths and weaknesses of both sides. The review determines whether the result of the game is sufficiently close to the result of the battle/war that the cost savings of not battling is enough to pursue. If the other side accepts, the game initialization begins.

During game initialization, the game engine reaches out to all of the arms and armor on the battlefield, announcing the presence of a game. Soldiers may opt-in to the game (once they use their perfect information to confirm that their superior officer has opted in). Generally speaking all soldiers will opt-in to save their own hide. Opting in does nothing until a quorum is reached (quorum defined ahead of time as part of the game definition which was reviewed earlier).

Once quorum is reached, the soliders who oped-in now act like policemen for the game, literally taking orders from the game to allow the game to retain the commitments of both sides to it. For example, soldiers will not be allowed to advance into more optimal combat positions during the game. However, these soldiers will be tasked by the game to help handle those who did not opt in. If most soldiers opt in to a game, but one or two Rambos do not, the rest of the soldiers will be tasked with detaining the Rambos to prevent them from disrupting the game. Penalties for disobeying are severe, but known ahead of time. If your soldiers disobey enough that the game's fundamental stakes are changed (such as a group charging an enemy encampment while nobody is shooting), the penalty may be the complete disarmament of your entire force, and the termination of the game.

At each move in the game, a leader has the option of leaving the game, instead of finishing it. We never take that choice away from them. However, the game chip intentionally moves soldiers around the field such that leaving the game never puts you in a better position than continuing the game. Thus it is always in everyone's interests to let the game play out, even if they are losing.

Which game would be played? Any game really, and it could differ from battlefield to battlefield to best suit the circumstances. However, I have a preference for games like Go, whose game tree is described using Surreal Numbers. These games have the nice property of having 4 potential outcomes depending on states:

  • Player A always wins
  • Player B always wins
  • Whoever moves first wins
  • Whoever moves second wins

The complexity of having all four of these options allows for more strategy: sometimes holding still will be the best offense, because moving first could cost you the victory.

  • $\begingroup$ You've got a cool answer, but I would wonder how secure the game chips would be. If it is easy enough to hack information that almost anyone can do it, I would think that the game rules could be similarly altered by someone with the right knowledge and set of skills. that could result in the game being less about following the rules and playing the literal game, and more about keeping on top of who has changed them, how and why, more of a metagame at that point. $\endgroup$
    – Jonathan
    Jun 24, 2015 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Jonathan Your comment could be the topic of a book, if you wanted! My favorite rationale is that the chips do not need to be perfect. They just need to be perfect enough to be a valuable replacement for war. Anyone demonstrated failure in the chips would simply lead to more casualties as we resort to normal war. Beyond this, my answer is simply an answer that matches the rules of the world Dan suggested. It's a very binary world, regarding privacy. I think an exploration of a world which explored shades of privacy would find an even more interesting set of answers. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jun 25, 2015 at 18:00

I would say there will be a large use of EM Pulse weapons. if you need some privacy in a war, you just knockout the electronics. Of course this is only temporary and you will need to let off some dummy pulses to that there are multiple dead zones at the same time.

Likely there will be command centers that are hermetically sealed, receiving data from many different inputs. Then talking in code will be needed. Bring a soldier into a sealed chamber, kill the spies, give orders and let him go.

A huge amount of effort of course would be spent on misinformation and giving orders that aren't what they seem. certain orders would have to be a code for doing something completely different than what is spoken.

Implants that can put a heads up display inside the cornea or vibrate the eardrum inside the head to have truly secure communications would be high on the list of wants.


First things first: you would see a drastic decline in technology at the strategic level, because military commands would happily EMP their bases every three days in order to maintain privacy. (And likely a large swatch of the neighboring countryside to increase the time it takes new snoopers to invade). On top of that there's going to be All The Jamming. You name it, they'll have made sure it's running. There's zero electronics in my war room.

(Also, I expect you'd see several of these "CAMP LUDDITE" bases so that old fashioned HUMINT doesn't steal your secrets).

(Second aside: the description doesn't quite cover how fast these guys are. If it's possible to secure Air Force One, replace the press seats with food supplies, and have it stay airborne to constantly outrun the snoopers, expect that to happen.)

Second: anything planned isn't going to be on computers. It's going to be in people's heads, spoken quietly inside your warded spaces, and orders will most likely be written down, sealed (and possibly put inside EM-blocking envelopes) and hand delivered. (As well as old fashioned code books).

The goal of secrets and encryption isn't to hide forever, just until you need to. So war is going to be based around moving very quietly, and then very fast. Decisions and conversations will be held in secure locations, and then any information that leaves will be cryptic and the bare minimum. Soldiers will be expected to follow orders near-blindly, because if the enemy finds out things the same time as them, there's no need for them to know where they're going until they need to be there NOW.


Historically, winning a war isn't always done through stealth or even the usage of actual force. Threat of force, especially in the open, can compel participants to take certain actions.

Consider a chess match. Both sides know exactly where each piece is. At the grand master levels, both sides even know a huge range of strategies and usually have researched their opponents prior games before it even starts. Yet, there is a almost always a clear winner.

Winning the game comes through maneuvering. Forcing your opponent into a position in which they either cannot stop you from accomplishing your objective or you effectively stop them from completing theirs. In chess all of this is done 100% out in the open, with only the private thoughts of the participants during the match being hidden from view.

In war history there have been many battles that were won without a single shot being fired simply due to both commanders recognizing the inevitability of the outcome and reverting back to standard political negotiations.

Winning a war would be similar. There would be no surprise attacks, the deployment of forces would be completely out in the open. So, by necessity, both sides would employ generals that acted like chess grand masters. They would keep their thoughts private and wouldn't discuss their strategy with anyone.

Rather, they would just issue deployment orders. Sometimes shots would actually be fired because no matter how many simulations you run, there is an element of chance in every endeavor.

However, at some point the outcome would be obvious and the war would conclude.


I have a similar interpretation like Cort Ammon, but I come to a very different conclusion.

Under these conditions, everyone would have the ability to calculate the results of a war in advance. That means the winner of a war would be known in advance. However, I doubt that this will result in wars getting replaced with harmless games. I would consider it highly implausible that politicians would decide global power struggles by playing highly regulated games.

There would still be invasions to gain control of a territory, but they would be quite bloodless. When country A decides to invade country B, both would run the simulation based on the standing troops of both countries. When the simulation says the invasion won't be successful, A would not do it.

When the simulation says the invasion would be successful, A would send its troops to occupy B, but B would not resist because they know it is pointless - you can only get a soldier to fight for his country when there is a chance the war can be won. When the soldier himself can run the simulation and know for certain that the war is pointless, he no longer has an incentive to sacrifice himself and would certainly desert, no matter how indoctrinated.

A would march into B and take control without firing a single shot.

There is, however, one thing the simulations can not prevent, and that's war which is fought with the motive of genocide, something which still happens far too often in our world.

When country A runs a simulation which says that it would be better off when every civilian of ethnic group B is dead and the simulation says that they could have that for the cost of X$ in material and the lives of Y of their own soldiers, they might decide that it's worth it. B will then have nothing to gain by surrendering and will make sure A at least pays the price - bloody war ensures, even though everyone knows how it will end.


There are ways to hide the truth even if you're being observed almost constantly. Misinformation and hiding the truth behind code would become far more commonplace.

Needless to say, it wouldn't stop war, it would just make tacticians far more creative.

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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that - generally - your enemy will be able to observe you setting up your codes and misinformation campaigns. It doesn't help you to use callsigns and code names if someone compromised you from the start. Note that I'm not saying this is impossible - I think it's very likely, actually - but it's not as simple as it appears on the surface. $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2015 at 18:25

Information is key in any war. Spreading misinformation seems nigh impossible in this world, but one could use lack of information as a strategy.

In the question it is stated that defence are possible but they do not work 100% of the time. I will make the assumption that militaries in this world know a more precise percentage. For example: one can keep a room safe for X minutes with a Y% success rate. The exact numbers don't really matter as long as they are known.

The general of an army uses computer simulation to generate an extremely large number of battleplans. Here, the battle plans can be presented as decision trees. This decision tree will inevitably be compromised at some point. The trick is to pick one battle plan within this tree and keep secret which one is chosen.

So how would on go about that? We can give each path within the decision tree a code. The codes are made as similar as possible whilst remaining unique. For example a small number of codes may look like this


Now we set up multiple meetings with the generals of the army. To the best of our effort we secure the meeting rooms against espionage. At each meeting a small part of the code is given to all generals. After all meetings are done, all generals have the entire code and thus know the battleplan. Some meetings will have been compromised so parts of the code are known, but as long as the code is complicated enough this will still leave our opponent with many possible battle plans*.

Unfortunately, any battle plan lasts until first blood.

There are only two ways of changing a battleplan: redo the meetings (takes long) or send an uncoded message to your generals (immediately compromised).

If this system works, then war would become a game of disrupting your opponents plan as often as possible. Either they will have to disclose their entire plan to respond quickly or spend a lot of effort and time on setting up a new plan.

Now this leads to some interesting mindgames.

If your opponent can guess what your plan is then they know how to disrupt it. Naturally you want to make your plan as unpredictable as possible so you would choose suboptimal plans, but then your opponent may guess that you are not following the optimal path and try to disrupt suboptimal plans. This mindgame can go around in circles forever. Great generals may be separated from the good ones simply because they know how to predict the thinking pattern of their opponent.

In short: I hope you like mindgames.

*I'm not a cryptologist, but it wouldn't surprise me that it's possible to set up codes in such a manner that small scraps of code hold little information.

  • $\begingroup$ Code and cryptology are not the same thing. $\endgroup$
    – bowlturner
    Jun 24, 2015 at 16:52

I don't buy the premise that in this world that there's absolutely no place where a drone can't penetrate, ever. If a drone is large enough to use propellers then it can be detected by its sound and heat signature. If it's small enough to float on air currents then a strong airhandler and dust filter will clean out the drones. Insect size drones can be defeated with lasers!

But assuming that the ubiquitous stealth drones and privacy has disappeared, how would warfare be conducted?

Humans won't call the shots anymore though they will set the rules of engagement. Attacks will happen too fast for a human to decide what to do or even begin to synthesize the situation. Look at high frequency trading on the stock markets now. Humans setup the rules and processes of "engagement" then let the computer run full speed.

Investment in conventional guns and tanks become less worthwhile, though not worthless, because most attacks will be of a digital nature. Why spend 20M on an advanced main battle tank when a $30 drone can hijack the the electronics and render the tank inert? At the same time, investment in the arms race between keeping secrets and discovering secrets would explode. As it is today, some attacks are so expensive, so specialized that they can only be used by nation states. Defense against such attacks takes the resources of nation-states or mega-corps.

Attack vectors: time based attacks, information denial, area denial, info processing denial, drone production facility denial, attacks on info aggregation points, drone subversion.

Time based attacks - This will be the most likely approach. Learning to attack in cyber-space and in real-space so quickly that even someone with perfect battleground intelligence can't stop an attack. For example, knowing that a Rods from the Gods weapon has launched doesn't mean you can do anything about it.

Area denial - Deny an enemy use of a strategic area such as a port or major mountain pass through biological/chemical/nuclear means. This could be especially effective when used against information processing/aggregation points.

Information processing denial - Even if the enemy has total access to your information, if they can't synthesize that information into actionable data, it doesn't matter if they have stealth drones all over the planet. Attack their data centers.

Information mis-routing - The information has been processed but it's only useful if it gets to the people/systems who can actually do something with that info. Route the target info to that goatherder in Afghanistan. It'll be too late before it gets back to the right people.

Drone production denial - With a drone defense system capable of knocking out 90% of an opposing drone force, keeping an enemy from replenishing their supply of in-flight drones would be a huge advantage. Likewise, denying or delaying your enemy access to drone raw materials would decrease drone coverage.

Attacks on drone design - Do what Stuxnet did to Iranian uranium centrifuges by forcing small but critical errors in equipment operation. Inject deficiencies into the 3D printers that make the stealth drones so the drones don't work as well or have compromised stealth abilities.

Defense measures: Drone area denial, Drone hijacking, encryption, greater defense in depth, geographic dispersion, steganography.

Drone Area Denial - While not 100% effective (as stated in the question) even a 90% attenuation will offer sizable information security benefits. Drone countermeasures for everyone! Party fanfare

Drone Hijacking - Make the drones work for you!

Strong Encryption - Remember that the point of encryption is not to keep a piece of information safe forever, but to keep it safe long enough that it won't be useful to an attacker.

Greater defense in depth - Build defensive systems in such a way that compromising one layer doesn't offer the attacker access to the asset. Even better, design the defenses in such a way that if one layer fails, it notifies the next inner layer of the attack.

Geographic dispersion - While uneconomical in many ways for the defender, isolation does mean that if a drone shows up, it's not supposed to be there and is hostile.

Things that won't change much:

  • Economic imbalances won't go away. The US would still outspend the rest of the world to maintain their technical superiority.
  • It's really hard to duplicate esprit de corps, even if you know everything there is to know about an organization. This happens in software companies all the time. Rackspace is an excellent example of how corporate culture plays a huge role in how they compete. A competitor may know a lot about how Rackspace culture works but duplicating that culture is very hard. Culture depends on the individuals who make up the group and how they think.

Hive Mind

Massive advancements into the fringe sciences would be taken place "secretly" (as possible) by all nations. Only your thoughts remain your own, and all actions are known to everyone. All orders will be discovered, all top secret documents immediately uncovered. Instant co-ordination is the only option with an armed force, and would only be possible via telepathic link between soldiers. The link would be switched on via an extensive training program to simply emphasize this natural ability between humans.

Evolution has advanced so much by this point that only a 2 year boot camp is necessary to jump start the 6th sense. The documentation of these techniques would be stored in solid state crystal pyramids, not connected to any electronic device and immovable in the face of EMP charges. The reading of these crystal pyramids would take place in an altered reality, with the use of psychoactive substances.

Attaining these abilities would be a double edged sword though, as allowing this to become natural in us also attunes us to the pain we inflict on others. Our enemy's pain becomes our own. Commanding officers know this and although no "secure" telepathic channel is possible, they ensure all soldiers are numbed down while still retaining psychic awareness.

Because this is well known, citizens are reluctant to join the armed forces anymore. Our evolution has taken us to a point where war is in the most literal sense, hell. Even the numbification of the senses only lasts a few years - in which the solder has no recollection at all of the events. His memory recovers one cell at a time as natural regeneration of the brain takes place. The unearthed memories becomes too much for the poor soldier and he simply cannot harm anyone anymore. Countries have tried subduing these soldiers during the initial years of the technology, but found that they all submerged to the inescapable suffering of their war-torn mind eventually, with no hope of further recovery.


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