The human race is on the brink of momentous and dire change. It is a change that potentially smashes our institutions and warps our society beyond recognition. It is also a change to which almost no one is paying attention. I’m talking about the coming obsolescence of the gun-wielding human infantryman as a weapon of war. Or to put it another way: the end of the Age of the Gun.
You may not even realize you have been, indeed, living in the Age of the Gun because it’s been centuries since that age began. But imagine yourself back in 1400. In that century (and the 10 centuries before it), the battlefield was ruled not by the infantryman, but by the horse archer—a warrior-nobleman who had spent his whole life training in the ways of war. Imagine that guy’s surprise when he was shot off his horse by a poor no-count farmer armed with a long metal tube and just two weeks’ worth of training. Just a regular guy with a gun.
That day was the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modernity. For centuries after that fateful day, gun-toting infantry ruled the battlefield. Military success depended more and more on being able to motivate large groups of (gun-wielding) humans, instead of on winning the loyalty of the highly trained warrior-noblemen. But sometime in the near future, the autonomous, weaponized drone may replace the human infantryman as the dominant battlefield technology. And as always, that shift in military technology will cause huge social upheaval.
The advantage of people with guns is that they are cheap and easy to train. In the modern day, it’s true that bombers, tanks, and artillery can lay waste to infantry—but those industrial tools of warfare are just so expensive that swarms of infantry can still deter industrialized nations from fighting protracted conflicts. Look at how much it cost the United States to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, versus how much it cost our opponents. The hand-held firearm reached its apotheosis with the cheap, rugged, easy-to-use AK-47; with this ubiquitous weapon, guerrilla armies can still defy the mightiest nations on Earth.
Read the Remainder at Quartz