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Historical re-enactment with musket

Moore’s Law for military tech devised by US Army Lab

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An academic from the US Army Laboratory has proposed a simple law to explain advancements in weapons technology across the centuries.

According to Dr Alexander Kott, a US Army Laboratory researcher, certain measures of the technological performance can be described with simple patterns of exponential growth over time. The best-known example is Moore’s Law, which states that the performance of computer chips doubles approximately every two years (proportional to the density of transistors on the chip).

“A number of law-like regularities are known to apply to both technological and naturally emerging complex systems,” said Kott. “Identifying these regularities may help long-range technology forecasting, which this paper illustrates by exploring two systems that might appear 30 years in the future.”

The study investigated whether the advancement of weapons technology across centuries could be described with a simple regularity.

Kott studied the characteristics of a very broad collection of weapons systems comprising the family of mobile direct-fire systems used between 1300 and 2015. This collection included bows and arrows, assault rifles, foot artillery, horse artillery, towed and self-propelled anti-tank guns, assault guns and tanks.

He found that a simple regularity can describe the development of the weapons systems, falling on a single curve. Unlike conventional curves of exponential growth with time such as Moore’s Law, this relationship is dependent on the mass of the weapons. This suggests a model which combines exponential growth relationship with allometric relationships (which compare size to other characteristics), such as Kleiber’s Law relating animal size to metabolic rate.

Graphic showing simple curve for weapons advancement

US Army Laboratory

Image credit: US Army Laboratory

“To my knowledge, no prior research describes a regularity in the temporal growth of technology that covers such widely different technologies, of widely different physical scales and over such a long period of history,” Kott said. “However, such a regularity should be taken with a degree of caution. You cannot use it as a design guide. There is a lot more to a good system than a very parsimonious figure of performance we use in our model. Interpretations of the model require care.”

According to Dr Bruce West, chief mathematician for the US Army, this is the first set of empirical data which confirms the existence of a strongly time-dependent allometric relationship.

Kott commented: “In hindsight, this multi-century, multi-scale regularity may not be all that surprising, but somehow nobody noticed this previously. Perhaps the future is not a silent mystery; it speaks to us from the past, softly.”

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