Many years ago, without the vaguest idea of what I was doing, or why, I stood guard at a mountain-top radar station in present-day Mpumalanga and greeted all visitors with a menacing look, an unpredictable Uzi submachine gun (or more accurately, an FN Herstal clone produced under licence in Belgium) and a barked challenge in dodgy Afrikaans: “Halt! Wie gaan daar?”
I have no idea why we assumed the invading communist guerrillas – perceived as a major threat at the time – would understand Afrikaans rather than English, but it was the thing to do, so I did it. Having successfully intimidated the visitors, I would demand a password (in retrospect, a little weird, since I’d had breakfast with them that very morning), then grudgingly step aside for their Land Rover to continue up the road. It’s reasonable to assume that my efforts paid dividends, because as far as I know, South Africa has not been colonised by the Russians – or anyone else, for that matter – in living memory.
How times have changed. In this month’s cover story, “The future of war”, we explore new tech and tactics employed by America’s elite forces as they prepare for conflicts that will hopefully never happen. As writer Joe Pappalardo tells it: “After a decade spent fighting low-tech insurgents, the US Marine Corps is again preparing to face enemies with tanks, missiles and other modern weapons.” And a strategy paper written earlier this year for the Brookings Institution states: “We will be sending fewer forces to theatres of conflict, but we will expect those we do send to arrive faster.”
Another major story this month examines the case for alien life – the science, the odds, the evidence and the expectations. Scientists now believe our Milky Way galaxy contains at least 11 billion Earth-sized worlds orbiting their stars’ habitable zones, where life is most likely to be found. Against that, of course, we need to consider that so far, life has been found on only one planet in the known Universe – that is, Earth.
Are you ready to commit? When we polled staff at our parent company, RamsayMedia, for their opinion on the existence of extraterrestrial life in any form, from bacterium to tentacle monster, the results were mildly encouraging: almost 73 per cent of the respondents said they believed in the existence of extraterrestrial life and 75,8 per cent thought that ET would be intelligent (that is, not a simple microscopic entity). Just over half of the respondents thought aliens lived so far away that we would never get to meet them.
Against that, 9,7 per cent said ET would probably take the form of a killer tomato, 14,5 per cent thought he lurked in a local supermarket and 15,1 per cent asserted that people who believed in aliens needed professional counselling. We clearly have some work to do…
Next up – PM’s annual FutureTech conference, a meeting of the minds that takes place in Johannesburg on 24 October. This year’s theme is Altered Realities, described as “a neat catch-all for the challenges and opportunities facing all of us in the years to come”. If you would like to join our audience of forward-looking thinkers and doers, take advantage of our Early Bird offer and book now.
Finally, don’t forget to enter your groundbreaking concept in our 2013 Inventor of the Year competition. Aside from the usual fame and glory stuff, you stand to win a substantial cash prize in one of two categories: Emerging Genius (for previously disadvantaged and minimally resourced entrants) and Cutting Edge (open to anyone).
Alan Duggan (firstname.lastname@example.org)