Know your enemy: Empathy and imagination in strategy

Everyone knows that Sun Tzu urged strategists to ‘know your enemy and know yourself’. Easily said, but far harder to do. In my new book, I’ll be exploring the role of metacognition in strategy – unpicking our uniquely human ability to reflect on our own mind, and those of others. We have evolved a powerful, sometimes instinctive, sometimes deliberative model of reality, including the various agents we encounter in it. We use that model to imagine possible futures. Understanding that others can have different, and possibly false, beliefs is the basis of deception and of strategy. So far, there are three cases in the book – including JFK’s effort to understand Khrushchev, and Western efforts to anticipate Putin’s intentions ahead of his Ukraine invasion. And there’s a discussion of the possibility of artificial minds developing human-like empathy.

Professor Kenneth Payne’s research is in political psychology and strategic studies. His latest book, I, Warbot, considers the ways in which Artificial Intelligence will change strategy. It was chosen as a book of the year by The Economist newspaper and by leading IR journal International Affairs. Earlier books explored the evolution of strategy from apes and early humans to Artificial Intelligence; strategy in the Vietnam War, and the relationship between human evolution and modern, liberal warfare. Professor Payne has consulted for the governments of the United Kingdom and United States. He’s appeared before Parliamentary committees in the UK and Netherlands. He’s been a NATO research fellow and visiting fellow at Oxford University. His Twitter account is @kennethpayne01