Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson Featured in SDHC Program

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson waits to speak as she's introduced by author/scholar Joseph Bottum during her lecture about "Computers and War" at the Journey Museum in Rapid City. 

Studying the 'Cultural Consequences of Computers'

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, the former president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, was the guest speaker at a South Dakota Humanities Council program last month in Rapid City.

Wilson appeared at the Journey Museum in Rapid City June 25 in a program that also featured author and scholar Joseph Bottum, who leads the CLASSICS Institute at Dakota State University in Madison. Wilson's appearance was part of a discussion series called "The Cultural Consequences of Computers," which examines technology's effect on rural and small-town life, jurisprudence, the act of reading and human existence

The institute received a $7,000 South Dakota Humanities Council grant to host the discussion series. The grant was provided as part of the 2018 South Dakota Humanities Council programming initiative, "Democracy and the Informed Citizen." 

Heather Wilson speaks at the Journey Museum in Rapid City as part of a South Dakota Humanities Council grant program.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson speaks at the Journey Museum about "Computers and War" in a program sponsored by the South Dakota Humanities Council. 

Established in the fall of 2017 to examine the ethical, social, and existential condition of humankind 40 years into the computer revolution, the institute is a multifaced hub for education and research in cyber security and cyber operations. CLASSICS stands for "Collaborations for Liberty And Security Strategies for Integrity in a Cyber-enabled Society." 

During her lecture, "Computers and War," Wilson addressed changes brought to war and aviation during the past 40 years of the computer revolution. 

Advancing Technology in Computers

Wilson spoke about the remarkable changes in technology that have occurred since her childhood, with iPhones containing more information and applications than the first computers.

As artificial intelligence becomes increasingly sophisticated, maintaining a human presence in military operations is vital, she said.  

"I think we have legitimate fears, all of us do as civilized society about what happens if people are taken out of the loop, out of the decision making. One of the points I made was that when it comes to why and then when of the use of force, we still have to have a human moral decision maker and not just leave it up to machines," she said. 

To explain the importance of human versus artificial intelligence in military operations, Wilson described to the audience a specific scenario in which a JAG (Judge Advocate General) gave final approval, per protocol, for an Air Force operation during a combat situation. She said maintaining human morality, which machines are not capable of, is crucial in military combat.  

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson spoke in Rapid City as part of a South Dakota Humanities Council grant program.

Full Audience

Wilson spoke in front of a full audience at the Journey Museum, an audience that included airmen from Ellsworth Air Force Base, Rapid City residents who were acquainted with Wilson during her time in Rapid City and others. Wilson appeared at a private reception at the South Dakota School of Mines prior to the lecture. 

Wilson was appointed Air Force Secretary by President Donald Trump. Her appointment was confirmed by the Senate in May 2017, and she was the first service secretary to be confirmed in the Trump administration. 

Wilson graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1982. She was a Rhodes Scholar and represented New Mexico as a member of Congress from 1998 to 2009. Wilson was also on the National Security Council under President George H.W. Bush. She served on the House Armed Services Committee. She served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines from 2013 until her appointment as Air Force Secretary in 2017. 

Heather Wilson appeared at a private reception on the campus of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology prior to her lecture on

Heather Wilson appeared at a private reception on the campus of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology prior to her lecture on "Computers and War" at the Journey Museum in Rapid City.

Joseph Bottum, who will also be featured as an author at the South Dakota Humanities Council's 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books, said Wilson's lecture was an "astonishingly important opportunity to hear a senior military official contemplating the uses of Artificial Intelligence, smart weapons, and instant communications in an underdeveloped area of military ethics and just-war theory."  

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