Human, Identity, and the Material World

In Automated Valor, August Cole illustrates the changing role of empirical knowledge in relation to the future of warfare and citizenship. The dialogue and warfare imagery within the Commonwealth’s Legion combat team, during an attack from the Chinese infantry, highlights the necessity of verbal, visual and haptic communication as a failsafe to determine if Churchill, the AI commander, had been compromised. Here, Cole presents a future where direct access to, and reliance on, the material world is threatened, yet empirical evidence remains crucial to one’s sense of security.

In AV, the Legion’s point of reference is constantly shifting, especially with the added manipulation of enemy AI interference. In this constant fight to find and hold the truth (which AI is a friend? which AI is an enemy?), the Legion is forced to instinctively and constantly separate mere ‘fact’ from knowledge. With the use of many communication techniques between each other, their AI, and enemy forces, their thoughts can only enter the realm of knowledge when they are verified by actual experience (Nagel 3). This concept reinforces the inevitable importance empirical knowledge plays in the AV narrative. When the integrity of their AI commander is threatened, “accents and age blurring together as Churchill’s soldier-specific command narrative broke down” (Cole), the crew relied on their senses- visual, “verbal codes”, and “haptic inputs” (Cole) as verification tools. In this narrative, the concept of trust and verification becomes increasingly intangible in the future warfare scenario between human, AI, and machine. Cole is challenging what defines consciousness with the immateriality of the character(s) Churchill as an AI commander. In which Churchill is not only one commander, but several different commanders as “a synthetic leader who spoke to each soldier in the voice they needed in order to get the best mission performance out of them” (Cole). If you cannot touch or see your commander, or even verify his exact existence to another member in your legion- How do you trust them with your life? In Nagel’s Knowledge: A very short introduction, in reference to The Matrix she asks, “Why exactly would experiencing a world of physical objects be better than staying immersed in a computer-generated simulation?”(Nagel 26). I think the answer is quite simple and enate- the physicality of objects and ourselves is integral to our humanity. Cole’s response, to root the failsafes in the material world, is only human.

Despite this necessary communication failsafe, and the acknowledgment that materiality and humanity are intertwined, Cole also suggests that one’s physical sense of place and geographical connection to land no longer has a role in citizenship. The concept of e-citizenship as a socio-economic futurism challenges the notion that the material world is a grounding factor and metric of identity.  AV presents borders that are no longer defined by terrain and topography, and citizenship that can be bought and paid for with your life. Modeled off of Estonia’s real world e-citizenship (e-Estonia, Residency), Cole takes this concept to more of an extreme introducing the element of military service as a means to gain e-citizenship. It begins to feel like a video game or a simulation, raising similar issues of objectivity and consciousness that Nagel described of The Matrix. Readers are left with the sense that an AI can have identity without humanity. What happens when humanity can no longer claim identity?


Cole, August. Automated Valor. automated-valor.

Nagel, Jennifer. Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2014.

“Residency – e-Estonia.” e, 15 Nov. 2021,