The Economist has a fascinating article on the arms race going on between American soldiers and bomb makers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A great example is something called “Darwin” patrols. Many early improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were triggered by remote controls for garage doors. The CIA quickly realized this and began driving around pressing their own garage openers. Any bomb makers nearby would be blown up.
Predictably, these easy wins didn’t last. By killing those bomb makers the CIA effectively improved bomb making. Only better IEDs and bomb makers survived – hence the name “Darwin” patrols.
As the coalition forces become better at detecting IEDs the bomb makers get better at making them. There are plenty more examples of innovation being met with innovation in the article.
Both sides must constantly keep improving just to keep up. This is common in evolutionary biology and is known as the Red Queen effect.
In Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice in Wonderland) the Red Queen tells Alice:
“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
It’s a great name for this effect.
Wherever there is competition, from biology to the Iraq war to the office, the Red Queen effect arises. We have to keep moving, just to stay where we are.