Student Fellow Examines Effect of Emerging Technologies on Warfare

By Julie McWilliams

Smartphone apps have become ubiquitous, an important part of most people's daily lives. Drones have become a useful tool for many businesses, such as construction, photography, real estate and sports programs. Both are de rigeur for troops in combat.

However, one University of Pennsylvania student is studying what effect these and other emerging technologies are having on the concept of warfare. Senior Kathryn Dura says she is looking into how the use of drones and encrypted messaging applications such as Whatsapp have modified game theory models of warfare. 

"Essentially I'm examining the effects of the technologies' features like increased accuracy for drones and faster communication for messaging apps and updating previous war models to reflect these developments," Dura says. "I'm questioning whether drones are a whole new technology or essentially the next logical evolutionary step in warfare."

Such an investigation for her senior thesis is the perfect meld of interests for Dura. Now a dual major in international relations and modern Middle Eastern studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, she actually came to Penn as a student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

"As a sophomore, though, I found my passion for policy making in international relations," she says. "I was torn."

Two things happened, though, that put Dura on her current path. She became a research assistant that academic year for political science professor Michael Horowitz, helping him in a study on ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones and other uninhabited vehicles, and in 2016 Perry World House opened. As the hub for Penn’s growing international activities, PWH draws on the University’s 12 schools to advance broad, policy-relevant research and engage policymakers and practitioners in vital topics of global affairs.

"Perry World House is interdisciplinary, so it's a great opportunity to bring my STEM interests into my study of international relations," says Dura. "It was right up my alley."
When Horowitz became associate director of PWH and director of its World House Student Fellows Program, Dura found a natural fit as a student fellow.

"The student fellows program,” Horowitz says, “offers undergraduates unprecedented access to real-world global-affairs challenges to visitors and faculty from around the world and to activities such as global-affairs simulations."

"Kathryn is in her second year as a World House Student Fellow," he says. "She is a talented and driven student interested not just in important foreign policy questions but in using methods such as game theory to address those questions. Her senior thesis is an original take on how emerging technologies are shaping warfare and foreign policy." 

With a minor in mathematics, Dura is well-prepared to use both qualitative and quantitative approaches in her investigations.

PWH has provided Dura with support in additional endeavors. All student fellows must work in teams throughout the academic year to develop a policy project. Her team is mapping Russia’s foreign policy activities around the world with the goal of more systematically understanding Russia’s interests and activities.

Dura credits PWH with opening her eyes to international opportunities as well. Through the Penn International Internship Program, she spent this past summer in Tel Aviv as a reporting intern for, a non-profit journalism organization in Herzliya, Israel, that covers Israeli innovation and technology startups. 

"As such, I researched Israeli technology startups, interviewed CEOs, wrote articles for the website and attended technology conferences," Dura says. "Not only did the internship allow me to gain experience abroad, but it allowed me to explore the international and private sector aspects of my passion, emerging technologies.
"What I enjoyed most was the opportunity to integrate into the society and gain exposure to new perspectives, cultures and lifestyles." 

Dura grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., where she says "the contrast with Penn is incredible, but I couldn't do what I do without the support of my friends and family."
After graduation, she hopes to establish her career with the federal government as an analyst for Mid-Eastern affairs in the Department of Defense.

"Perry World House expanded my horizons." 

Kathryn Dura