It’s the robotics revolution that is already here! It is reshaping our world in some important ways and most of us aren’t even noticing.
I attended a talk yesterday by Dr Peter Singer, of the Brookings Institution, about his new book, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. He outlined what is already happening on the ground around the world with robotic warfighting (e.g. stuff like this).
He opened with scene from Iraq – an IED on roadside and an EOD team sent out to search out and destroy them. One of the ‘soldiers’ was blown up while trying to defuse an IED. The commander wrote home to the factory where the soldier came from, saying “at least when a robot dies you don’t have to write home to its mother”. An indicator of how important these EODs are to the insurgents is the US$50,000 bounty they’ve placed on the head of EOD members.
Israel & Hezbollah. Both sides flew drones against each other – even though one was a nation state & other was non state actor.
Another ripple effect is that robotics make war cheaper in terms of people costs by replacing them with machines. This is a real benefit in societies that frown upon deaths of individuals in the service of warfare. The social and political cost of war for governments and politicians drops considerably. The interesting thing pointed out by Singer is that this is happening without any debates in the legislature or in the media – we are seeing a creeping change without open debate as to the efficacy and morality of this technology.
Part of this new kind of warfare is that these machines record everything they see & this is changing the public’s vision or view of war. We are seeing the rise of YouTube wars. Some people are turning war into entertainment, or “war porn”. When video clips of war actions put to music and shown as entertainment – it is very easy to forget the violence is real.
The final issue that arises from this new kind of technology is that we are potentially turning our soldiers into war gamers rather than war fighters. Even now some of them just go to the office and direct drones from US mainland but go home at night to normal family life. This also has an impact on the demographics of war fighting. In the past strength and physical fitness were key. But, as Singer recounted, one of the top US pilots on drone systems is 19-year-old high school drop out. The skills required are changing so the nature of military institutions will need to change in response. In his examples Singer mentioned that some of these drivers don’t even meet they just talk online & only know each other’s handles.
There are some huge moral, social and legal issues that remain to be resolved in relation to this new military technology. Things like un-manslaughter, rules of engagement, etc. More on this later.