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Wired for War 252

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
stoolpigeon writes "The US Army's Future Combat Systems program calls for one third of their fighting strength to be robots by 2015. The American pilots seeing the most combat in Iraq and Afghanistan right now do so from flight consoles in the United States, and they are controlling Predator unmanned vehicles. Every branch of the US military has aggressive robotics programs in place. This is not anything unusual. Other nations are also developing and purchasing robotic systems designed to be used in combat. Advances in communications, software and hardware make it inevitable that robotics will have a profound effect on conflict in the future. The development of these systems has been rapid, and while technology hurtles forward, culture and understanding seem to lag behind. Similar to the way our legal codes are playing catch-up with new technologies, combat-enabled robots raise questions and issues that did not even exist a short time ago. Wired for War by Dr. P. W. Singer is an excellent opportunity for anyone interested to dive into just what is going on all over the world with regards to robotics and their use by the military." Read below for the rest of JR's review.
Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century
author P. W. Singer
pages 499
publisher The Penguin Press
rating 10/10
reviewer JR Peck
ISBN 978-1-59420-198-1
summary The robotics revolution and conflict in the 21st century.
Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. His focus and study on changes in modern warfare have made him one of the world's top experts on the nature of modern day combat as well as what developments are likely to come. Singer is an academic, but Wired for War is not a strictly academic approach to the issue of robots in war. He has made an intentional effort to make the book approachable, delivering a large amount of information wrapped in the context of popular culture and current events. The average geek is going to feel right at home in the sea of references made throughout the book as they often turn on sci-fi. This is not to say that the book dwells in a possible future of far-flung vaporware. Wired for War is divided into two large sections. The first is "The Change We are Creating" and deals with the definition, history and current technology of robotics. Some of this is talking about robotics in general but primarily with a view to military applications. Singer makes it clear that he believes that robotics is going to have a huge impact on many more areas of society and culture, but war is the focus of this work.

The last chapter of the first section, "The Refuseniks: The Roboticists Who Just Say No" is an interesting look at those who are not comfortable with the direction they see technology being deployed. It makes for a very natural segue into the second section, "What Change is Creating for Us". It also serves as an excellent illustration of just what Singer does in this book. There is not a lot of highly technical detail or information. The discussion of various technologies in play deals primarily with capabilities available as opposed to how those capabilities are achieved. This is in keeping with Singer's stated desire to keep the book open to a wide audience. It also serves to reinforce what I believe is the real purpose of the book, though it is more subtly stated. That purpose is to educate the members of democracies on what is going on in the militaries of their nations, so that they can be more informed in how they participate in the political process. This is as much a sociology book as it is a technology book and as much as it gives insight into how the military uses technology it also gives insight into military trends and subcultures. Primarily the examples given and information shared deal with the U.S. military. The Chinese military gets some time as well but it is quite small in comparison.

This would probably be my only disappointment with the book. (Well there are two but the second is very specific and small. John Scalzi is called Joe Scalzi on page 369 and in the index.) It is understandable that most of the information is U.S. centric. Singer has been involved with America's Department of Defense and the American military is one of the few that is spending the amounts of money they spend on such a wide array of robotic systems. Singer does discuss how others are getting into the game, and even how less likely players, like insurgents can make use of robotic tech, but there is never the same depth of analysis and information for any other nation as the U.S. It's not that large an issue, the book is still excellent but I would love to see a work of the same depth and breadth that dealt solely with abilities and programs that are not American.

As I mentioned the second section deals much more with how all of this change is apt to change us. Singer deals with questions about not only what robots do to war but what they do to warriors, military leaders, governments and civilians. There is a lot here to chew on and to be honest I found the book to be more than a little frightening at times. Singer doesn't just point out new machines and revel in the engineering challenges that have been overcome. He digs in to see what the ramifications are for all of us and some of it could be very bad. At the same time Singer is not against technology and can see the good side of many developments. I think that what he fears most is that many will remain ignorant of just what is taking place and by the time they are all playing catch up it will be too late. I try to stay current on unmanned systems and military changes but there were quite a few revelations to me in the pages of Wired for War. Singer does not shy away from tough questions and I think his previous experience studying warfare, especially in the third world, comes to bear.

This isn't just a book for gun nuts that love to see stuff explode. This is a book for anyone who wants to be up to date on the technological changes that have come and are coming to warfare. As I mentioned, Singer emphasizes the importance of being informed about these things for the members of any democratically governed society. The people of such a nation are culpable in the actions of their leaders and how force is is deployed against others. How can they rightly use the power they have if they are ignorant of the capabilities and the very nature of the systems their military uses? And even more importantly what happens if they do not question the changes in perspective that robots in warfare bring not only to those who deploy such systems but to those who are the targets of automated violence and finally those who look on from the sidelines?

The book covers a lot of ground but does so in an eminently readable way. Part of this is that the notes do not occur at the bottom of the page but at the back of the book. In the back they are numbered but those numbers are not placed in the text. This can make it very difficult to find just how the information fits together. I can see the up side of not interrupting the flow but at the same time it could be frustrating working my way through to be sure I had found the matching note. This also reflects the book having part of one foot in the academic world while the rest of it stands closer to popular literature. The index is decent. This book will in all likelihood be quoted quite a bit and stand as the standard on military robotics for a while. There is a center section of black and white photographs featuring current robotic systems, military and civilian.

Singer addresses the debate over the rate of change in technology and the views of some that we are approaching the singularity where all bets will be off. Whether or not change is gaining momentum at an exponential rate, it is taking place quickly and at some point the technology that Singer covers will be old news. That said, the majority of the attention is given to questions and issues revolving around ethics and morality that will not go away any time soon. This book is going to be a fascinating read for many while educating and expanding their horizons at the same time. I recommend it without reservation.

You can purchase Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Wired for War

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  • Skynet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:49PM (#28283219) Homepage Journal

    I'm glad that there is no such thing as machine sentience, and probably won't be (at least with binary-based Turing archetechure).

    As an Air Force veteran with two draftable daughters, I'd say relying on robots rather than having our troops shot at and bombed is a GOOD thing. But... I can't help but thinking of a Star Trek episode titled "a taste of armageddon".

    • Re:Skynet (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:57PM (#28283305)
      Machines don't need sentience to kill. They might need it to refrain from killing though...
      • by vertinox (846076)

        Machines don't need sentience to kill. They might need it to refrain from killing though...

        Actually the author of Bolo [wikipedia.org] had a different point to the idea why people needed humans in war.

        In his future (read the wiki link) super intelligence tanks rule the battlefield but they are still piloted by humans that oversea them and it debates why the need for the humans.

        *spoiler*

        At the end one of the short stories a Bolo come to the conclusion that humans were required to make sure that the AI had enough hate to com

    • by Brandee07 (964634)

      draftable daughters,

      You're not in the US, I presume?

      • by mcgrew (92797)

        I am in the US, but you don't think our lawmakers could reinstitute the draft any time they wanted? Frankly, with two wars going on, and a shortage of troops, I'm amazed they haven't already.

        • Re:Skynet (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mrdoogee (1179081) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:56PM (#28284209)

          I think you're safe. The selective service has always just been for men. Sexist, yes, but this is one inequality that I'll bet NOW is not in a hurry to correct.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by mcgrew (92797)

            It's odd now, woman have all the rights men have, but man lack many of the rights woman have, especially reproductive rights.

          • Re:Skynet (Score:4, Informative)

            by Deadstick (535032) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:41PM (#28285813)
            Au contraire, mon frere. NOW stated in 1980 that nobody should be drafted, but if anybody was, it should include women.

            rj

    • by Abcd1234 (188840)

      As an Air Force veteran with two draftable daughters, I'd say relying on robots rather than having our troops shot at and bombed is a GOOD thing.

      I'm not sure I agree. While it would take soldiers out of the line of fire and reduce casualties, it would also make pointless, bloody wars a lot more palatable to the populace, and far easier to justify... after all, the populist tide didn't turn against the Iraq war until the US body count really started going up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by thedonger (1317951)

        ...the populist tide didn't turn against the Iraq war until the US body count really started going up.

        It's not that the body count "really started going up," but that the only reporting from the field was the body count. The only people who think the body count is too high are: people who lost someone close to them and therefore to whom one is too high a count; and people opposed to war without regard for body count. We lost more than 60,000 in Vietnam; 40,000 in Korea; more than a quarter million in WWII;

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Abcd1234 (188840)

          The only people who think the body count is too high are: people who lost someone close to them and therefore to whom one is too high a count; and people opposed to war without regard for body count. We lost more than 60,000 in Vietnam; 40,000 in Korea; more than a quarter million in WWII; more than 500,000 in the civil war.

          So that makes the thousands lost in Iraq, a war started for dubious reasons, okay?

          Something tells me your opinions don't represent those of a typical American.

          • Re:Skynet (Score:4, Funny)

            by daveime (1253762) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @03:05PM (#28284343)

            Have you ever *seen* a US Baseball, Basketball or Football (sic) game ?

            They are *obsessed* with statistics and numbers (it gives them something to do while the 475 referees argue over whether the ball actually moved 10 feet or not).

          • by endianx (1006895)
            Would 1 death be acceptable to you in a war started for dubious reasons? If not, then you are part of the "without regard for body count" to which the poster was referring. If you are one of the people who believe the war is a good thing, then a 4 digit body count probably doesn't look so bad until that is the only thing you ever hear about the war on TV. I think that was the poster was saying.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Abcd1234 (188840)

              Would 1 death be acceptable to you in a war started for dubious reasons?

              In a war started for dubious reasons, of course not. In a war started for justifiable reasons (say, operations in Afghanistan), then yes, most certainly.

              If not, then you are part of the "without regard for body count" to which the poster was referring.

              Wrong. The GP said, and I quote:

              The only people who think the body count is too high are: people who lost someone close to them and therefore to whom one is too high a count; and people

          • The only people who think the body count is too high are: people who lost someone close to them and therefore to whom one is too high a count; and people opposed to war without regard for body count. We lost more than 60,000 in Vietnam; 40,000 in Korea; more than a quarter million in WWII; more than 500,000 in the civil war.

            So that makes the thousands lost in Iraq, a war started for dubious reasons, okay?

            Something tells me your opinions don't represent those of a typical American.

            "I can promise you no more than ten to twenty million dead, tops!"

      • by mcgrew (92797)

        That was the point of the Star Trek reference.

      • While it would take soldiers out of the line of fire and reduce casualties, it would also make pointless, bloody wars a lot more palatable to the populace, and far easier to justify...

        With robot soldiers, there wouldn't be quite so many "bloody wars" though, would there?

      • As an Air Force veteran with two draftable daughters, I'd say relying on robots rather than having our troops shot at and bombed is a GOOD thing.

        I'm not sure I agree. While it would take soldiers out of the line of fire and reduce casualties, it would also make pointless, bloody wars a lot more palatable to the populace, and far easier to justify... after all, the populist tide didn't turn against the Iraq war until the US body count really started going up.

        Spot on. Furthermore, the more acceptable a war is to the populace of the attacking country, by way of making it look like an arcade game, the less acceptable it will be to the people on the receiving end of the crossfire who have their houses blown up with their children inside, have surviving relatives who were previously ambivalent about jihadism, and who don't have their grief paraded on a continuous loop on Fox 'News.' I wonder how many moderate people the US has managed to radicalize since this unpro

    • by vlm (69642)

      I'd say relying on robots rather than having our troops shot at and bombed is a GOOD thing.

      I think you are assuming they'd be on the aggressors side, and only they could have robots, rather than being on the victims side? Not so good to be on the human victims side if the aggressor side has absolutely no chance of injury or death.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by johnsonav (1098915)

        Not so good to be on the human victims side if the aggressor side has absolutely no chance of injury or death.

        If the "aggressor" has no chance of injury or death, what's the point in resisting?

        In the face of overwhelming military superiority (a virtually unlimited supply of kill-bots, operated by people safely located thousands of miles away), there is no fight. And, with no fight, there are no casualties on either side.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by osu-neko (2604)

          If the "aggressor" has no chance of injury or death, what's the point in resisting?

          In the face of overwhelming military superiority (a virtually unlimited supply of kill-bots, operated by people safely located thousands of miles away), there is no fight. And, with no fight, there are no casualties on either side.

          ...

          Given the evidence of the last two decades, I must say this might be the single more stupid statement I've ever seen posted.

          Your enemies don't care about your overwhelming military superiority. And they know you're fooling yourself if you think there's no chance of injury or death on your side. Your people sitting in bunkers operating drones may not be killed or injured, but their kids at the shopping mall will die just as easily as ever when the bomb goes off.

          • Your people sitting in bunkers operating drones may not be killed or injured, but their kids at the shopping mall will die just as easily as ever when the bomb goes off.

            For every 1 American who dies in Iraq, at least 100 Iraqis die. That's about as lopsided a casualty count as you can get in a war (without robots). Where are these shopping mall bombings in the US today? And, why do you think there will be any more when the ratio improves to 100:0?

            • by vlm (69642)

              Where are these shopping mall bombings in the US today?

              You're not supposed to think those thoughts, citizen... its forbidden to think how a country with legendarily wide open borders has had only one real terror attack by foreigners (as opposed to our own home grown turrists). That kind of thinking leads to "911 truthers" type of thinking about false flag events... Will get you ostracized.

              Our job, as patriotic consumers, is to follow the governments orders to kill the people whom don't attack us, best not forget that.

    • by sckeener (137243)
      Nah, not 'a taste of armageddon'....more like 'wargames'. 'Do you want to play a game?' I bet at some point some hacker will create a real zombie bots of real military equipment. Some highschool student will think it is really funny to nuke Las Vegas. ;) PS. nuclear hand grenades also become viable once you realize it'll be a robot arm throwing it.
    • Re:Skynet (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sgt_doom (655561) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:23PM (#28283729)

      Gee, mcgrew, as an Air Force veteran myself (and a combat vet and a USMC vet), everytime I hear about a wedding party obliterated and red misted in Afghanistan (and it's happened frequently) I am terribly sickened by any further clowns and their plans & predictions from the Brookings Institute (they've certainly done enough damage during their existence).

      It further sickens me to realize few of the blithering idiots who refer to themselves as Americans comprehend that Brzezinksi, the national security advisor under Carter, was responsible for beginning the strategic doctrine which turned a secular Afghanistan into a fundamentalist Islamic enclave (read his memoirs for the details). I browsed the Wired for War - as I refuse to spend money on any senior fellows at any of these 'tutes and foundations which do so much social engineering in the USA, and elsewhere - and wouldn't recommend it.

      • How should people become involved and participate in steering this kind of thing if not through something like this? Or are you saying it is all inevitable and we should just ignore it?

        I think Singer looks at all the sides, and this may be troublesome to people who only want to look at this from a single point of view. But in the end he's providing a ton of necessary information and guiding the reader towards necessary questions.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by mcgrew (92797)

        I have to agree with you, Sarge. But there are wedding parties bombed by manned planes, too. There was a fiasco last year (maybe it was the year before) where a National Guard unit from here in Springfield bombed a squad of Canadian soldiers. You of all people should know that war is never without accident, and in war, accidents are horrible.

        It seems that a predator, remotely manned and flying low, has less of a chance of causing colatteral damage than a manned plane traveling at several thousand feet up.

        An

  • rock or a UAV (Score:5, Insightful)

    by internerdj (1319281) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:50PM (#28283227)
    Do the ethics or morality of killing people change because of the tool?
    • This was asked about nuclear weapons.

      How about we build some weapons that aren't supposed to kill, just maim. Do the ethics change?

      Quick answer. Yes.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tcopeland (32225)

        > This was asked about nuclear weapons.

        We (Western cultures) have developed strong taboos around certain weapons classes - e.g., nuclear/bio/chem. I think a troubling question is "what happens when we come up against an enemy that doesn't have these taboos?"

        • And yet it is only ever been a Western country that has used nukes on people.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by tcopeland (32225)

            > And yet it is only ever been a Western country that has used nukes on people.

            Yup. That was before those taboos were developed, since the weapons had just been created.

            A more troubling NBC usage (since it's more recent) is Iran vs Iraq, where chem weapons were a standard weapon. I bet you that's what folks in Israel are more concerned about too.

            • And yet despite all the years of claims that some non-western country that supposedly has no taboos about using nukes, not a single of them have actually used them.

              A more troubling NBC usage (since it's more recent) is Iran vs Iraq, where chem weapons were a standard weapon.

              Even more troubling since it was the US that supplied both sides with those chemical weapons.

              • Only Iraq used chemical weapons in that war. I don't think the Iranians even had any.

              • And yet despite all the years of claims that some non-western country that supposedly has no taboos about using nukes, not a single of them have actually used them.

                That's because there's no such thing as a taboo against using certain weapons. Countries simply recognize that it would not be in their best interest to use them.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by stoolpigeon (454276) *

            That's how the taboo comes into existence. Once a type of weapons system is developed it only becomes a question of time before it is deployed.

        • Re:rock or a UAV (Score:4, Informative)

          by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:28PM (#28283805)
          Already happened. The former Soviets had a published doctrine that if attacked by any nuclear weapons, they would go all out and launch the ICBMs. But they were developing and deploying (?) chemical weapons. The US published doctrine was to have tactical nuclear weapons available, but we would not deploy chemical weapons.

          So, if it came down to a land war in Europe, and the Soviets launched chemical weapons, our commanders had no choice, but to use tach nukes. They would then launch the ICBMs, the US would launch its ICBMs and send the bombers, and WWIII would be over in 30 minutes.

          The MAD doctrine was insane, but it kept chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons from being used.

          As far as taboos against certain weapons. They don't exist. The biggest reason we don't use any particular weapon is that it won't accomplish its objective. Bio is hard to deploy and slow, Chem has a tendency to blow back in your face, and Nuclear is hard to clean up after. Bullets and bombs are quick, to the point, and relatively easy to clean up.
          • I watched a documentary as a kid, don't remember the name, that posited that a full out NATO vs. USSR fight in Europe would go nuclear in short order. Their rationale was that due to the maintenance needs and lethality of what was available at the time, that rather quickly one side would start to lose. This would leave the losing side with no option but to go with their last resort.

    • I would say yes. There are issues that arise with more complicated killing machines that don't exist in the rock equation. Though I would say even with the rock, there are many complicated questions because human activity never happens in a vacuum. But as the chain of events and number of people involved in the taking of a life grows then new considerations come into the mix. For example with the rock - there is no programmer back home with some level of complicity in the use of the rock.

    • Re:rock or a UAV (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bughunter (10093) <bughunter&earthlink,net> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:01PM (#28283381) Journal

      No, not in your example. Not as long as it still requires a willful act of a human to take another human's life.

      I help build one of the most heavily used UAVs in the US Military, and when it was proposed we put a weapon system on board, I had to consider my ethical position. The question boiled down to the issue in the first paragraph: will the person pulling the trigger be in control, or will it be an indiscriminate killing machine?

      The answer to this question is different for a missile than it is for, say, a cluster munition or a land mine... or a nuclear weapon.

      I have no problem building a weapon that retains operator control over the targeting. I will not build something that discharges automatically, or which has such a large area of effect that collateral casualties are unavoidable, or that will be used against civilian targets.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vlm (69642)

        I will not build something that .... will be used against civilian targets

        How did you build that into your UAV? Even in theory, I can't imagine how that could be designed. Magic?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bughunter (10093)

          Sorry - hasty choice of words. I should have more accurately written "intended for use against civilian targets" - e.g., a strategic weapon.

          We don't build decision-making into UAVs. Nobody does. They're waldoes, remotely piloted at all times. The "skynet" scenario is a SF cliche, made joke, now becoming a scare tactic. It's a cliche, nothing more. If you believe otherwise, you're woefully ignorant about how they work and how they're made.

      • hate to break this little bubble of yours ... but couldn't resist the temptation:

        http://uniorb.com/RCHECK/drone.htm [uniorb.com]

      • The question boiled down to the issue in the first paragraph: will the person pulling the trigger be in control, or will it be an indiscriminate killing machine?

        Unfortunately, in cases where there is ambiguity or uncertainty about what is being shot at, most people will assume what they are comfortable to believe. So, as a hypothetical example, I would be pretty uncomfortable about a system that had a radar and a weapon on board for use through fog. Because of the way information is compartmentalized for security reasons, and people protect themselves own team by covering up embarrassing mistakes, I don't think it very likely that the use of such a weapon would b

    • If America could go forth and kill people at little cost in lives or money using robots, do you think Americans would care as much?

    • by MrMista_B (891430)

      Yes.

      Killing someone by drowning them in acid, spraying them with a chemical that melts their lungs, or other such, I personally would consider more immoral than a simple bullet to the head.

    • That seems to be the popular convention.

      We frown on the use of white phosphorous. Several other chemical weapons. Bullet placement by snipers is intended to leave little opportunity for recovery by the target, but it took us forever to get SMK bullets approved, because it was thought to fraqment excessively.

    • Do the ethics or morality of killing people change because of the tool?

      probably not, but in the politician's eyes, dying makes it different. If you are not taking casualties, you are much more likely to get involved in "the continuation of politics by other means".
      Then again, the very big groundswell against the robots' ability to do mass killing is also encouraging risk taking. after all, if no friendly gets killed, and no enemy gets killed either, the appetite for using force is greatly enhanced. Do remember that WWI came after a big period of relatively small and contain

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @01:54PM (#28283275)

    "I like being butcher, you know exactly who you are killing. And why." - Boris the Butcher.

    War is hell, but soldiers know what they're signing up for. It's the civilians I'm concerned about.

    Will robots take away any responsibility or accountability for war crimes or atrocities? When 20 people are wiped out by a "robot malfunction", is it any less heinous? Who is held responsible in these cases, the manufacturer, the operator, who?

  • It's true (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.

  • We already seen several movies were infiltration with lower technology ended using weapons against their builders. Ok, Independence Day alien mainframe hacking could not count as credible, but hacking Terminators is pretty close to what is proposed here. And no matter which hard crypto technology they put into... the human factor is still there (and no, you don't want to put machines at helm)
  • very cool tech (Score:4, Informative)

    by trybywrench (584843) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:00PM (#28283353)
    I worked on some of the technology back in college in the late 90's. I was part of a lab that participated in an international competition that was designed to further autonomous aerial vehicle tech. One year after the competition we were invited to a military symposium and got to see the real stuff. I remember something like the predator was there but called something else. There were a handful of other aerial vehicles but i guess the predator thing won out in the end.

    A couple of semesters ago I went back to school to finish my CS degree and started working in the same old lab from the 90's. Sensors and things had vastly improved and the bulk of the work was now being done on computer vision instead of autonomous flying. The aerospace engineer ace in the lab was planning to work for General Atomics, i'm guessing on the predator, after he finished up his degree. I worked on a target recognition and tracking system using the OpenCV library up until I formally graduated.

    It's really interesting stuff and I considered entering the field but I already have about 9 years in the healthcare industry and I can't bring myself to stop capitalizing on all my specialized healthcare knowledge.
  • More on info warfare (Score:3, Informative)

    by tcopeland (32225) <tom@tho m a s l e e c o p e land.com> on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:00PM (#28283379) Homepage

    Colin Gray's Another Bloody Century [amazon.com] talks about the information warfare side of things and concludes that despite the hype, it's not a huge deal yet. He also talks about the inevitability of space warfare. It's a good book and after reading it you can why he made it onto the Air Force reading list [militarypr...glists.com] (albeit with another book, "Modern Strategy").

    It must be strange times to be in the Air Force - I read somewhere that the USAF turned out more unmanned than manned aircraft last year. Seems like a sea-change for them; something along the same lines as converting from the "big bomber carrying nukes" role.

  • That's weird, I'm currently working on an asynchronous distributed network of satellites which can be used coordinate the efforts of robotic forces and adapt to an enemy's tactics.

    While it's in its early stages, we're just calling it Skynet--not having anything better to call it. We'll change the name once it's ready to go live.

    -John Connor

  • Won't Win Wars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:09PM (#28283517) Journal
    Wars are won on the ground, and not by killing people. You kill the army trying to kill you, but everyone else you co-opt through good deeds done for compassionate reasons.

    When you DON'T do that the results are obvious.

    Germany: won. We destroyed the army, roughed up the citizens for being a bunch of nasty losers, and then set about making them BFFs.

    Vietnam: Lost. We blasted the NVA, turned the VC into terrorists, ruined the food supply, killed the citizenry, treated them like dirt, carpet bombed the place, and generally acted like a belligerent bunch of assholes.

    Iraq: draw. We destroyed the army, and then sat on our hands as the country fell apart, causing great immiseration of the citizenry. We handed over the meatiest stuff to political cronies. After several years of clear failure, Iraq is now a marginal state whose future is up for grabs.

    Afghanistan: lost. We went into afghanistan. Fail. No one wins in afghanistan. Afghanistan is where empires go to die. Alexander the Great, the British,the Russians, now the USA. Afghanistan is not winnable, no matter how nice you are to anyone there. The way you be nice to these people is to leave them the fuck alone and let them stew in their own pathetic juices.

    RS

    • by tcopeland (32225)

      > No one wins in afghanistan. [... ]
      > The way you be nice to these people is to leave them the fuck alone
      > and let them stew in their own pathetic juices.

      I think we're trying to choose the "least bad" option by fighting in Afghanistan. The problem is that Al-Qaeda will use that safe haven to regroup, buy (or be given) a nuke, and move it into Seattle via a container ship. Combat in Afghanistan isn't what anyone wants to do, but it's what we're doing to follow the threat.

      • It comes down to treasure. You can not win a wired war against the wireless. People have been writing variations of this crap ever since the first crossbow was invented. Nothing has significantly changed.

        No, it cost them literally a few dollars and perhaps as much as the lives of one or two of their people to win a battle (i.e. road side bomb, blowing up hotel, crashing an airplane ). It cost us billions of dollars in hardware and manpower, and often hundreds of both military and civilian lives just to stop

    • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @04:56PM (#28286085)

      Iraq: draw. We destroyed the army, and then sat on our hands as the country fell apart, causing great immiseration of the citizenry. We handed over the meatiest stuff to political cronies. After several years of clear failure, Iraq is now a marginal state whose future is up for grabs.

      A draw? I think when viewed from the top of the pyramid, the state of Iraq as we see it today was always the desired result. --Actually, I'd say that every one of the wars you outline was a roaring success from the organizer's standpoint. Tons of money shifted from the public purse into private holdings, and lots of fear and chaos resulted; the perfect environment for the psychopath to expand and entrench its world view within the popular collective mental environment we all have to live in.

      Politicians and industrialists like war, but regular people only pick up arms after significant mind conditioning has taken place. --After all, regular Joes are the ones getting their limbs shot off for their trouble. All the little Bushies and Daddy Warbucks' don't risk a damned thing.

      As such, I think you might be making the common mistake of believing that the stated objectives as they appear in the propaganda are in fact the REAL objectives. --But once that little cognitive snag gets straightened out, the world suddenly makes a lot more sense to the observer.

      -FL

  • (Wasn't this book reviewed once before on Slashdot?)

    That book is all about the previous generation of military robots. Take a look at the next generation:

    • The Legged Squad Support System. [wikipedia.org] This is the next generation of "Big Dog" - fully militarized, no more annoying two-cycle engine noise, stronger, faster, more range, about the same size. This isn't even considered a research project; it's on the weapons deployment track.
    • The Multi-Robot Pursuit System. [newscientist.com] Packs of robots to hunt down uncooperative
    • Singer deals with these and a lot of other stuff that is pretty far out there - he does not only deal with current and past tech. Maybe I wasn't clear about that. He does a pretty good job discussing the whole swarm idea and what it could mean. And he very much deals with what this means in terms of China and India.

    • They do... who do you think makes all the parts for US robots.

      If we ever go to war with China we are SCREWED... no replacement parts :)

      Unless we start making them in mexico...

  • Come on boys (and girl?), this is about remote controlled ucav's mostly, we are nowhere near to build even a dumb robot / computer system, let alone an abstracting intelligent one.

    Not back to topic: robotics aided <strike>murder</strike> homeland defence is an interesting technology, but form a law standpoint the question is still: who pressed the button(s).
    • Check this out: "Robot Cannon Kills 9, Wounds 14" http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2007/10/robot-cannon-ki/ [wired.com]
      Systems like these aren't very intelligent, but that's the problem.

      Robot killing machines are already here. The DMZ in Korea has automatic fire weapons. The person who "Pushed The Button", is whoever walked into the zone of fire.
    • by CompMD (522020)

      "we are nowhere near to build even a dumb robot / computer system"

      I urge you to research the TALON/SWORDS robot and weapons platform. I was one of the engineers who worked on prototyping autonomous guidance and navigation for it using LIDAR, SONAR, GPS, and INS. In the six months or so we spent coming up with a proof-of-concept system, we had a TALON climbing/descending stairs and navigating around obstacles by itself. This was late 2005 to mid 2006.

  • War is about a political issue solved through the use of force. A limitation on wars is the perceived politcial costs among your own population. (I.E. dead soldiers mean problems at home with political support)

    If you remove the human costs you also remove the politcial costs. So in essence a roboticized military will probably encourage wars....

    • Yes, this is a real danger. Most people only care about a war if they see a cost, usually in lives, and under no circumstances should war be without cost.

      When war has a drawback people avoid it, they are hesitant to participate and it doesn't last very long. This is desirable.

      This is why I think any president who declares war should be forced to serve along side troops. So long as he thinks it's worth while for him to be there, so should the troops be. If he isn't willing to put himself in danger for whatev

  • by shadowofwind (1209890) on Wednesday June 10, 2009 @02:29PM (#28283821)

    I see the introduction of robotic weapons to be a dangerous and ominous development. When you kill someone face to face, you experience it more directly, and you put yourself more directly at risk. When you use tools to kill from a distance, the risks are less obvious and wrongs are easier to deny. Was aerial bombing of cities in WW II a good development? The consensus seems to be that it was, but I'm not sure. And at least then there were men in the aircraft. Now a president can order an unmanned attack on a group of terrorists, or a wedding party as the case may be, at very little political risk, since there is no pilot to be captured or killed. And the scale of this sort of thing will become much, much larger. Of course a lot of such developments are inevitable, particularly once the genie is out of the bottle, but we do have some ability to change our trajectory a little bit.

    The Skynet disaster won't happen, because computers aren't even remotely close to dangerous intelligence. But something similar could happen with men at the helm, using the technology to maintain their lifestyle at everyone else's expense. How long before some really strong countries start using nuclear weapons and unmanned surveillance and delivery systems to extort wealth from less powerful nations? I mean more overtly than happens currently? I think it will happen, not far in the future probably.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Shihar (153932)

      There is a flip side to pulling humans farther back from the killing. While yes, you don't have to put a gun in someone's face and pull the trigger physically and this might cause detachment, consider the much more common scenario. We tend to sensationalize when soldiers go nuts and kill civilians needlessly. What we miss is that these incidents are very very rare and account for only the thinest fraction of civilian casualties. Far more often what happens when civilians die is that a small squad of men

    • by vertinox (846076)

      When you kill someone face to face, you experience it more directly, and you put yourself more directly at risk. When you use tools to kill from a distance, the risks are less obvious and wrongs are easier to deny.

      World War I just sent a telegram and tells you are 95 years late but it wants you to keep the poisonous gas, machine guns, and 10km range artillery.

      They've had enough as it is.

  • Is that Japan's going to win any war based on giant robots.

    • I know you are kidding but Singer quotes an expert in the book who thinks Japan will gain a huge amount of influence globally due to the coming importance of robotics.

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