Monday, January 26, 2009

Something Someone Else Said

"The reality is that the human location “in the loop” is already becoming, as retired Army colonel Thomas Adams notes, that of “a supervisor who serves in a fail- safe capacity in the event of a system malfunction.” Even then, he thinks that the speed, confusion, and information overload of modern-day war will soon move the whole process outside “human space.” He describes how the coming weapons “will be too fast, too small, too numerous, and will create an environment too complex for humans to direct.” As Adams concludes, the new technologies “are rapidly taking us to a place where we may not want to go, but probably are unable to avoid.”

The irony is that for all the claims by military, political, and scientific leaders that “humans will always be in the loop,” as far back as 2004 the U.S. Army was carrying out research that demonstrated the merits of armed ground robots equipped with a “quick-draw response.” Similarly, a 2006 study by the Defense Safety Working Group, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, discussed how the concerns over potential killer robots could be allayed by giving “armed autonomous systems” permission to “shoot to destroy hostile weapons systems but not suspected combatants.” That is, they could shoot at tanks and jeeps, just not the people in them. Perhaps most telling is a report that the Joint Forces Command drew up in 2005, which suggested that autonomous robots on the battlefield would be the norm within 20 years. Its title is somewhat amusing, given the official line one usually hears: Unmanned Effects: Taking the Human Out of the Loop.

So, despite what one article called “all the lip service paid to keeping a human in the loop,” auton­omous armed robots are coming to war. They simply make too much sense to the people who matter." -P. W. Singer, The Wilson Quarterly

(via The Daily Dish)


Van Zan said...

There are two brilliant science fiction novels that deal with war in extreme extrapolation. One is called Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card which I believe Wolfgang Peterson is developing as a film currently; and The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.. an allegory of Vietnam and one of my all-time favorite books, and last I heard Ridley Scott has designs on that.

In both stories "the soldier" is not chosen for qualities as they are in normal circumstances today... those being in general physical fitness, social adaptability, technical and leadership skills. Rather they are drafted for obscure and extraordinary intellectual capabilities. In the case of Ender's Game the soldiers are actually children, and sims are indistinguishable from actual combat.

I don't see concerns over killer robots ever being allayed by some Asimovian rules of conduct, at least not in our global culture of Frankenstein fears and generations of belief that our soldiers are "of us", and demand our sympathetic respect. One wonders if a future Lord Nelson or Heinz Guderian may indeed turn out to be an ubergeek winner of a video game tournament in Seoul, however.

JBW said...

I read The Forever War in college and I've seen Ender's Game in book stores for years but I've never picked it up. I'll do so on your recommendation, VZ.

Anonymous said...

and don't forget Prey.


JBW said...

I had that one specifically in mind when I posted the quote, PK.