|Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century
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A military expert reveals how science fiction is fast becoming reality on the battlefield, changing not just how wars are fought, but also the politics, economics, laws, and ethics that surround war itself
P. W. Singer?s previous two books foretold the rise of private military contractors and the advent of child soldiers? predictions that proved all too accurate. Now, he explores the greatest revolution in military affairs since the atom bomb?the advent of robotic warfare.
We are just beginning to see a massive shift in military technology that threatens to make the stuff of I,Robot and the Terminator all too real. More than seven- thousand robotic systems are now in Iraq. Pilots in Nevada are remotely killing terrorists in Afghanistan. Scientists are debating just how smart?and how lethal?to make their current robotic prototypes. And many of the most renowned science fiction authors are secretly consulting for the Pentagon on the next generation.
Blending historic evidence with interviews from the field, Singer vividly shows that as these technologies multiply, they will have profound effects on the front lines as well as on the politics back home. Moving humans off the battlefield makes wars easier to start, but more complex to fight. Replacing men with machines may save some lives, but will lower the morale and psychological barriers to killing. The ?warrior ethos,? which has long defined soldiers? identity, will erode, as will the laws of war that have governed military conflict for generations.
Paradoxically, these new technologies will also bring war to our doorstep. As other nations and even terrorist organizations start to build or buy their own robotic weapons, the robot revolution could undermine America?s military preeminence. While his analysis is unnerving, there?s an irresistible gee-whiz quality to the innovations Singer uncovers. Wired for War travels from Iraq to see these robots in combat to the latter-day ?skunk works? in America?s suburbia, where tomorrow?s technologies of war are quietly being designed. In Singer?s hands, the future of war is as fascinating as it is frightening.
- Making war impersonal
This frightening and funny book helped me understand the future of war in all its technological splendor. What was once the stuff of science fiction, such as machines thinking for themselves, is now our military's reality.
Unfortunately, as Isaac Asimov quotes in Wired for War: "The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."
The military began using robots primarily to fill the "Three D" roles people were poor at: jobs that were Dull, Dirty or Dangerous. Unmanned systems "don't need to sleep, don't need to eat, and find monitoring empty desert sands as exciting as partying at the Playboy mansion." The use of unmanned systems has exploded, especially since the attacks of September 11. As one U.S. Navy researcher puts it: "The robot is our answer to the suicide bomber."
I heard an NPR interview with the author, and what struck me most was his description of how impersonal war has become. Almost like playing video games, people here in the states can launch missiles and cause all kinds of mayhem on battlefields overseas, untouched by all the messiness of being on site. Singer reveals the disdain combat troops sometimes have for these faraway operators, even though they are on the same side.
All sorts of pop culture references are woven through the book, including The Iron Giant, The Matrix, Night of the Living Dead, Predator, Star Wars, The Terminator, Total Recall, Wall-E and the Nintendo Wii. There is also a glossy-page insert of 32 black and white photographs.
The book poses provocative ethical questions about the new trend of one-step-removed killing. I'll be thinking about this one for a long time.
Here's the chapter list:
Author's Note: Why a Book on Robots and War?
Part One: The Change We Are Creating
1. Introduction: Scenes from a Robot War
2. Smart Bombs, Norma Jeane, and Defecating Ducks: A Short History of Robotics
3. Robotics for Dummies
4. To Infinity and Beyond: The Power of Exponential Trends
5. Coming Soon to a Battlefield Near You: The Next Wave of Warbots
6. Always in the Loop? The Arming and Autonomy of Robots
7. Robotic Gods: Our Machine Creators
8. What Inspires Them: Science Fiction's Impact on Science Reality
9. The Refuseniks: The Roboticists Who Just Say No
Part Two: What Change is Creating For Us
10. The Big Cebrowski and the Real RMA: Thinking About Revolutionary Techniques
11. "Advanced" Warfare: How We Might Fight With Robots
12. Robots That Don't Like Apple Pi: How the U.S. Could Lose the Unmanned Revolution
13. Open-Source Warfare: College Kids, Terrorists, and Other New Users of Robots at War
14. Losers and Luddites: The Changing Battlefields Robots Will Fight On and the New Electronic Sparks of War
15. The Psychology of Warbots
16. YouTube War: The Public and Its Unmanned Wars
17. Changing the Experience of War and the Warrior
18. Command and Control... Alt-Delete: New Technologies and Their Effect on Leadership
19. Who Let You in the War? Technology and the New Demographics of Conflict
20. Digitizing the Laws of War and Other Issues of (Un)Human Rights
21. A Robot Revolt? Talking About Robot Ethics
22. Conclusion: The Duality of Robots and Humans...more info
- A Look at the Future
Wired for War does a great job of capturing the state of robotics in warfare today and the direction we may head in the future. The ethical issues that Mr. Singer brings up are of particular interest. He also touches on the cultural differences affecting the use of robotics. When casualties are caused by friendly fire controlled from the other side of the globe it is not the same as when the operator is also at physical risk. These issues are of especially important today as we fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military pilots should definitely take a look at the book as it paints an interesting future for them....more info
- Provocative: Very good, almost great
But not quite great, and that's why it ultimately gets 4 stars, not 5, on a book I'd love to be able to half-star rate. But, since it has plenty of 5-star ratings, it doesn't need that.
First, what this book fortunately is NOT (contra wet dreams of geek 1- and 2-star reviewers): It isn't a book about the electronics or programming details of individual military robots. If it were, except for those few reviewers, about nobody would touch this book.
Instead, it's an insightful, theoretical, and even, if I may say, philosophical look at potential war futures for the United States in its use of robotics.
Singer takes a good look at today's robots, from ground-based ones that search out and defuse IEDs to Predators and other unmanned drone aircraft. From there, and the amount of growth in military robotics since the invasion of Afghanistan, combined with Moore's law and some other simple ideas from the world of artificial intelligence, he makes some predictions for the future.
From there, he gets more philosophical. Will this change the ethos of the military? Flatten layers of command? Flatten, or intermix more, strategy and tactics?
He then gives people from the most optimistic about the future of robots, Mr. Singularity, Ray Kurzweil, to pessimists, their say about whether robotics will make future wars more or less likely, and their effects on human nature, personal relations, etc.
But, Singer doesn't show his own cards at any point, and that's why I don't 5-star the book.
He nowhere says what HE thinks this means for the future of war, of militaries, of the ranks vs. officers.
Secondly, though he interviews a couple of Chinese colonels, I think he fails to devote enough to technology in warfare in other countries. The only other state actor he considers seriously is China, and even there, doesn't talk too much. And, where's Russia? Non-state actors get a few speculative thoughts and that's it.
So, it's stimulating, but comes up somewhat short.
Still a good read, but not quite a great one....more info
- Starts out very strong, then wears down the reader
I just knew I had to read this book after seeing an interview with the author shortly before the release date. If nothing else, it is very thoroughly researched and meticulously written. Pretty much every issue you can think of that is even remotely related to technology and warfare is covered. And while I enjoyed the first half of the book, it became apparent early on that this is one seriously looooooooooong book. Not only is it nearly 450 pages, but it uses a small font to cram as much as possible on each page.
What I'm getting at is that this book simply contains too much information. As well written as it is, after a while it simply wore me down. I took a break after about page 220 to read another book, but when I returned to this one I found it difficult to get interested again because by that point the book had started to drift quite a bit. For the next 100 or so pages I felt like the author strayed much too far from his original topic. I understand that it's a complex issue, but at some point you have to know when to call it a day. If a book becomes a chore to read, that's a good sign in my opinion that a lot of fat should have been trimmed out.
A big part of the problem is that the book addresses quite a few issues that are at most only tangentially related to the central them, and are not nearly as well researched as other parts of the book. For instance, when the author discusses poverty and people who resist technology, the arguments are specious at best. I found a large chunk of the book to suffer from the same problem.
If the author had narrowed his focus and shortened the book by a good 150 pages (and maybe even more), I think this would have been a great read. Unfortunately it eventually collapses under its own weight after a promising start....more info
- Very Impressive!
We're on the edge of the dawn of robotic warfare, says author Singer. Over 12,000 robotic systems are believed to be deployed in Iraq at this time, pilots in Nevada are remotely killing terrorists in Afghanistan, and many renowned science fiction authors are consulting for the Pentagon on thinking about the next generation of warfare robots.
Singer also looks into the future of moving humans off the battlefield - forecasting this will make wars easier to start, but more complex to fight.
He then describes several robotic tools and weapons now in use. PackBot weighs 42 lbs., costs $150,000, and is about the size of a lawn mower. It's being used in Iraq to examine and disable IEDs. Talon is another, similar system made by a competitor. SWORDS is a remote-controlled firing platform ($230,000) that is MUCH more accurate than even snipers, and can remain hidden in "sleep" mode for at least 7 days before going into action.
MARCBOTS ($5,000) scout out where enemy troops might be, and can search under vehicles; Singer reports on one unit's having modified the system to "deliver" Claymore mines to hidden insurgents. (Is hard on the MARCBOTS, but at $5,000 - nobody's complaining.)
Predator drones are probably the best known robotic aids now being used - they can spend up to 24 hours in the air, cost about $4.5 million (vs. an F-22 at $380 million+). Current Predators provide both day and night vision, radar, and Hellfire missiles. The Global Hawk drone ($35 million) can stay up 35 hours and fly at 60,000 feet, and almost conduct an entire mission on its own.
Finally, Singer writes of the Raven - a 38" drone weighing 4 lbs. and flown by ground units in their own support. Ordinary soldiers quickly learn to operate these - in one unit the pest "pilot" was the unit cook!...more info
- Excellent Journalism - But Much Remains to be Done
Like many others, I came to this book via Terry Gross and "Fresh Air." Her January 22, 2009 interview with the book's author, P. W. Singer, is available on the NPR web site for online listening, and I encourage those interested in "Wired for War" to look it up. Although this book focuses on the military, I recommend it to anyone with an interest in technology and how it is shaping our contemporary world.
Singer provides a lively and wide-ranging overview of the burgeoning robotics field, which appears poised to revolutionize many aspects of our lives, just as the kindred fields of computer and network technologies already have. The book's primary concern is the military's use of this new technology, but its influence on civilian life is never lost sight of. One of the issues touched upon by Singer, for instance, is how the rapid growth in the use of remotely operated vehicles is beginning to blur the traditional distinction between being a soldier (someone willing to place himself or herself in harm's way) and being a civilian.
Although this book is a superb piece of journalistic writing, my reservations concern its level of scholarship. Singer's writing is full of interesting stories and examples that are drawn from a wide variety of sources, including popular culture and science fiction. While this makes for enjoyable reading, I find myself thinking that perhaps it mirrors too closely the casual nature of our information era. Google, e-mail, instant messaging, YouTube, and cell phones, for example, put everything and everyone at our fingertips. Yet this information world, despite its enormous breadth, has its limitations. While Singer's journalism makes the world of robotics come alive for us, a scholarly text should also provide a deeper context to help us better understand the meaning of these things.
My nagging sense that Singer's book lacks this kind of depth was driven home for me when I ran across his mistaken attribution to Nietzsche of Sartre's "Hell is other people." Perhaps, it no longer matters to most of us who uttered this idea; however, I think it is important that we recognize the danger of clich¨¦s substituting for real knowledge.
Singer's book is an excellent first report on technological trends and developments that likely will reshape our lives in the near future. In fact, as Singer diligently chronicles for us, the changes are already underway. Singer recognizes that our robotic future is forcing many novel and unexpected moral issues upon us, and he wants to get the public thinking about these issues. This book is written in a style that will appeal to many readers and raises interesting questions to set this process in motion. ...more info
- Excellent Read!!!!!
Truly an eye-opening book. Singer clearly and interestingly introduces the concepts of robotics and autonomous robotics, and at the same time makes it easy to understand why the military has, is, and will continue to be the key driving force behind innovation and development in the arena.
The book then delves into providing a more rich understanding of how the inventions are being applied, and why. The most startling direction of the book is in its final chapters - when Singer proposes insight to the military theater and how it will change - and thereby change the whole concept of modern war - much along the lines of what we are seeing today in the middle east conflicts, and the impact of robotics based forces and strategies.
This book did a captivating job of engaging me (an engineer, businessman, and devotee of the human mind's capabilities) in what many would consider an extremely dry topic....more info
- JohnHawley El Paso, Texas
I work as an engineering psychologist in a U.S. Army organization that is in the forefront of R&D on military robotics and automated command and control systems. Hence, I read P.J. Sanger's Wired for War with considerable interest. I can relate to much of his discussion on an experiential basis. We routinely encounter and try to provide solutions for many of the problems Sanger discusses. As a point of interest, I was the technical lead on an Army effort looking at human performance contributors to the fratricides by the Patriot air defense missile system during the recent Gulf War mentioned on page 125. As is usually the case in a casual summary of complex events, Sanger's description of these events is superficially accurate, but there is a lot more to the story. Also, I've been told that his remark on page 197 about the radar on the DIVAD gun locking onto the exhaust fan of a port-a-potty is an urban legend. I've heard about this alleged incident, but I've never been able to find anyone in the Army air defense community who ever witnessed it personally. We work tests on that class of systems all the time, so we know the players.
Overall, I thought Sanger did a good job of describing the state of the art in robotic military systems and addressing the potential sociological and psychological impact of using these systems in current and future military operations. From my perspective, the central operational issue in using armed robotic systems in combat is balancing autonomy with effective human control (the focus of Sanger's Chapter 6.). In my view, he correctly refers to this topic as the "Issue-That-Must-Not-Be-Discussed." I was particularly struck by the difference between the attitude of those having the most on-the-ground experience with these systems (e.g. Robert Quinn's remark on page 124 that he can't even imagine how unmanned systems would "ever be able to autonomously fire their weapons.") and the almost casual attitude on this subject expressed by many of the decision makers we deal with daily. Their attitude is best summarized by the remark attributed to an unnamed former secretary of the army who responded "No" when asked if he could identify any challenges that the greater use of unmanned systems would bring to the military.
The reality associated with greater autonomy on the part of armed robotic systems is that there will likely be many more "oops moments" (Sanger's page 196) than are politically and operationally tolerable. Based on our assessment of the Patriot fratricides during the recent Gulf War, these incidents were an example of an oops moment on the part of an armed robotic system. If the past is any indicator of the future, such incidents will result in initial "surprise" and "shock" on the part of the leadership that these advanced systems behaved thusly, followed by the imposition of restrictive rules of engagements that effectively take the offending system out of the fight. Sanger is correct that we need a more realistic assessment by those in policy-making jobs of the potential problems associated with the use of armed, autonomous robotic systems in actual combat--but I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen.
Armed robotic systems will be fielded. They will be allowed to operate autonomously. Oops moments will occur. And unpleasant fallout and scapegoating will take place in the aftermath of such incidents. The issue of control in accord with human intent versus the illusion of control is complex and will not easily be solved. Software glitches aside, oops moments will mostly result from what Dave Woods of Ohio State University terms the "brittleness problem of automata:" An inability to satisfactorily handle unusual or ambiguous situations. I fear that the "Strong AI" necessary to satisfactorily address the brittleness problem will remain tantalizingly just over the technical horizon for some time to come.
- The Changing Facets of Warfare
No matter how one might imagine warfare might change since armies wore different uniforms, even the most far-out thinking may turn out to be too conservative. This book is a must-read for everyone who has a serious interest in the current and future conflicts in this world. ...more info
- A wide-ranging exploration of a subject of the utmost importance
I've been engaged in a reading project touching upon many aspects of robots and artificial people. After hearing Mr. Singer on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I immediately ordered a copy of this book. Singer is more concerned to bring to light the many, many aspects of using robots and unmanned vehicles in war than in making final conclusions and policy recommendations, but given the relative unfamiliarity most people have with the way they are actually being employed NOW in conflict, this is just as well.
It has to be stressed that this is not a book about how robots and unmanned weapons might possibly be used in war, though there is consideration of how it might develop further in the future. The book, rather, is concerned with how they are being used now, this very second, in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine and, through the use of the Global Hawk spy drones, all over the planet. Some of the individuals Singer interviewed speculate about how things might develop in the future, but for the most the book focuses on weapons systems actually in place and being used. The age of robotized war does not lie somewhere in the future, but has already started. I was vaguely aware that Predator drones were being used in combat, but I had no idea of precisely how many nor how many had been armed. There are thousands upon thousands of Predators, Global Hawks, Packbots, Ravens, CRAMs, Fire Scout helicopters, Swords, and Talons already in use in the Middle East, and the only reason there aren't more is because the companies -- like iRobot, which is perhaps better known for making the Roomba vacuum cleaner -- can't make them any faster. And this doesn't even include unmanned planes like the Boeing X-45, which performed better than the joint strike fighter currently under development as the military aircraft of the future, at a fraction of the past.
Singer raises a host of issues in connection with these systems. Some of the book has a on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand as Singer continually shifts from the military and moral pros and cons of these systems and then impact they are having in transforming war. Do they lead to more moral warfare? Do they create more danger than they alleviate? What are the host of legal questions that surround robots in combat? If a CRAM -- an automated machine gun programmed to shoot down incoming missiles -- fails and starts shooting innocent people instead, is it a war crime? And if so, who is to be held to blame?
The number of issues that Singer takes up is absolutely mind boggling. And frankly I wasn't quite sure what my own position on robots in war is after having read it. There are so many pros and cons that it is almost impossible to make a snap judgment. I think the book is absolutely essential reading for anyone wanting to stay up on what is happening in the world. There is absolutely no question that the use of robots and unmanned systems in combat is transforming war as we know it. One of Singer's most important services in writing the book is to highlight how the issues surrounding robots in warfare are simply not being seriously addressed. Our morals sometimes lag behind our technology. It is essential that our species begin to think seriously about the issues surrounding this advanced technology in military situations. O brave new world, that has such machines in it!
I do want to quibble a bit. Singer makes a bit of a to do about the book being pop culturally savvy. Yet, the book contains several errors along those lines. Seeing a lot of out and out errors makes me nervous in reading a book. If the author has made boo-boos with things I know about, could he have made similar errors on things that I don't know about but on which I am accepting him as an authority? My guess is that the errors were on some inessential things. But let me note just a few.
In a footnote on virtually the very first line in the book, Singer states that the word "frak" was first used in the early eighties by computer geeks and then later used in the Ron Moore and David Eick reimagining of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Well, BSG is one of my all time favorite show, and like many fans of the new version I find the original 1978 show to be not only unwatchable, but one of the worst shows in the history of TV. But you have to give it, and not early eighties computer geeks, credit for "frak." The word was initially adlibbed by Dirk Benedict (the male version of Starbuck). Most likely the computer geeks borrowed the word from the original BSG. Another error. Singer astonishingly credits the phrase, "Hell is other people," to Nietzsche. The origin of the famous phrase is, of course, from the end of Sartre's famous play, NO EXIT. Singer makes several references to Karel ¨¨apek's R.U.R., in which the word "robot" was used for the first time, and speaks as if ¨¨apek were the source for the word. It was, in fact, a coinage by his brother Josef, who freely lent it to Karel. On the back cover of the book Howard Gordon is listed as an Executive Producer of 24, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and THE X-FILES. He is indeed currently executive producer of 24, but I believe he was only a consulting producer on both BUFFY and THE X-FILES, an important distinction because he was fairly far down the pecking order on both of those series. There were a few other infelicities, but these give a hint of the pop cultural inaccuracy that flitters through the book. My hope is that there are not more substantial errors as well. ...more info
- AHHHHHH ROBOTS!!!
The first half of this book is pure Geek excitement! Some of the discussions with engineers reveal a great deal about ongoing projects that I had no idea existed! But I have to admit the second half is a but more of a text book read. Although it is still incredibly cool to read it is much less geek and much more philosophy class. I found this book to be one of the best I have read. It was the first of PW Singer books I have looked at and I will likely buy his other works after seeing how well thought out this book was....more info
- A truly eye-opening book, superbly researched and written
I first heard the author talking on NPR about this topic, and both that interview and the first chapter of this book show his excitement and deep interest and understanding of this subject. For such a weighty hardback, it's remarkably hard to put down, and each section evolves intelligently from the last. I particularly enjoyed the references to modern culture, given that robotics has largely been a subject of science fiction in the last few decades rather than yielding anything practical in reality.
Well, at least so I thought - it turns out that over 12,000 robots are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan as we speak. The companies producing these machines were spurred by the very real necessities of dealing with guerrilla warfare, and avoiding the human toll associated with such difficult environments. Through a combination of human-controlled and artificially-intelligent hardware, these robots back up our soldiers and provide a super-human level of robustness and accuracy.
The author raises the complex moral questions associated with having machines killing people on the frontline, and the issues that arise when mistakes occur. There's also a fascinating discussion of stress disorders that remote pilots are suffering from - these men and women sit in offices in the US, controlling machines on the battleground far away, and return home for dinner every day after "a day's fighting".
It's also interesting to look at the design of some of the machines and their control interfaces, many of which look like Wall-E with a machine gun. Weapons companies have copied controllers from the Playstation and Xbox, taking advantage of a generation that is comfortable using these devices without extensive retraining. The distance between shooting people on Halo and making real life-or-death decisions in operating a military robot is almost absurdly non-existent.
I don't want to steal the book's thunder at all since this is one of the most gripping reads I've found in a while, and would highly recommend to everyone. While not a robotics book or a war book, it falls somewhere in the middle, and the topic is enthusiastically presented. The most chilling part is clearly that the science fiction of movies such as The Terminator is really not too far away, and we're on a cusp of a robotics revolution that will be as profound as the domination of the PC....more info
- Jaw Dropping
I'm speechless. The stuff that is available NOW blows my mind. And what's coming very soon is even more incredible. More so than any sci-fi writer has yet conceived....more info
- Not the technical book I was hoping for.
I got suckered in again by the 5 star reviews, I should know better by now. I'm not sure what it was about this book that I didn't care for. I had an expectation of a technical book with a higher level of technical discussions and engineering. I thought the book was more "stories" and fluff than a nuts & bolts book on 21st century robotics. Fortunately, I can return it. ...more info
- Broad overview of mechanized war
Good book, bringing together a lot of strings around robotics and warfare. Drifts off topic a few times, but all in all an informative starting point for anyone wanting to get educated on the topic. You won't get any top secrets, but you do get a broad spectrum of input and opinions....more info
- Don't miss this look into the future
This book met my needs, a well written ( if a bit dry ) look at robotics and how they will transform our lives, wars, international relationships....more info
- Building Them One Laser Gun At A Time
I just finished P.W. Singer's latest book, Wired for War, the other day, and I've spent the past couple of days thinking over what I'd just read. Through my work at io9, I've also written up a review for the book, but I had some thoughts that I wanted to write down for here as well.
Wired for War is an inherently geeky book, one that looks at how the world is becoming one where science fiction is rapidly becoming reality, a topic that fascinates me. The lyrics of Jonathan Coulton's song The Future Soon seem very appropriate, as there are a ton of references to numerous Science fiction works throughout the book:
It's gonna be the future soon
I've never seen it quite so clear
And when my heart is breaking I can close my eyes and it's already here
In a very interesting way, the recent introduction of robotics is a signal of things to come in the coming years, and Singer really highlights that in this book. While looking at the blurb, a casual browser might thing that this book is just about the robots on the front lines, this book covers so much more than that - it goes into depth to not only the robots that are on the battlefields, but how they are constructed, how the military utilizes them and how the technology is progressing. From there, he looks at what the battlefields themselves will look like, taking into consideration global economics and trends, and what will be happening between now and 2025. At times, I think that he gets a little alarmist, but the picture that is painted is frightening and wholly plausible.
What I found fascinating, even more so than the robots themselves, was the ways that the military has been wholly prepared for a revolution in this way. With the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were no robots on the line. Now, there are thousands, ranging from the Wall-E looking PackBot (ironically produced by the same company that makes the Roomba, iRobot)to the familiar MQ-1Predators to numerous others. Part of Singer's examination looked as the military hierarchy, and how that is essentially at odds with how the current generation of soldiers thinks and works in the digital age. Components of these robots, such as the controls, are modeled after play station controllers, but even more than that, there seems to be a far looser collaboration, rather than a strict chain of command when it comes to soldiers in these units. Singer recounts several instances of where Generals talk directly to privates, and where enlisted men are flying alongside officers and having trouble getting orders and clear chains of information across. Clearly, the military needs to catch up with the electronics trend.
This has gotten me thinking, along with my Master's studies, where I learned much about the evolution of warfare. Generally speaking, there are three generations of war - Massed infantry, firearms and maneuver warfare. Theorists have been predicting that a fourth generation is emerging, and where some people, such as Col. Thomas Hammes, who wrote the Sling and the Stone, think of urban warfare as the next generation, I believe that the introduction of computers will be the defining factor in this instance. To be sure, urban warfare plays into this, but the impact of computers and the advances in communications and coordination that they allow provide a far bigger impact than the actual battlefield surroundings. Singer looks at the possibility of much of warfare becoming automated, as robots have already proven that they can be more accurate and place less lives at risk. Instead of a soldier dying, an expensive machine is sent back to be rebuilt.
But to what extent is this a good thing? I don't want to seem like I like the possibility of soldiers getting killed in combat, I don't, but in a culture that is already heavily against war because of false expectations that technology alone can sanitize war. On one level, yes, but that is a very superficial one, and it doesn't address some of the bigger issues. Singer notes that at some point in the future, people will go to war because their televisions tell them to, a very disturbing notion. War needs to be brutal, it needs to be painful, and we need to learn from our experiences with it. Just after the First World War, there was a peace summit in Paris in 1919, where the negotiators attempted to make war a thing of the past. Unfortunately they failed, and allowed for the Second World War, but with all of this technology, war becomes easier, and that is something that really shouldn't be the case.
The book also looks at the future of robotics, one of the more science fictional elements of the book. It is predicted that humanoid robots will join the battlefield in the next ten or so years, alongside flesh-and-blood soldiers, that leaders might have robotic AI aides, and that the very nature of leadership is changing with instant communications. Like anyone who is a fan of science fiction, Singer also looks at the possibility of a robotic revolution, such as what has been seen in the Terminator, Battlestar Galactica and the Matrix, where machines come to know that they can be better than humans and push us aside. While this is taken a bit with a grain of salt, it's certainly a concern, and even some soldiers note that they're working on something that might end up causing problems for their grand kids. If robots do rise up, I don't know that we'd have a chance.
Something that I also found interesting was the perceptions that the military has for the drone pilots and crews. Fighter pilots and others think that the profession is extremely nerdy or geeky, and as a result, turn their noses up at it. The squadron commander of the first predator drone flight group recounted how he was literally kicking and screaming at his assignment, but after a little while, he grew to enjoy it. This brings up some interesting points about the military and perceptions of masculinity, and how that could also be changing, to some degree. Honestly, this book has me thinking that being able to pilot one of those planes would be a very interesting job. It is certainly at the cutting edge of technology and warfighting.
This is an interesting, scary and relevant book that Singer has put together. It is exceptionally organized and researched, with interviews from high ranking officers from around the world, to the enlisted men who operate them, to the people who build and design military robots. And it's chalk full of science fiction references, even opening with the line: Robots are frakin' cool.
So say we all.
Originally posted to http://jeditrilobite.wordpress.com...more info
- A great read!
"The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom." Isaac Asimov
While reading an article by the pentagon correspondent of the Washington Times about new technologies, mention was made of the recently released book Wired for War The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P.W.Singer. This book is a study of technology and society from the present and into the future, so I thought it would be a worthwhile read. I was not disappointed. It is as profound as Brute Force by John Ellis. This is a very important book that should be read by scientists, engineers, and historians and in fact all citizens. It is very troubling and frightening.
This book is in many ways a mirror image of The Social History of the Machine Gun by John Ellis. In Ellis's book resistance to technological change by the military is examined. "For them war was an act of will. Military memories and tradition had been formed in the pre-industrial age when the final bayonet or cavalry charge might be decisive. For them, in the last analysis, man was the master of the battlefield"(Ellis pg. 50). The officers refused to be a cog in the military machinery because in their eyes the machine gun made them replaceable. The movies Four Feathers and Beau Geste characterize the group very will indeed. In Wired for War the obverse is seen. The generals and admirals are highly enthusiastic proponents of technological advancements, in fact many times are seen pushing for more and more robotics. To compare the mind sets, imagine Paaschendale vs. the Terminator.
Unless you are an IT or computer engineer you probably would be unfamiliar with many of the terms that represent the key stage of progress, ideas and principles in robotics and AI. In this book you are introduced to the technology and theory in a very understandable why. It presents the historic, societal and psychological implications of military robots and AI.
To begin with, the word robot was first used by Czechoslovak writer Karel Capeck in his play Rossum's Universal Robots. Its origin was from the Czechoslovak word robota to describe the work a peasant owed the landlord. It also means drudgery. Other terms the reader becomes familiar with are; strong AI, when computers attain processing and storage of information billions or trillions faster than a human and become self aware and Singularity which is superhuman intelligence that leave the human out of the feedback loop and outside of the equation.
The reader is also introduced to the major players, both individuals and production companies involved in military robots. The one individual who the author seems to quote the most is Ray Kurzweil. This person is unbelievably brilliant inventor who dwarfs Edison. He is the inventor of the automated college application program, the first print to speech machine, the first computer flatbed scanner, the electronic music synthesizer and predictor of the internet. He is also one of five members of the Army Science Board, where one of his tasks is simply to think of new weapons systems for future development. The author also gives detail analysis of General Atomic, iRobot and Foster Miller who are manufacturers of the Predator drone, PackBot robot and Swords robot respectively. There is considerable discussion about DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. I have learned from the book that this is a truly remarkable organization. It receives a massive amount of funding, much of it hidden like the CIA budget, but uses it very wisely and strategically. It awards contracts to universities and manufactures to conceive, develop, test and manufacture robotic and AI systems. It also has in house developmental teams. One of the most interesting facts was all inventors and researchers were science fictions readers at an early age and continue to this day. In fact many facilities have individuals who have a specific job of reading sci-fi novels to generated new ideas and use them as a matrix for future development.
Singer has some very insightful analysis of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, such as "One side looks at war instrumentally, as a means to an end, while the other sees it metaphysically, placing great meaning on the very act of dying for a cause" (pg. 312) and "the rest of the world is learning that the only way to defeat America is to bleed her on both ends. The American public responds to casualties and to bleeding of the treasury, so if something goes on long enough they get tired"(pg. 313).
The author has done very extensive interviews, not only of the High Command at DARPA, scientists, engineers and manufactures, but also the end users. Some of the most interesting vignettes were from the soldiers and marines using PackBot, Talon and Swords in combat. To the man they swear by the efficiency of robots in detecting IEDs, snipers, mortar positions and enemy combatants in house to house fighting. In fact soldiers may become emotionally attached to their robot like they would a pet dog. There is a parallel to soldiers in the care of robots. When the robot is "wounded" it is taken to a repair facility(called the robot hospital) which is close to the frontline and often in close proximity to the combat surgical station. When dealing with drones there is a dichotomy, with one group in the combat zone and another far removed. The Army controls many smaller drones from transportable cubicles which are part of command (divisional or battalion) headquarters. Their function is to observe the battlefield and have observational data downloaded to a computer and then onto a large plasma screen at division headquarters. This data can then be sent to hardened laptops in tactical units even down to squad level. There are also hand launched drones that are specifically used at company and platoon levels that download to squad laptops. This has lead to what "Marine general Charles Krulak called the rise of the `strategic corporal.' This idea was meant to describe how new technology put far more destructive power (and thus influence over strategic outcomes) into the hands of younger, more junior troops. A twenty year-old corporal could now call in airstrikes that a forty-year old colonel used to decide in the past. But these technologies are also producing something new, which I call the `tactical general.' While they are becoming more distanced from the battlefield, generals are becoming more involved in the real-time fighting of war"(pg. 349) This paradigm shift in warfare has lead to problems with information overload at divisional levels. DARPA has tried to address this by developing AI programs that will assist commanders in using all of the data in the most logical and strategic manner. This can lead to problems in the future which I will discuss later.
One of the most interesting observations the book makes is the enthusiasm that the Marine Corps, Army and Navy had toward robotics and drones. The Air Force was very resistant. That is not to say that the Air Force eschewed advanced computer technology and AI research, but they fought very hard to mute drone development. In the mean time the other three forces forged ahead rapidly. As in The Social History of the Machine Gun the Air Force culture had too much investment into manned flight to be able to make the transition easily. It was only when their preeminence in control of the air space was threatened that they made the transition. During the early part of the war on terrorism the Army had more observational and tactical aircraft in the air than the Air Force. This is when they realized they were losing "market share". They quickly transitioned and are now flying the Predator and Global Hawk. What is truly amazing is these aircraft flying over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are actually controlled in cubicles located in Nevada. The pilots leave home, fly drones for 12 hours, and then drive back home to see their families. This would be unimaginable 15 years ago.
All of this research and development in robotic and AI has lead to a dilemma. Almost to the man, the scientists and engineers believe Singularity will occur within 40 years. "A machine takeover is generally imagined as following a path of evolution to revolution. Computers eventually develop to the equivalent of human intelligence (strong AI) and then rapidly push past any attempts at human control. Ray Kurzwiel explains how this would work. `As one strong AI immediately begets many strong AIs, the latter access their own design, understand and improve it, more intelligent AI, with the cycle repeating itself and thereby very rapidly evolve into a yet more capable, more intelligent AI, with the cycle repeating itself indefinitely. Each cycle not only creates more intelligent AI, but takes less time than the cycle before it as in the nature of technological
evolution. The premise is that once strong AI is achieved, it will immediately become a runaway phenomenon of rapidly escalating super intelligence."(pg.416-417) This is very frightening indeed. Because of our continued advance in robotics and AI, the author ends with feeling that the U.S. will eventual be able to bring peace to the world before we step over the abyss of Singularity. I feel he has an unrealistic view of humanity. To quote Albert Einstein "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidly, and I'm not sure about the former."
- A fascinating look at the future (and present) of war
I found this a fascinating book. Once, in another book, I read where our enemies would put spy devices on bugs and rodents and send them to us as a safe way to enter our lives and spy on us. I found that highly possible.
In this book, we look at the use of machines or robots to do the work of humans.
Warfare is changing. And, with these changes, new ethical questions arise.
Robot soldiers are very real and are here - now, as technological warfare expert P.W. Singer tells us in his new book, Wired For War.
Some military operations that were once done by humans are now done by machines.
Singer says, however, the new technological battleground -- in which robots fly spy planes and search out IEDs -- raises a host of ethical and legal questions and problems.
Currently in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are over 12,000 unmanned robots on the ground, fighting the war on terror. There will be more. This may make human soldiers unnecessary.
Singer is considered one of the world's leading experts on changes in 21st century warfare. A Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution, he served as the coordinator of the Obama-08 campaign's defense policy task force. If anyone is in a position to understand this issue and report on it fairly, it's him.
- Susanna K. Hutcheson ...more info
- In desperate need of an editor
The author appears to know his subject and the book is an excellent idea. However, an editor should have reduced the 436 pages to around 180 by tossing the author's diversions. So many unnecessary adjectives (allow words to stand on their own, they do not have to be hyped), cliches, and extraneous asides were included, that it became fatiguing to sort through all the noise while trying to get to the subject of the book. The publisher has done the author (thus the reader) a disservice by not working to tighten the book, make it readable, and as good as it could be. ...more info
- Wired for War - Would You LIke This Read?
Watch Video Here: http://www.amazon.com/review/R23F6C2EY1XHJ8 "Wired for War" - Is this a book you would like? In this video review I'll tell you about the approach P.W. Singer takes in this book. You can decide if it's right for you or for someone you know. Frank Derfler- author of "A Glint in Time" ...more info
- Author P. W. Singer Interviewed on The Daily Show
I haven't read this book yet (it may be my first Kindle purchase) but you can see a brief interview with the author (Jan 29, 2009) on the Daily Show website....more info
- This is a freakin' awesome book!
This is a freakin' awesome book! Singer, in this book on robotics and its use in the military, has just blown my mind. Reading about many of the things in this book seems like science fiction, yet it is all real. Robots that can stay in the air for over a day, robots that can act as sentry guards for army bases, robots that can see through walls, and even robots that can replace lost limbs; it is all in here. But what really blew my mind was not just the detailed accounts of these new technological innovations and their capabilities, but also the legal, ethical, and moral questions they raise for our generation. Singer doesn't just sit back in awe of these new toys, he asks the questions everyone should be asking: should we arm robots with lethal weapons? Should we bring robots' intelligence and autonomy to a level where they are indistinguishable from humans? Should autonomous robots have rights like a human? Who's responsible when an autonomous robot kills or injures someone? And should we build robots for sex? All these questions are explored. My only complaint is that Singer tends to wander off from his original topic in many of his chapters. Many times he starts with a good premise, but then wanders off into a different topic. Ultimately though, this one of the coolest, scariest, and most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. READ THIS BOOK!!!!!! ...more info
- Fascinating Read
This is an eye-opening book but the title understates the breadth of its coverage. Yes, it is about the use of robots and automated systems in war but it goes far beyond that, discussing the many ways that computers and robots have entered our daily lives and the ways they are likely to do so in the future. The book is not just about robots and technology but also about human beings and how they related to their creations. Consequently, when the author makes the link between advances in robot design and science fiction it makes perfect sense, although it is an angle I hadn't previously considered. This book's strength is that it walks that fine line -- on the one hand it is carefully researched and documented but on the other is written in a highly readable style so that the reader is both informed and entertained. You know much more when you are finished and had fun in the process. Who could ask for more? I was drawn to this book having heard an interview with the author and having read his two previous books, "Corporate Warriors" and "Children at War." All three have a characteristic I particularly like in a nonfiction book -- the author is not dogmatic, raises concerns but doesn't cry that the sky is falling, doesn't shout at the reader, and doesn't offer easy solutions to complex problems. Instead, the author undertakes a reasoned and fair analysis of the issue, illustrating the complexities of what on the surface might seem a simple issue. As a result the author makes a more powerful statement than could ever be made by a sensationalist approach.Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, Updated Edition (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs); Children at War...more info
- Three Laws of Robotics
There has been a good deal written about how the advances in Information Technology (IT) would affect the transformation of the U.S. Military from a Cold War force to a force better able to deal with the realities of the 21st Century World. Yet very little has been written on an important branch of IT, namely the science of robotics and its effect on military operations.
Yet, as this admirable book makes clear, the military use of robotics has grown exponentially. Singer essentially provides a catalogue of weapons systems, reconnaissance systems, and other military support systems that are unmanned and are capable of varying degrees of autonomy. His catalogue includes remotely controlled systems like the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), programmable `smart' bombs, sensor drive devices (e.g. heat seeking missiles) and other devices requiring minimum human direction to do their jobs. He also observes that the robotics field is moving towards that holy grail of robotics, artificial intelligence and fully autonomous weapons systems.
In the second half of this book, Singer addresses issues that the use of robots in war naturally calls up. In this half he discusses the best kind soldiers to serve as remote operators, the numerous ethical issues concerning the use of robots in war, and the broad impact such use will have on both the military and civil societies.
Singer goes astray however when denigrates the concept of Network Centric Warfare (NSW) and its principal military proponent the late Admiral Arthur Cebrowski. In point of fact, NSW is a command and control concept (command, control, computers, communications, intelligence, sensors, reconnaissance (C4ISR) that has been successfully integrated into both naval and air force command systems. U.S. ground forces have had more difficulty because they lack the controlled, clean, and relatively secure environments provided for example by the U.S. Navy Shipboard Combat Information Centers. Properly implemented and used the NSW concept can be as effective as the robotic systems that Singer discusses so eloquently.
This is a book well worth reading and pondering by anyone.
- The worlds future
Although this book concentrates on military robotics, there is enough references to the general trends of emerging robotic technology to gain insite into the future. It also shows the changes in the younger generation and how they are so vastly different than any before. As the airplane, radio, and motor transportation emerged from WW1 military needs, robotics will begin with military needs and then expand into general society. This book is esential reading for any military futurist and important to any social scientist for a glimpse into the next 50 years. ...more info
- Love this book
Wired for War was a significant addition to my library. The author brought the 21st century and where the art of war is headed. We really need to learn how to address our need for war and reduce the incidences of man's inhumanity to man in this society. If we cannot overcome violence in this society we are doomed to extinction....more info