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Wired for War
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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 itselfP. 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.

Customer Reviews:

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.

    Highly recommended.

    - Susanna K. Hutcheson ...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 info
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.
    ...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
  • An excellent introduction to the theory and practice of machine warfare
    Hollywood has for many years held the monopoly on robotic warfare, with its visions of malevolent machines that had their origins in protecting humankind, only to turn on the latter after acquiring a "new order" of intelligence. These terrifying but fictional stories have no counterpart in real military affairs, where warfare has been for the most part a purely human affair, with real blood, with real guts. This is not to say of course that technology has not played a major role in warfare in the last hundred years. It definitely has, but this technology could not think for itself and usually had to be in close proximity to the soldiers who exploited it.

    But this situation has changed, argues the author of this book, and he outlines a fascinating story of the evolution and current use of intelligent machines in actual battle. Readers will get a view of robotic warfare that is as revealing as possible within the constraints of security. The author has definitely done his homework, and the book, although a somewhat lengthy one, is well worth the time commitment for its perusal.

    This is not to say that readers won't be able to find commentary in the book with which they strongly disagree. Like many books on robotics and artificial intelligence in recent years, this one makes reference to current discussions on "the singularity". The "singularity" is a period of time wherein technological advances are occurring at such a rapid rate that further extrapolation or prediction becomes meaningless. Predicted by many in the technical community, with some interesting evidence produced when it was first conceived, the "singularity" has now become essentially a marketing campaign, with its adherents unfortunately not offering any new evidence. This situation is aggravated by their lack of any quantitative measure of machine intelligence that would allow them to assess whether or not machines ten years from now will be "smarter" than the machines of today; or conversely whether the machines of today are "smarter" than the machines ten years ago.

    Any shortcomings in the book are however countered by the inclusion of many topics that are of great interest, such as remote-controlled robotic warfare, robot ethics, and the psychology of human-machine interaction. It is not surprising at all to read that soldiers are developing emotional attachments to the machines that are assisting them in battle. Conditions of extreme stress only enhance these attachments. And the manner in which humans will interact with machines and the use of them in actual war will entail new formulations of ethics and legal responsibility. These issues are discussed in detail in the book.

    Some readers may find the prospect of robotic warfare rather disturbing, with fear mongering by Hollywood assisting in this regard. Such anxiety may actually prevent further incorporation of intelligent technology not only in the military but also in the civilian arena. The author discusses this possibility, giving examples in history where strong backlashes have taken place to prevent further research and development in certain areas of technology, such as biological weaponry. But other readers, such as this reviewer, find the rise of intelligent machines in business, art, science, and the military as deeply exhilarating, and look forward to further advances, however quickly they may occur. ...more info