A truly eye-opening book, superbly researched and written
May 1, 2009
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.
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James Beswick (jbeswick)
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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.
Table of Contents:
Author's note : Why a book on robots and war? -- pt. 1. The change we are creating. -- Introduction : Scenes from a robot war -- Smart bombs, Norma Jeane, and defecating ducks : a short history of robotics -- Robotics for dummies -- To infinity and beyond : the power of exponential trends -- Coming soon to a battlefield near you : the next wave of warbots -- Always in the loop? : the arming and autonomy of robots -- Robotic gods : our machine creators -- What inspires them : science fiction's impact on science reality -- The refuseniks : the roboticists who just say no -- pt. 2. What change is creating for us. -- The big Cebrowski and the real RMA : thinking about revolutionary technologies -- "Advanced" warfare : how we might fight with robots -- Robots that don't like apple pi : how the U.S. could lose the unmanned revolution -- Open-source warfare : college kids, terrorists, and other new users of robots at war -- Losers and Luddites : the changing battlefields robots will fight on and the new electronic sparks of war -- The psychology of warbots -- YouTube war : the public and its unmanned wars -- Changing the experience of war and the warrior -- Command and control ... alt-delete : new technologies and their effect on leadership -- Who ...