Wired for War by P.W. Singer (2009, Penguin books) is one of the most important books in security circles over the past 10 years. It is a milestone account of the state of technology up to 2009 and considered so many things that were at the cutting edge of innovation, that many of them still haven’t happened yet.
Without further ado, here are our thoughts:
Wired for War is an excellent book, and a comprehensive introduction to the impact of technology, and specifically robotics, in modern warfare. Some questions that arise from the text:
- iRobot’s mission statement (27) is somewhat disturbing, given their military links. Do we run the risk here of creating too much of a psychological distance between a product and its function?*
- It is interesting to note that books such as Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game appear in so many professional reading programs and military training courses (see 151 and 156). What are the potential ramifications of reading such books from a military perspective?
- What role does fiction and the arts have in the widespread acceptance of technology and military strategy? As with Q1., do we run the risk of ‘dumbing down’ the ethical, moral and social implications of these technologies? Too much emphasis on the rule of cool and ‘crash, bang, whallop’ and not enough intellectual engagement?
- The author suggests that robots can potentially reduce the instances of war crimes (393–408). But, with machine learning, will this remain the case? What about robots used on the other side? Will robots place equal value on the lives of friends and enemies alike?
Mike Ryder, Lancaster University
*Interesting related article: Dennis Hayes, ‘The Cloistered Work-Place: Military Electronics Workers Obey and Ignore’ in Cyborg Worlds: The Military Information Society, ed. by Les Levidow and Kevin Robins (London: Free Association Books, 1989).
Wired for War is probably one of, if not the, most important book for scholars of military technologies. Because this book was so forward thinking, and considered things really on the extremes of technological capability when it was written, many of the things that were prophesied as coming soon still haven’t appeared.
I wanted to draw attention to a passage in the book (272-276) which considers how artificial intelligence could be used to predict the incidents of terrorist attacks and other crimes. If the preparatory activities for attacks/crimes can be subject to data pattern analysis, there is a question here as to what to do with this information?
Arresting somebody for conspiracy to commit a crime of attack seems preferable, but the evidence is often difficult to bring together when the intended crime has not yet taken place. Deterring would-be criminals from carrying out the crime is another option. In a similar way to placing police cars outside banks when tipped-off of a possible robbery, an increased police presence at a site of planned crime/attack can have a deterring effect. Yet, we now commonly see determined and highly motivated terrorists carry out their actions despite knowing that they will suffer either arrest or a bullet from an armed response officer. It is certainly a difficult issue.
Recently, UKIP (a far-right UK political party) suggested the internment of terrorist suspects without trial. Yet, we know from experience with the IRA and al-Qaeda that such treatment can be used by those groups as a massive recruiting tool. It seems that the other option down this route of taking action before an actual attack happens is killing the potential attacker as happens with US/Israeli/UK/Russian targeted killings. If we think about the potential future implication of AI systems performing statistical analysis to essentially state that an individual is about to commit a terrorist atrocity, this could then result in a strike from an autonomous drone. We are well into the territory of a worrisome future with this. But, it is possible. This certainly raises questions about how much ‘meaningful human control’ society wants in its counterterrorism.
Joshua Hughes, Lancaster University
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