[NetBehaviour] Wired for War

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Thu Jun 11 12:19:40 CEST 2009

Wired for War by P.W.Singer.

"The US Army's Future Combat Systems program calls for one third of
their fighting strength to be robots by 2015. The American pilots seeing
the most combat in Iraq and Afghanistan right now do so from flight
consoles in the United States, and they are controlling Predator
unmanned vehicles. Every branch of the US military has aggressive
robotics programs in place. This is not anything unusual. Other nations
are also developing and purchasing robotic systems designed to be used
in combat. Advances in communications, software and hardware make it
inevitable that robotics will have a profound effect on conflict in the
future. The development of these systems has been rapid, and while
technology hurtles forward, culture and understanding seem to lag
behind. Similar to the way our legal codes are playing catch-up with new
technologies, combat-enabled robots raise questions and issues that did
not even exist a short time ago. Wired for War by Dr. P. W. Singer is an
excellent opportunity for anyone interested to dive into just what is
going on all over the world with regards to robotics and their use by
the military.

Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense
Initiative at the Brookings Institution. His focus and study on changes
in modern warfare have made him one of the world's top experts on the
nature of modern day combat as well as what developments are likely to
come. Singer is an academic, but Wired for War is not a strictly
academic approach to the issue of robots in war. He has made an
intentional effort to make the book approachable, delivering a large
amount of information wrapped in the context of popular culture and
current events. The average geek is going to feel right at home in the
sea of references made throughout the book as they often turn on sci-fi.
This is not to say that the book dwells in a possible future of
far-flung vaporware. Wired for War is divided into two large sections.
The first is "The Change We are Creating" and deals with the definition,
history and current technology of robotics. Some of this is talking
about robotics in general but primarily with a view to military
applications. Singer makes it clear that he believes that robotics is
going to have a huge impact on many more areas of society and culture,
but war is the focus of this work.

The last chapter of the first section, "The Refuseniks: The Roboticists
Who Just Say No" is an interesting look at those who are not comfortable
with the direction they see technology being deployed. It makes for a
very natural segue into the second section, "What Change is Creating for
Us". It also serves as an excellent illustration of just what Singer
does in this book. There is not a lot of highly technical detail or
information. The discussion of various technologies in play deals
primarily with capabilities available as opposed to how those
capabilities are achieved. This is in keeping with Singer's stated
desire to keep the book open to a wide audience. It also serves to
reinforce what I believe is the real purpose of the book, though it is
more subtly stated. That purpose is to educate the members of
democracies on what is going on in the militaries of their nations, so
that they can be more informed in how they participate in the political
process. This is as much a sociology book as it is a technology book and
as much as it gives insight into how the military uses technology it
also gives insight into military trends and subcultures. Primarily the
examples given and information shared deal with the U.S. military. The
Chinese military gets some time as well but it is quite small in


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