My latest review from Boldtype.
When American forces marched into Iraq, they were little different from generations of warriors before them. They may have had global-positioning systems and highly advanced weaponry, but they were still just human beings.
Now, that’s all changed; our troops are no longer alone on the battlefield. Since 2003, the number of American robots in combat has gone from 0 to 12,000, and the unmanned ranks continue to grow.
War in 2009 is a place where science fiction has become military reality.
P.W. Singer’s new book — Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century — explores the both immediate ramifications of this strange fact and the questions it poses for the
The military first deployed robots in missions that were too dull or dangerous for human soldiers to complete. A Predator drone can spend 24 hours in flight without rest, while the PackBot — built by the same people who make the Roomba — can be tossed through the window of a hostile building to transmit live video of insurgents inside.
But even as the scientists and engineers who design these machines dream of a world where their creations eliminate the need for human causalities, they are hard at work devising ways that robots could be used to kill enemy combatants.
If that leaves you thinking about Skynet, you’re not alone.
Writers and thinkers have been haunted by visions of a future with machines in rebellion for nearly 100 years. The experts with whom Singer speaks all understand the potential for apocalypse and many believe that strong artificial intelligence — which exceeds human intelligence — is less than a generation away. Singer takes comfort in the fact that our fears are leading many to begin grappling with the ethical questions long before we’re in danger of being assaulted by our toasters.
In the meantime, the paradigm for the present is clear. In the past six months, American drones have launched nearly 40 strikes against militants on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing hundreds.
That fact alone makes Wired for War essential reading for the immediate future.