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Podcast: P.W. Singer: Military robots and the future of war

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Podcast length: 23 minutes

Podcast Description

This podcast comes from TED 2009. It talks about current technologies in robotics, VR, and battlespace, being used now, in Iraq and other conflicts; about the reduction in cost, and the potential dangerous directions these trends are heading in.

Presenter Biographies

P.W. Singer

Peter Warren Singer is the director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution -- where his research and analysis offer an eye-opening take on what the 21st century holds for war and foreign policy. His latest book, Wired for War, examines how the US military has been, in the words of a recent US Navy recruiting ad, "working hard to get soldiers off the front lines" and replacing humans with machines for bombing, flying and spying. He asks big questions: What will the rise of war machines mean to traditional notions of the battlefield, like honor? His 2003 book Corporate Warriors was a prescient look at private military forces. It's essential reading for anyone curious about what went on to happen in Iraq involving these quasi-armies.

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Podcast viewing notes

The talk opens on a series of photographic slides, showing the use of robots in war at the time of the talk. The presenter states clearly that every robot seen in this talk, is a real war machine.

The US military invaded Iraq with a handful of aerial drones. Same war, and by February 2009 there were 5,300 US drones in active service there. No ground robots went in with the initial attack, by the same time in 2009, 12,000 were on the ground in combat zones.

44 different countries are working on military robotics. The US has a slight edge right now, but as has been shown time and time again, the first country to have it, is not necessarily the first to use it to the best advantage.

For the US, what does it mean to go to war with soldiers whose hardware is made in China, and whose software is written in India?

There is already a web service in Iraq where you can log in, and detonate remotely an IED, anonymously from across the world. This sort of thing is going to proliferate. A Pakistani individual, for $4,000 was able to build DIY, four military grade combat drones for use against Israel. This sort of thing is going to become more common.

Robot versus suicide bomber: You don't have to give a robot a belief system to blow itself up, you just have to give a command, and not give the ability for reasoned thought.

The visualization of war is a big issue, where some US combatants now, combat in Iraq fro 12 hours, then get up, stretch, unplug from their battle pod in Michigan and drive home for the night, to see their spouse, talk to their kids. The next day, they drive back, and in interactive real-time, order hits on tanks, launch missiles, play spotter for war planes.

There are higher rates of post traumatic stress syndrome in these operators than there are in ground troops actually in Iraq. Still, some worry that it converts war into videogaming.

"If you can fight from afar, the demographics of war change."

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