Jef Poskanzer (jef) Tue 5 May 09 16:23
Barn horse bang.
Andrew Alden (alden) Tue 5 May 09 16:47
I wonder about the soldier's honor; also the insult to a foe that you won't risk your own skin to wage war.
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Tue 5 May 09 19:01
> I wonder about the soldier's honor... Asking about a soldier's honor reminds me of a knight of the Round Table who is appalled by modern warfare.
John Payne (satyr) Wed 6 May 09 09:08
Even the skillful use of a sword allows one to remain just slightly outside the fray, until someone with a throwing axe or bow comes along. To take this train of thought to it's endpoint, when some hominid first learned to sharpen a stick to make a simple spear, or lash a rock to it to make a simple hammer, he took the first small step in the direction of removing himself from the violence of battle, and his foes might well have thought "what a coward" as he kept them at bay.
John Payne (satyr) Wed 6 May 09 10:30
Peter, since the chapter involving them didn't make the cut, how about treating us to an annecdote or two regarding your Roomba and the cat?
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 6 May 09 10:41
I'm enjoying this, Peter. For the completely clueless among us, could you please give us a brief list of the kinds of major war robots that are (or will be) built in the near future?
John Payne (satyr) Thu 7 May 09 07:10
One thing that struck me repeatedly was the seemingly easy way in which the word "war" is used, as an abstraction, a collective term, or a loose reference to wars that might be looming in the near future, without the qualifying "in the event of" (or some equivalent) that is more likely to be added in civilian discourse. To judge from your book, in military circles war seems to be taken as a given, something that's certain to happen sooner or later, more likely sooner. And I gather that you intended the title as a double entrendre, suggesting that we too are wired for war. History certainly argues in favor of such a view. Given this, and the reality that weapons technology has a way of getting around, how does it help us in the long run that machines are taking the place of some combatants or at least allowing them to act from a distance? If we make use of a technology to deny our enemies (another term too easily wielded) safe haven, aren't they likely to sooner or later make use of such technologies to return the favor, bringing the fight here, more than they have already? How long can we expect to go on imposing our will through force, with relative impunity, halfway around the world before someone finds a way of making us pay for it with blood, mostly civilian blood? What is the wholesome, sane alternative that we are upholding through all this? Where is the example we can point to with some expectation of a buy-in on the part of those who currently oppose us? In a sense, the use of robotic weapons seems like a substitute for good answers to those questions. They will allow us to continue to struggle without serious self-examinaton for awhile longer.
Peter W Singer (peterwsinger) Thu 7 May 09 09:26
Here is the section about our roomba and cat, that opened the chapter on "robots in the home" that got cut. ---------------------------- His pursuer nipping at his heels, Tiki Barber jumps forward a step and then twists his body to the side. He narrowly avoids being hit as his chaser races by. Once again, Tikis agility has gotten him out of a tight spot. He licks his lips with a smile and turns his back on his seemingly vanquished foe. But the chase isnt over. The pursuer spins around on a dime and rounds the corner, surprising Tiki. For a brief nano-second, the two dont move, facing each other without any display of emotion. Then Tiki stutter steps, followed by classic feint, jabbing with one leg forward, before he sprints off to the open space to his right. Relentless, his pursuer follows. But as the game continues, a winded Tiki begins to wear down. The single-minded pursuer seemingly never stops, never even changes pace. Now literally panting, Tiki decides its time to end this. There is only one thing to do: Chest heaving, he breathes deep and then leaps forward up onto the dining room table. Tiki is my cat. Hes named after Tiki Barber, the NFL running back for the New York Giants, turned television broadcaster. Tiki the cat got this name not only because he has grey fur and blue eyes, exactly the same shades as the Giants team colors, but also because he has a running style that mimics Tiki Barber the humans quick feet and frequent cutbacks. Plus, we got our cat at the same time that Tiki Barber the running back was leading my fantasy football team, The Raging Pundits, to its league championship in the 2005-2006 season. On any given Sunday, Tiki the cat can be found on the playing field. Just unlike His nemesis is not the Philadelphia Eagles linebacker corps, but Scooby Doo 2, our robotic vacuum cleaner. Scooby Doo 2 is a 3rd generation Roomba Discovery vacuum cleaner, made by iRobot. It takes its name not from the completely forgettable cartoon movie Scooby Doo-2: Monsters Unleashed, but rather from an EOD robot that was destroyed in the war in Iraq. The original Scooby Doo, the robot, was a Packbot that carried out 17 missions in Iraq before being destroyed by enemy fire in 2005 (Its remains are currently in the offices of iRobots CEO Helen Greiner). Scooby Doo 2 honors its namesake by patrolling the floors of my house, hunting down any dust bunnies that threaten to ambush our way of life. Tiki the cat honors his namesake by springing here and there to avoid being tackled by this new foe that challenges him on his home turf. Robots once only appeared in movies that took place in a far distant future. Today, they can do chores at our homes, as well as entertain our pets. Count the Lights: It is sometimes easy to forget just how computerized and automated our lives have become. Whether its the Automated Teller Machines that have taken over banking, the cell phones, Blackberries, and blogs that communicate for us, or even the Tivo searches that tell us what TV shows to watch, technology is ever-present in the mundane of our day to day lives. Indeed, it shapes our very life patterns of how we work, shop, eat, and play. Its virtually impossible to find anyone that doesnt have a computer at their workplace, whether its the stock broker who researches on-line leads, the farmer who automatically waters their crops , or even the fast-food cashier who relies on the computer to tally up orders. Indeed, while there is no lack of hype over the impact of the Internet, it is sometimes easy to forget how its changed even something as traditional as Christmas. Where once going to the mall to stock up on presents and sit on Santas knee was a mandatory part of the holiday preparation, last years Christmas shopping season saw a half billion dollars spent each day not at the mall, but in online shopping. And this was for items actually bought, not counting the vast numbers of gift ideas that came from people perusing possibilities on the web, so that they didnt have to spend extra hours at the mall. Perhaps the greatest change between our daily lives and those of the previous generation is the manner in which computers have both become embedded and forgotten at the same time. For example, the idea of having a computer in ones kitchen just a generation ago would have been crazy. What purpose could it have accomplished, other than to maybe store recipes that would have had to be accessed using BASIC and then printed out on a spool printer that jammed every so often? Indeed, the bulky thing would have filled the entire counter-top, crowding out all your other appliances. Today, multiple computers reside inside refrigerators, stoves, microwave-ovens, and even coffee makers. And this is just the kitchen. Some estimate that by the year 2010, the average family will have almost 100 computers in their home. On face value, this sounds absurd, until you turn off the lights and count the number of red dots that you see in your house already. From the thermostat and security system that Dad checks before he goes to bed to the cell phones and iPods that never seem to leave the kids ears, computers are just about everywhere. Computers have become so commonplace in our lives that we largely dont think of them as computers anymore. They have become both portable and individualized, and surround us to such an extent that they have receded into the background. While it sure came fast, this change actually took many years. Computers started out being balky and limited to research labs. Then, they began to be utilized by the industry and the military, but only for specific tasks and often behind closed doors. After this, computers started to make a limited foray into the home, mainly through toys and video games, all the while broadening their role in industry. Soon thereafter, they integrated themselves into all facets of life, until the point now where computer do everything from book your plane flights and buy your movie tickets.
Peter W Singer (peterwsinger) Thu 7 May 09 09:30
Mary (31), Am glad you are enjoying this. The details on all the various robots we are using in war today, from the Predator drones in the air to the Packbots on the ground are covered in Chapter 1 of the book, "Scenes from a Robot War." Then Chapter 5 looks at the various ones already at the prototype stage in "Coming to a Battlefield Near You." You can also check out some neat pictures and videos of what they look like on the website for the book at wiredforwar.pwsinger.com
Peter W Singer (peterwsinger) Thu 7 May 09 09:37
John (32), You raise some incredibly good points on what is this thing we now call "war." They actually link back to some earlier posts about how is this all different from the Knight with his sword. One of the funny things is how each time we created greater distance in war with our technologies, most of the people at the time were shocked and horrified. Indeed, there is a neat quote in the book from a fellow back in the Middle Ages, who tells how anyone who uses this new thing called the "gun" is a coward and committing murder, not a noble act of war. But as that same example shows, we soon all readjust our sense of right and wrong (our morality) and somehow make it all okay. What was once "murder" soon is just "war." Robotics are part of this trend. BUT, the distancing they allow is no longer just the ultimate in physical distancing, being literally off the battlefield 7,000 miles away, but psychological distancing in a new way as a result. Whether it was the sword or the bomber pilot, they both experienced risk, both put their lives in danger when they "went to war." Now, though, there is literally no risk for the drone pilot, other than carpal tunnel syndrome. And again, even this is growing outdated as we give more and more autonomy to our machines (the Terminator scenario), which is the true ultimate in distancing, complete disconnection.
for dixie, southern iraq (stet) Thu 7 May 09 10:09
>as we give more and more autonomy to our machines (the Terminator scenario), which is the true ultimate in distancing, complete disconnection. Problem is, humans can't react fast enough to keep up with faster & faster machines, so they have to have more autonomy to be effective. I'm not sure you cover it in your book, but computer systems to enable combat commanders to make the right decision in time are under intensive development - DARPA has three working, which are competing against each other. You can read about the beginnings of the one I am most familiar with here: http://www3.isi.edu/about-news_story.htm?s=104
Eric Mankin (stet) Thu 7 May 09 15:23
(didn't mean to kill the discussion)..
John A. Morris (johnmorris) Thu 7 May 09 18:18
Its unlikely, even with some of these wonderful machines, that war will become completely automated and sanitized. That said, my experience so far with the book is that I can't keep the kids away from it. My step son the IT geek comes over on the weekends to read my copy and my draft person's 14 year old cousin had to call to say thanks to me when she bought it for his birthday. It is, indeed, frakin cool.
bill braasch (bbraasch) Thu 7 May 09 22:31
my son graduates in mechanical engineering next month. he told me a year or so ago that it was all about building robots, the hardest part of that making the robot just smart enough to correctly trigger the next move. that picture of the robot in Iraq with the scorecard on its back and the story about the soldiers not wanting to let it go to scrap is where it takes us. I felt sorry for the robot too. I contrast that with a nice walk down south Dearborn in Chicago one night. I remarked on the safe streets and learned that I'd been filmed by about a dozen cameras along that stretch, and yeah it makes it safer. With all the technology out in the open, what are the chances of constraining tactics by governments or insurgents? some percent of humanity is going to be in conflict. some percent of government power will be corrupt. we live in a harsh reality that's got totally cool technology. we were already in a harsh reality. It's a _Cat's Cradle_ reality on many levels, all of which require some kind of intelligent moderation applied in a way that appeals even to libertarians. the book tells a fascinating story. my son says the work is in government research. he's been working on a training system to reduce problems from badly inserted breathing tubes. He'd rather do that kind of work, or ocean and climate research. sounds like robotics is the next fountain of defense funding and we're still ok with having expeditionary forces even at the expense of improving our own healthcare. how does robotics find the right balance between defense work and friendlier applications?
Michael C. Berch (mcb) Thu 7 May 09 23:14
It's hard to imagine a scenario where robotics don't end up in *both* military and peaceful applications. I mean, it's pretty much happened with every other technology with dual uses -- at least those that are not exclusively weapons systems themselves. (I guess I'm not counting Project Plowshare.) The peaceful uses are market-driven and the military uses are essentially command-economy driven, with the Pentagon's requests mediated by Congress. So in a sense they don't compete with each other, and even if there is insufficient R&D investment in the private sector, spin-offs and technology transfer would very well jumpstart the non-military market.
John A. Morris (johnmorris) Fri 8 May 09 07:23
The slinky started out in life as a more efficient technique for manufacturing piston rings for motors in WWII. The inner workings of the Norden Bomb Sight and the inertial navigation systems were first manufactured as interesting toy gyroscopes before the war. Think of Pynchon's Bloody Chicklitz. Somethings, the .50 cal Machine gun comes to mind, are just one or the other but I think the majority of stuff qua stuff is dual use.
John Payne (satyr) Fri 8 May 09 07:23
What I fear is that we, the U.S., will leave the peaceful applications of robotics to be dominated by others, while we concentrate almost exclusively on military applications, missing some opportunities for economies of scale and for synergistic development in the process. But, speaking of the budget, DOD's overall budget has hardly changed, but there's been some significant shifts above the bottom line. How might the reordering or priorities that produced them be characterized? Oh, and thanks for the Roomba/Tiki story!
John Payne (satyr) Fri 8 May 09 07:28
Here's one example of where military robotics technology is headed, a drone helicopter that pilots itself, mounting a remotely operated sniper rifle... http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/04/army-tests-new/
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 8 May 09 07:33
fascinating home robot section. sorry it got cut. it always reminded me of Heinlein's book The Door Into Summer.
Peter W Singer (peterwsinger) Sat 9 May 09 08:58
Dixie (36), This idea of "battle management" systems and AI "decision aids" is something I cover in the chapter in the book on how our technology offers new aid to commanders, but also poses new challenges of leadership. The systems allow us to sift through more information than humans could ever on their own, as well as do it quicker. But it also raises some interesting quandries. One JAG officer in the book talks about what happens if the commander doesn't listen to their computer aide? If the situation turns out right, we slap them on the back and say "Good job, you once again showed why humans are smarter than machines." But he asks, what if it turns out worse, and when they ignore the recommendations of the machine, which had modeled out what might happen, there are higher casaulties. The JAG say we might have to explore prosecuting the officer for a war crime, as they deliberately ignored the best available means to avoid such a tragedy. But then, he notes, we would be oddly privledging the judgment of a computer over a machine. That said, General Schwartz, chief of staff of the US Air Force, recently spoke at Brookings (and said some really nice things about the book), and again talked about how we are going to have to turn more and more of the analysis of data gathered in battle over to computers because there is just too much being gathered by our new unmanned machines and it is coming in too fast for us to make good use of it. I joked that I had the perfect name for the AI program they would turn this battle management job over to: Skynet.
John Payne (satyr) Sat 9 May 09 09:17
This sounds like a job for Tufte... <http://www.amazon.co.uk/Visual-Display-Quantitative-Information/dp/0961392142>
Peter W Singer (peterwsinger) Sat 9 May 09 10:56
Bill (39) I think this issue of finding the right balance is an important one for the robotics field to wrestle with. Too often young roboticists (guided by their professors) don't want to own up to the fact of what their research is being used for. To be clear, I am not saying don't take DoD money. Rather I am saying if you do, be proud of it and the fact that your research is both taking and saving lives on the battlefield in defense of America. BUT, if for some reason you are not proud of that, then own up to the reality of what working on military projects entails and don't take the money. It may seem the easy way out, but morally, you can't have it both ways, working on military projects, but saying you have nothing to do with war.
John A. Morris (johnmorris) Sat 9 May 09 14:37
Tufte "Visual Display..." is within reach of my desk and is well worn. Your young engineers could do a lot worse for a model. The vast quantities of data coming into the system is part of what Clausewitz called "the fog of war". The best officers understand and account for that.
John Payne (satyr) Sat 9 May 09 17:33
> in defense of America If only we could be confident that's how our armed forces were being used. Certainly, under the new administration, there's a better chance of it, but a few short months ago it seemed far more in doubt. I don't mean to cast aspersions on anyone involved in the actual fighting, which is much the same no matter what the geopolitical/economic reasons for it, but the Bush-Cheney administration seemed capable of almost anything, including inventing a war so their buddies could profit. Let's not go there again, ever.
John Payne (satyr) Sun 10 May 09 08:01
> <40> even if there is insufficient R&D investment in the > private sector, spin-offs and technology transfer would > very well jumpstart the non-military market Eventually, but unless we're ready to let non-military robots be something we import from east asia and europe, we'd better get serious about it. We need something like DARPA for non-military R&D, perhaps as part of the Dept. of Commerce, or, for my purposes, the Dept. of Agriculture.
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