The rate of technological change over the last century has been exponential. According to Moore's Law, computing power has doubled for the price every two years, a trend set to continue or even accelerate. It’s a trend that's seen robotics take centre stage in the theatre of war -- and in some cases, saved many lives.
But according to political scientist P. W. Singer, it may be taking us into the ultimate of ethical grey areas. Singer claims "YouTube wars," fought by remote consoles thousands of kilometres away from the battlelines, have profoundly compromised the gravitas that once accompanied the horrors of warfare. For example, unmanned squadrons of "Predator Drones" currently carry out five times the airstrikes in Pakistan that were waged on Kosovo ten years ago. But, as Singer points out, this isn’t actually referred to as a "war."
As the military becomes increasingly disconnected from the battles they are waging, Singer checks up on the cost to the operators and the targets of our newest "killer apps" -- the unmanned robot armies of the twenty-first century.
Peter W. Singer was speaking to the Lowy Institute's Rory Medcalf at the Sydney Opera House for the 2010 Festival of Dangerous Ideas.
P. W. Singer
Peter Warren Singer is Senior Fellow and Director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution. He is the youngest scholar named Senior Fellow in Brookings's 90-year history. In 2005, CNN named him to their "New Guard" List of the Next Generation of Newsmakers. Singer has also been recognized by the Financial Times as "Guru of the Week" for the thinker who most influenced the world that week and by Slate Magazine for "Quote of the Day."
In his personal capacity, Singer served as coordinator of the Obama-08 campaign’s defense policy task force. In 2009, Singer was named by Foreign Policy Magazine to the Top 100 Global Thinkers List, of the people whose ideas most influenced the world that year.
Dr. Singer is considered one of the world's leading experts on changes in 21st century warfare. He was named by the President to Joint Forces Command's Transformation Advisory Group. He has written for the full range of major media and journals, including the Boston Globe, L.A. Times, New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Current History, Survival, International Security, Parameters, Weltpolitik, and the World Policy Journal.
He has been quoted in every major U.S. newspaper and news magazine and delivered talks at venues ranging from the U.S. Congress to over 40 universities around the world. He has provided commentary on military affairs for nearly every major TV and radio outlet, including ABC-Nightline, Al Jazeera, BBC, CBS-60 Minutes, CNN, FOX, NPR, and the NBC Today Show. He is also a founder and organizer of the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, a global conference that brings together leaders from across the US and the Muslim world.
Dr. Singer’s most recent book, Wired for War (Penguin, 2009), looks at the implications of robotics and other new technologies for war, politics, ethics, and law in the 21st century. Described as: “An exhaustively researched book, enlivened by examples from popular culture" by the Associated Press and “awesome” by Jon Stewart of the "Daily Show," Wired for War made the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list in its first week of release. It was named a non-fiction Book of the Year by The Financial Times. It has already been featured in the video game "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot," the CBS "Late Late Show,” as well as in over 75 presentations at venues as diverse as all three US military academies, the US Congress, the National Student Leadership Conference, and the royal court of the United Arab Emirates. The book is also been made an official reading with organizations that range from National Defense University, US Air Force, US Navy, to the Royal Australian Navy.
Prior to his current position, Dr. Singer was the founding Director of the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World in the Saban Center at Brookings. He has also worked for the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, the Balkans Task Force in the U.S. Department of Defense, and the International Peace Academy. Singer received his Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
In an era of high tech weaponry engaged on front lines around the globe, author P.W. Singer discusses the need to rethink the antiquated rules of war from 1949's Geneva Convention. Should the global community be looking to Star Trek's Prime Directive for inspiration?
Author P.W. Singer discusses the increasingly common "leeching" of advanced and often invasive military technology into civilian life and domestic law enforcement. Do drones engaged on American soil violate our right to privacy? Does the Second Amendment protect our right to "bear robotic arms"?
Design, construction, and use of machines (robots) to perform tasks done traditionally by human beings. Robots are widely used in such industries as automobile manufacture to perform simple repetitive tasks, and in industries where work must be performed in environments hazardous to humans. Many aspects of robotics involve artificial intelligence; robots may be equipped with the equivalent of human senses such as vision, touch, and the ability to sense temperature. Some are even capable of simple decision making, and current robotics research is geared toward devising robots with a degree of self-sufficiency that will permit mobility and decision-making in an unstructured environment. Today's industrial robots do not resemble human beings; a robot in human form is called an android.
This lecture is fascinating.
One interesting double standard that I noticed is, that an insurgent living with women and children is described as violating the rules of war, while a drone operator in Nevada that goes home to eat dinner with his family after killing people in Pakistan, is not.