Thursday, October 26, 2006

Remote control

While aerial drones are commonplace above battlefields, robot warfare becoming increasingly extended on the ground, too.
By 2015, the US Department of Defense plans that one third of its fighting strength will be composed of robots, part of a $127bn (£68bn) project known as Future Combat Systems (FCS), a transformation that is part of the largest technology project in American history.The US army has already developed around 20 remotely controlled Unmanned Ground Systems that can be controlled by a laptop from around a mile away, and the US Navy and US Air Force are working on a similar number of systems with varying ranges.

The reason behind investing in robots is not only in controlling the fallout from bringing body bags home, not so importnat anyway with the US and UK having a largely tame press and the attacks on al-Jazeera, is that it continues the ditancing of soldier from victim.

The rifle is superior to the sword not only in requiring less skill and physical force, but in terms of the distance between soldier and victim. The soldier need never look into the eyes of his victim. Modern warfare has taken this far further. Remember the cockpit camera clips from Gulf War I showing a bunker being taken out by a missile? All seemed very clean and clinical, more like a video game than a war, until it was found one of those bunkers contained civilians sheltering from the air attacks.

Distancing the combatants allows more brutality. The large-scale murder of civilians, political enemies and then racial extermination by Nazi troops in areas of the Soviet Union was causing emotional and mental breakdown among the troops charged with carrying it out, which led to the first true mechanisation of slaughter, the extermination camp. Few troops rebel against immoral orders, but it's unlikely robots ever would.

And who then controls the robots? The President of the USA? (certainly not the British Prime Minister!). The President is just a figurehead of something far larger, the days often referred to as the military-industrial complex, itself a machine run by giant corporates. Who, in turn, runs the corporates? They're again like machines, run on their own internal logic. Supposedly, their one mission is to make money for their shareholders, yet how often, as in the case of Enron, have they ripped their own shareholders off?

In Newton's age, the universe was thought of as running like clockwork, and the superior man, understanding how the clockwork ran, would come to rise to the top. Instead we've already elevated the clockwork to the realms of power.

We need a new age of enlightenment to give back power to humanity. And maybe need to learn hacking in order to survive the battlefield robots long enough to face down the soft machines.


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