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Via Histomatist

War is about to change, in terrifying ways. America’s next wars, the ones the Pentagon is now planning, will be nothing like the conflicts that have gone before them. In just a few years, US forces will be able to deal out death, not at the squeeze of a trigger or even the push of a button, but with no human intervention whatsoever. Many fighting soldiers - those GIs in tin hats who are dying two a day in Iraq - will be replaced by machines backed up by surveillance technology so penetrating and pervasive that it is referred to as “military omniscience”. Any Americans involved will be less likely to carry rifles than PlayStation-style consoles and monitors that display simulated streetscapes of the kind familiar to players of Grand Theft Auto - and they may be miles from where the killing takes place.The real aim, however, is not to expose flesh-and-blood Americans on the ground, but where possible to use robots. That way there will be no “body bag problem”; and in any case machines are better equipped than human beings to process and make use of the vast quantities of data involved…

Much of the hardware and software already exists and the race to produce the rest is on such a scale that US officials are calling it the “new Manhattan Project”. Hundreds of research projects are under way at American universities and defence companies, backed by billions of dollars, and Donald Rumsfeld’s department of defence is determined to deliver as soon as possible. The momentum is coming not only from the relentless humiliation of US forces at the hands of some determined insurgents on the streets of Baghdad, but also from a realisation in Washington that this is the shape of things to come. Future wars, they believe, will be fought in the dirty, mazy streets of big cities in the “global south”, and if the US is to prevail it needs radically new strategies and equipment

In one sense, robots are not new: already, armed drones such as Predator, “piloted” by CIA operators from screens in Florida, have been responsible for at least 80 assassination raids in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan (killing many civilians as well). Defence contractors have also developed ground-based vehicles capable of carrying cameras and weapons into the battlefield.

But this is only the start. What will make the next generation different is that they are being designed so that they can choose, all on their own, the targets they will attack. Operating in the air and on the ground, they are being equipped with Automated Target Recognition software capable not only of comparing signals received from new-generation sensors with databases of targets, but also of “deciding” to fire guns or launch missiles automatically once there is a good “fit”. Automated killing of this kind hasn’t been approved by anyone yet, but it is certainly being planned. John Tirpak, editor of Air Force Magazine in the US, expects initially that humans will retain the last word, but he predicts that once robots “establish a track record of reliability in finding the

right targets and employing weapons properly”, the “machines will be trusted to do even that”.Planners believe, moreover, that robot warriors have a doomsday power. Gordon Johnson, a team leader on Project Alpha, which is developing robots for the US army, predicts that, if the robot’s gun can return fire automatically and instantly to within a metre of a location from which its sensors have detected a gunshot, it will always kill the person who has fired. “Anyone who would shoot at our forces would die,” says Johnson. “Before he can drop that weapon and run, he’s probably already dead. Well now, these cowards in Baghdad would have to pay with blood and guts every time they shoot at one of our folks. The costs of poker went up significantly. The enemy, are they going to give up blood and guts to kill machines? I’m guessing not.”’

Recent research leads me to believe that this may be because machines are more tolerant of toxins than flesh and blood you or I; and that each one of these aluminum monsters would line the pockets of the military-industrial complex, and perhaps spawn all manner of jeu vidéo franchises. More on that to come.

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