Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Kill All Humans

"The fantasy of a romantic war that spared civvies was a short little dream, born in the novels of the 19th century and doomed to die in it too..." ~ Gary Brecher 

I'm on record as not being that worked up about drones. I stand by that because as the US currently uses them, they're no different from the A-10s and B52s that also light up civilians. Getting worked up over new hardware that does just what the old hardware did is one of those forest for the trees things for me - the wetware behind who gets zapped and where, that's the real issue.

So some visionary lunatics have decided to throw the human minds out of the equation alltogether! With Israel leading the way, living in a big weapons testing lab like they do, the next step in dronified warfare is "autonomous weapon systems" or what I'll just be refering to from here on out as killbots. Current expectations of killbot technology is that they'll have some fancy freind-or-foe recognition system so they can "decide" on their own whether or not to launch a hellfire. Proponents are claiming that this will reduce civilian casualties as well as save the killbot deploying powers from having to care about getting their own soldiers killed on the strategic misadventure of the week.

What could possibly go wrong...

"It may be possible that these lethal autonomous systems could ultimately reduce noncombatant casualties in warfare over conventional human forces... And if that could be achieved, I would contend there is a moral imperative to use them, as this could lead to the saving of innocent human life, much like the use of precision-guided munitions," says Professor Ronald Arkin, Georgia Institute of Technology and possibly high-functioning autistic.

This is so fucking stupid I don't even know where to start... First of all, the idea that you can have war without civilian casualties is one of those distinctly First World fantasies like cake without fat or death without suffering. War is controlled destruction and that control only goes so far as a general radius of fire, blood, and bullets. And considering irregular war - the only kind going on anymore - is fought by suped up superpowers on one side and locals in jeans and keffiyahs on the other, that target detection programming is either going to make the killbot too confused to function or will just be set to "anyone brown."

The only way this bloodless war fantasy could come even close to reality is if killbot nations only fought other killbot nations - which seems to be Arkin's assumption and shows how little he understands about war. Or people. Or anything. But it shows a brainwave I pointed out long ago of Americans thinking of war as existing in a vacuum, devoid of politics and culture. In such conditions, it would make perfect sense to let the killbots go at it and grant victory to whoever was still whirring around at the end of the day.

We could sell tickets!

But raw attrition is never how war actually works. If it did, Vietnam and Iraq would be clear-cut victories. War is the continuation of policy by other means, as Clausewitz said, and if the other side doesn't care for your policy and they can still send killbots out to the big, morally acceptable killbots-only battlefield, how long until that "No Civvies" block gets lifted?

I'm not wringing my hands over some far-fetched Terminator scenario here. I don't have any issue with the hardware - again, it's the wetware, the human brains that I see as fundamentally broken. People in America have been thinking of war in this clean Red vs. Blue game scenario for so long that they think killbots will actually make war clean and guilt free. And when the killbots start burning down villages and performing summary executions of old women - like any occupying army - they'll either beat the "Dur, technology bad!" drum like they've been doing with drones or they'll think it's a bug or something. "If only Killbots Inc had a better QA department then it wouldn't happen..."

War is an ugly and despicable thing because people are ugly and despicable. Especially you. Robots are just an extension of that and won't change a damned thing.

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If you were hoping for some commentary on the death of Margaret Thatcher, click here.

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