Books  |  ,   |  December 29, 2009

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

By P. W. Singer.
Published by Penguin Books.
512 pages.

What happens when science fiction becomes battlefield reality? An amazing revolution is taking place on the battlefield, starting to change not just how wars are fought, but also the politics, economics, laws, and ethics that surround war itself. This upheaval is already afoot — remote-controlled drones take out terrorists in Afghanistan, while the number of unmanned systems on the ground in Iraq has gone from zero to 12,000 over the last five years. But it is only the start. Military officers quietly acknowledge that new prototypes will soon make human fighter pilots obsolete, while the Pentagon researches tiny robots the size of flies to carry out reconnaissance work now handled by elite Special Forces troops.

Wired for War takes the reader on a journey to meet all the various players in this strange new world of war: odd-ball roboticists working in latter-day “skunk works” in the midst of suburbia; military pilots flying combat mission from their office cubicles outside Las Vegas; the Iraqi insurgents who are their targets; journalists trying to figure out just how to cover robots at war; and human rights activists wrestling with what is right and wrong in a world where our wars are increasingly being handed over to machines.

If issues like these sound like science fiction, that’s because many of the new technologies were actually inspired by some of the great sci-fi of our time from Terminator and Star Trek to the works of Asimov and Heinlein. In fact, Singer reveals how the people who develop new technologies consciously draw on such sci-fiction when pitching them to the Pentagon, and he even introduces the sci-fi authors who quietly consult for the military.

But, whatever its origins, our new machines will profoundly alter warfare, from the frontlines to the home front. When planes can be flown into battle from an office 10,000 miles away (or even fly themselves, like the newest models), the experiences of war and the very profile of a warrior change dramatically. Singer draws from historical precedent and the latest Pentagon research to argue that wars will become easier to start, that the traditional moral and psychological barriers to killing will fall, and that the “warrior ethos” ­ the code of honor and loyalty which unites soldiers ­ will erode.

Paradoxically, these new unmanned technologies will also seemingly bring war closer to our doorsteps, including even with videos of battles downloaded for entertainment. But Singer also proves that our enemies will not settle for fighting our high-tech proxies on their own turf. He documents, for instance, how Hezbollah deployed unmanned aircraft in the Lebanese war of 2006, and how America may even fall behind in this revolution, as its adversaries gain knockoffs of our own technology, or even develop better tech of their own invention.

While his predictions are unnerving, there’s an irresistible gee-whiz quality to what Singer uncovers and the people he meets along the way. It is packed with cutting edge research and hard to get interviews of everyone from four star Army generals and Middle East leaders to reclusive science fiction authors. Yet it also seamlessly weaves in pop culture and illuminating anecdotes to create a book that is both highly readable and accessible. In laying out where our technologies are taking us to next, Wired for War is as fascinating as it is frightening.

Table of Contents

Author’s Note: Why a Book on Robots and War?

Part One: The Change We Are Creating

1. Introduction: Scenes from a Robot War
2. Smart Bombs, Norma Jeane, and Defecating Ducks: A Short History of Robotics
3. Robotics for Dummies
4. To Infinity and Beyond: The Power of Exponential Trends
5. Coming Soon to a Battlefield Near You: The Next Wave of Warbots
6. Always in the Loop? The Arming and Autonomy of Robots
7. Robotic Gods: Our Machine Creators
8. What Inspires Them: Science Fiction’s Impact on Science Reality
9. The Refuseniks: The Roboticists Who Just Say No

Part Two: What Change Is Creating For Us

10. The Big Cebrowski and the Real RMA: Thinking About Revolutionary Technologies
11. “Advanced” Warfare: How We Might Fight with Robots
12. Robots That Don’t Like Apple Pi: How the U.S. Could Lose the Unmanned Revolution
13. Open-Source Warfare: College Kids, Terrorists, and Other New Users of Robots at War
14. Losers and Luddites: The Changing Battlefields Robots Will Fight On and the New Electronic Sparks of War
15. The Psychology of Warbots
16. YouTube War: The Public and Its Unmanned Wars
17. Changing the Experience of War and the Warrior
18. Command and Control . . . Alt-Delete: New Technologies and Their Effect on Leadership
19. Who Let You in the War? Technology and the New Demographics of Conflict
20. Digitizing the Laws of War and Other Issues of (Un)Human Rights
21. A Robot Revolt? Talking About Robot Ethics
22. Conclusion: The Duality of Robots and Humans

About the Author
P. W. Singer is a 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 its “New Guard” List of the Next Generation of Newsmakers. In his personal capacity, Singer served as coordinator of the 2008 Obama campaign’s defense policy task force. Dr. Singer is considered one of the world’s leading experts on changes in twenty-first century warfare. He has written for the full range of major media and journals, including the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, Current History, Survival, International Security, Parameters, Weltpolitik, and the World Policy Journal.

book site:  http://wiredwar.pwsinger.com/the-book/