When the Machine World Attacks

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Coming to a theater near them (from WAPO)

Interesting WAPO piece today on advances in drone technology, the basic line being, we’re not all that far from drones doing their killing on their own. Story leads with a description of a successful test wherein drones communicate with each other and zero in on a colored object. You can easily do the extrapolation to face-recognition technology to make the following statement:

This successful exercise in autonomous robotics could presage the future of the American way of war: a day when drones hunt, identify and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans. Imagine aerial “Terminators,” minus beefcake and time travel.

Not going to happen tomorrow but it will happen.  And as self-guiding missiles get smaller and smaller (I’ve seen prototypes the size of cigars), the discretion factor will rise – meaning more good kills and fewer bystanders buying it, whether we’re talking a drone that fires tiny missiles or the drone itself being a tiny missile (sort of a Terminator “suicide” bomber).

What interests me: the whole slog of counterinsurgency is about two sides trying to create a sense of strategic despair (“How can we possibly win?”) in the minds of the other side. The more the US signals its usual historic approach (“We will win with technological stuff in large numbers that keeps our casualties low”), the more we create strategic despair on the other side. This sort of technology will go a long way toward creating such despair.

No, it doesn’t obviate the boots-on-the-ground effort, and it will “create” some of the resistance while simultaneously reducing its best players on a consistent basis. And yes, all the usual concerns about legality and rules will apply. But this will work, and we will use it pervasively – as will others (but nowhere to the same effect because the “back office” requirements aren’t small).

The “occidentalism” of our opponents (the belief that Westerners are weak and have no stomach for “real war”) sustains them. This technological path will supercharge that claim (“You don’t fight like real warriors!”), but – again – it will create real despair long term. The off-grid places are disappearing, and the Terminators are coming – just for you.