Modern warfare & safety…Robots


  • http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/13862793.htm

    Robot planes, bomb sniffers/difusers, trucks, MULES…

    Could we be 20-25 years behind the Terminator timeline?


    Anyone think there might be one more Terminator movie(without Ahnold?)


  • Funny you should make this post, EJ.  I just read an article about robotics and warfare

    http://www.slate.com/id/2135969/

    and I’m going through a book right now on the Revolution in Military Affairs.  In any event, I have been more concerned about the desensitization of “video game” warfare, and I’m reminded of an old Star Trek episode rather than the Terminator (by the way, I really hope they don’t make another one).  I think in that episode, Kirk forces two warring groups to conduct actual physical combat because they had become desensitized to the physical costs.  I think they would simulate battles, the losses would be tallied up, and that amount of people on both sides would just step into a machine and get zapped.

    Here, a somewhat similar underlying feeling.  What happens when the military stops having face to face combat?  Does it start treating the enemy as no more than pixels on a screen, etc.?


  • Your average joe has no concept of what a war actually means, which is why crazy ideas like this are invented.

    There cannot be a robotic replacement for a Marine.


  • Too true…

    the AI in an Atari 2600 was superior to the average E-1 Marine fresh out of Parris Island, and your basic robot needs WAY more than that just to stand up 🙂

    (just a bit if interservice rivalry, not a flame)


  • Chengora - also brings to mind Ender’s Game.  Great book with a similar theme.

  • '19 Moderator

    @M36:

    Your average joe has no concept of what a war actually means, which is why crazy ideas like this are invented.

    There cannot be a robotic replacement for a Marine.

    You had me confused there for a minute, I guess you don’t realize that “Joe” is a common slang term for Army Soldier.

    Though, technically machines take the place of soldiers all the time.  Recon teams are rarely needed nowa days.  Before we start an operation we can see what the area looks like on video.  Thats recons job.  There’s also that UAV in Pakistan that dropped a missile recently.  Will machines take over soldiers jobs completely?  Not in my life time, but ever? who knows.


  • You know, people keep telling me to read Ender’s Game, and I just never get around to it.  Hopefully this time I’ll actually get to it!

    Well, FCS emphasizes remotes and droids, and other militaries are experimenting with those capabilities as well.  I don’t think soldiers will ever be completely replaced, but there is strong political pressure to push down casualties which is driving this process.  But you’re right in that machines are increasingly either being integrated into the modern U.S. army brigade, and stand to keep going in that direction.

    What also concerns me is the decreased flexibility of relying on machines as opposed to humans, as well as the lack of doctrine governing their use.


  • the problem i have with robot soldiers is:
    1. they still need orders. orders come from people. people can be fucked up (Lt. Kelly). robots cant distinguish between good orders and bad orders (not all soldiers can or do either, but people have the capacity for this at least).
    2. if you make a robot advanced enough that he can, then you have a new problem. for all the hype in sci-fi movies and books, we still dont know what a true, sentient AI will be like. but is it worth finding out? if its able to think and adapt, who knows what it will do. i dont think we should advance robotics that far until we can answer that question. what are the odds that a sentient AI will decide to go genocidal on people, and will have the means? probably low, but is it worth finding out? (no)


  • Chengora… if you have never read Ender’s Game… well worth the time!  It is on my “periodic re-read” list.


  • Dezrt, I tend to use civilian terms on the board. 😉 The Army knows theyre stuff, I wasnt emplying that they didnt.


  • Robots are too far behind in identification patterns of friend and foe.  This would be especially true in a guerrilla war or terrorist war where the enemy fights without an identifiable uniform.

    I do recall from Star Wars Galactic Battleground that automated attacks and defense are really good in the set up of kill zones.

    Set up some target that the terrorists will want to attack.  Limit their attack vectors with walls and buildings.  Set up your forces to quickly seal off and then eradicate any intruders when they enter the kill zone you set up.  Air units ignore walls so they were really good at that job.

    In real life, you build walls everywhere and patrol from above.  Nighttime curfews will be enforced and that’s when the robotic aircraft will attack any non-certified moving objects approaching the defensively built walls.  Call in the marines to mop up stragglers who may have devised means to avoid robotic detection of their retreat.


  • I’ll have to pick it up next time I see my girlfriend.  She’s a big sci-fi fan.  Calls it “mind candy”.

    Anyway, I really should have been more specific.  All the drones, etc. that I mentioned are backended by actual people.  It’s, unfortunately, like playing a video game.  Some people paint targets (thus getting around the problem Linkon mentioned), while others point and click to fire.

    Actually, I recall while I was in college that a friend of mine’s dad conducted a war simulation using an imaginary unmanned vehicle.  Did any of you ever play Starcraft?  There was a flying drone carrier, and that was essentially the vehicle.  Interesting result, as the opposing team went nuclear because of the efficacy of the drones.  With increased Predator purchases and development, we’re nearing that stage of weaponry.


  • How is the videogaming warfare by drones any different than the bombing of cities that happened in WWII?  The bomber crews were never able to see the victems either, only a city from 10,000 feet altitude and I would maintain that they were also desensitized to the destruction they wrought in the manner you bring up.  For that manner, how about the generals in WWI who sat miles away from the front discussing their plans with expected losses of hundreds of thousands to gain a few yards/meters …but never, ever seeing the action for themselves?


  • Hey Baker,

    Good to hear from you again.  I hope you’re trip went well.  Japan can be an amazing (and expensive) place.

    Far enough about your point.  The distance has always been a factor in desensitizing soldiers, and to an extent I think it’s both helpful and necessary in a modern military.  The concern is that with drone warfare, and training practices more generally, it has become devolved to such a widespread level.  Not simply drone teams, but combat brigades are practicing more and more on video games (as have large urban police forces).  This creates, to my mind, a disturbing sense of desensitization.  For example, in WWII, a high percentage (I can’t remember specifically, but somewhere above 25%) of soldiers were afraid to fire their weapons for fear of killing.  Obviously, with an all-volunteer army this becomes less of a problem, but the moral considerations exemplified in that statistic is, to my mind, a healthy thing for a military, particularly one in a democracy.  We need to know that soldiers will not indiscriminately fire on civilians, or what is more likely the case, can make the appropriate judgments as to who is a combatant versus not.  Video game warfare specifically induces a separation between soldier and target, such that some U.S. GIs have said “[combat is] like playing Halo.”  But there is no reset button obviously.

    I’ve often said that the U.S. has the best instrumental military in history.  It can kill with incredible efficiency, and that is to its credit.  But, I have also said that, in asymmetrical conflict, its weakness is in the existential nature of its soldiers.  I don’t doubt that they are willing to give up their lives.  However, I do wonder how much they’re willing to “give up” the lives of their enemies, and how they perceive those enemies.  This is what I mean, and why I fear, a lack of doctrine in this situation.


  • Chengora,

    Its good to be back home although I found both Japan and Australia very nice places.  The Japanese are a really neat culture, though I found the Australian culture to be very similar to the US and Canada (maybe a few differences, but not too much).  As far as expensive…I suppose, but then I’m not the one paying the bill  😄  Now I just have to get past the jet-lag  😐

    Thanks for clarifying your point.  But I’m not sure that I agree the use of hi-tech equipment is the only, or even the main cause of a desensitized (to civilians and non-combatants) military.  I do agree that the hi-tech equipment can have this affect, but the influence of the hi-tech equipment is certainly less, IMO, than the example, direction, and training provided to the soldiers.

    Consider the horrible things the Japanese did to the Chinese in the 1930’s.  Or consider the genocide in the Sudan, Rwanda and elsewhere, all throughout history.  These actions result in, I think, the superior forces not believing the conquered to be “human” if you will, rather than believing human life is cheap.  Certainly, the belief the victims are “pixels” can do this…as can the belief the victims are “animals.”  I don’t think the US military is deliberately training our soldiers that civilians are “pixels” so its ok to destroy them…but that may be what is in fact happening and maybe the military should take additional steps (via appropriate directives and training) here to keep our soldiers “civil.”  Considering that by far the biggest use of military forces (by the West) today is in peacekeeping missions, I think it would be a good idea for the military to work to instill a strong regard for civilians in the soldiers.


  • Hey Baker,

    Glad you had a nice trip.  My last visit to Japan was outrageously expensive.  US$10 just to get to the middle of the city.  I couldn’t justify going any further.  🙂

    Anyway, desensitization.  I fully agree with you:  there are many factors that contribute to desensitization in the military, partly intentional and partly not.  I think the nationalistic streak is part of that process.  But, prior, it hasn’t been a training element on this wide a level, and your example of the generals is telling.  Higher level command runs generally through separate institutions (West Point, USNA, etc.), where I think the desensitization is perhaps a bit more necessary to cope with, sometimes, the magnitude of violence that is about to placed in these peoples’ hands.  But I think we agree that having yet another input for desensitization on such a wide level is probably not a good thing regarding ethical military conduct.  So, I agree, the military should be taking additional steps with regard to the psychological impact of using machines and drones.  But you’re right in that it’s simply one of a number of factors that influence training.


  • Which city, Tokyo?  On this trip I had the good fortune to visit Fukuoka and Saga (both on Kyushu) as well as Tokyo, though not with as much time as I would have liked since I had work to do.

    Anyway it seems we pretty much agree.  Since the video-game style technology is relatively new to the military, perhaps this is something the designers of the equipment did not anticipate.  Anytime there is new technology, unintended and unforeseen consequences can and do develop and adjustments need to be made.


  • I think the vicarious warfare you mention Chengora will be a reality.  You are exactly right about using video games to train people, as the US Army has recently (past 2-4 years) released a game that is in their interest - “America’s Army.”  It seems that the benefits are many, desensitizing among them.  Not to mention that it is a branding of the Army itself, a la any corporate marketing scheme: Army of One slogan, similar ads that ring with familiarity every time you see them, a logo, etc…

    Now, while I think it will happen, let’s at least suppose it happens.  Robotics and vicarious warfare are now a reality.  Since we would not be experiencing as many human casualties, and instead suffer financial loss, would we be more or less prone to go to war?
    Also, robotics and automated weaponry aren’t necessarily better than humans at combat, they just have a different set of strengths and weaknesses.  Such as: the need for battlefield mechanics/robotic experts; EMP shielding; anti-hacking protection, and so on.  The distance that is created between the warrior and the battle almost allows for even more unfortunate circumstances, i.e. communication breakdown.  I would think a squad of humans would be able to adapt easier than a squad of automatons behind enemy lines.

    I can almost see it now, though:  A lone drone traversing the battlefield, resplendent in its awesome weaponry.  On closer inspection you see an AOL logo and an Intel Inside! icon on the hood.


  • I would like to see a robot fireteam storm a house, eliminate hostiles, and secure any targets.

    Face it, there are somethings robots cant do. A robot would find it very difficult to climb stairs i imagine.


  • well,
    it could blow up the house, i suppose . . . .


  • AND KILL INNOCENTS!!!??? 😮 😮 😮 GOD FORBID!!!


  • Certainly there are things that a robot couldn’t do that would of course require actual human soldiers.  But part of FCS is a reconceptualization of the U.S. military’s mission.  Drones, etc. are meant to provide full battlefield superiority with a minimum loss of human life.  I don’t think communications breakdown is really that big of a deal, nor do I find that EMP weapons are a threat (on a ground battle at least, with close air support, an EMP weapon would knock out everyone.).  The difficulty, as I said, is doctrine:  when should we use these weapons and how?  The concern is that a drone is used as an alternative to humans raiding a building, say, by instead simply blowing it up.  The choices lying behind the use of these weapons, particularly if they give a sense of desensitization, are very worrying, in my mind.  Oh, gotta go!

    Oh, yeah, I was in Tokyo, and the time before that in Hokkaido.


  • Hokkaido?  Wow, that seems a bit out of the way, even for Japan.  Of the place I’ve been to in Japan (Tokyo, Fukuoka, Saga and Osaka - on a previous trip, not this trip) I’d have to say that for Japan I really liked Fukuoka the best although Tokyo is very nice as well and there is more to do in Tokyo.  I guess a big part is who you are with … it is really nice when the Japanese client will show you around a bit if time permits.  I’d love to go to Hokkaido as I hear it is much different than the rest of Japan because it is not as densely settled.

    I think the main reason the military wants to use robots is to reduce American casualties.  While large civilian casualties (such as we are seeing with the Iraqis now) are bad it gets much worse politically when there are large numbers of our soldiers getting killed.  But no one cares about a dead robot.  That these robots desensitize the typical soldier may or may not be desired or intended by the military leadership, but its certainly not the primary reason for the robots.

    The choice in using the weapon for military leaders is simple – whenever their use can accomplish the military objective, thus eliminating the chance of American casualties or hostages.  The caveat is if 1) their use opens up the possibility of large numbers of civilian casualties (which can also make a political mess) that will probably not happen with actual soldiers, and 2) it can be assumed the loss of Americans will be relatively light.  In this case, the use of human soldiers are prefered.


  • Yeah, Hokkaido was kind of a weird experience for me.  The group I was working for had a major success, so it decided to take everyone to Hokkaido in the dead of winter.  So, we ended up playing with snow and exploring a glacier.  This is presumably because at that time I was working in a tropical country, so a lot of people there had never seen snow before.  Beautiful place and very sparsely populated.  Still, I hate shoveling snow, especially since I had to help my parents do it starting at age five, and we were too cheap to by a snow blower (well, at least not until I was 16).  So, standing on a glacier when Japanese civilization, culture, and food were so close by lost its charm kind of quickly.  😄

    And I agree, I think the U.S. military does want it to cut down on casualties, although it’s my understanding that they will eventually move into “superhuman” combat.  For example, planes operating in G-force environments far in excess of human sustainability.

    I must admit, however, that underlying my concerns regarding the use of machines, I find all of this incredibly cool.  🙂


  • @Chengora:

    Yeah, Hokkaido was kind of a weird experience for me.  The group I was working for had a major success, so it decided to take everyone to Hokkaido in the dead of winter.  So, we ended up playing with snow and exploring a glacier.  This is presumably because at that time I was working in a tropical country, so a lot of people there had never seen snow before.  Beautiful place and very sparsely populated.  Still, I hate shoveling snow, especially since I had to help my parents do it starting at age five, and we were too cheap to by a snow blower (well, at least not until I was 16).  So, standing on a glacier when Japanese civilization, culture, and food were so close by lost its charm kind of quickly.  😄

    And I agree, I think the U.S. military does want it to cut down on casualties, although it’s my understanding that they will eventually move into “superhuman” combat.  For example, planes operating in G-force environments far in excess of human sustainability.

    I must admit, however, that underlying my concerns regarding the use of machines, I find all of this incredibly cool.  🙂

    I’m always awed by technology - probably the same way that Oppenheimer felt after the first nuclear test.  It can create & destroy.  Awesome (and not in the Valley Girl way).

    You guys are making me envious.  I’ve always wanted to go to Japan.  I’m sure I’d enjoy the island Hokkaido less than the others, but I’d take it!  By the way, Hokkaido was the last island to be assimilated into Japan of the major islands, which may be why it’s still “out there.”  I’m sure the cold and rare arable land doesn’t help either….

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