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114 of 124 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars JohnHawley El Paso, Texas, March 10, 2009
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This review is from: Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Hardcover)
I work as an engineering psychologist in a U.S. Army organization that is in the forefront of R&D on military robotics and automated command and control systems. Hence, I read P.J. Sanger's Wired for War with considerable interest. I can relate to much of his discussion on an experiential basis. We routinely encounter and try to provide solutions for many of the problems Sanger discusses. As a point of interest, I was the technical lead on an Army effort looking at human performance contributors to the fratricides by the Patriot air defense missile system during the recent Gulf War mentioned on page 125. As is usually the case in a casual summary of complex events, Sanger's description of these events is superficially accurate, but there is a lot more to the story. Also, I've been told that his remark on page 197 about the radar on the DIVAD gun locking onto the exhaust fan of a port-a-potty is an urban legend. I've heard about this alleged incident, but I've never been able to find anyone in the Army air defense community who ever witnessed it personally. We work tests on that class of systems all the time, so we know the players.
Overall, I thought Sanger did a good job of describing the state of the art in robotic military systems and addressing the potential sociological and psychological impact of using these systems in current and future military operations. From my perspective, the central operational issue in using armed robotic systems in combat is balancing autonomy with effective human control (the focus of Sanger's Chapter 6.). In my view, he correctly refers to this topic as the "Issue-That-Must-Not-Be-Discussed." I was particularly struck by the difference between the attitude of those having the most on-the-ground experience with these systems (e.g. Robert Quinn's remark on page 124 that he can't even imagine how unmanned systems would "ever be able to autonomously fire their weapons.") and the almost casual attitude on this subject expressed by many of the decision makers we deal with daily. Their attitude is best summarized by the remark attributed to an unnamed former secretary of the army who responded "No" when asked if he could identify any challenges that the greater use of unmanned systems would bring to the military.
The reality associated with greater autonomy on the part of armed robotic systems is that there will likely be many more "oops moments" (Sanger's page 196) than are politically and operationally tolerable. Based on our assessment of the Patriot fratricides during the recent Gulf War, these incidents were an example of an oops moment on the part of an armed robotic system. If the past is any indicator of the future, such incidents will result in initial "surprise" and "shock" on the part of the leadership that these advanced systems behaved thusly, followed by the imposition of restrictive rules of engagements that effectively take the offending system out of the fight. Sanger is correct that we need a more realistic assessment by those in policy-making jobs of the potential problems associated with the use of armed, autonomous robotic systems in actual combat--but I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen.
Armed robotic systems will be fielded. They will be allowed to operate autonomously. Oops moments will occur. And unpleasant fallout and scapegoating will take place in the aftermath of such incidents. The issue of control in accord with human intent versus the illusion of control is complex and will not easily be solved. Software glitches aside, oops moments will mostly result from what Dave Woods of Ohio State University terms the "brittleness problem of automata:" An inability to satisfactorily handle unusual or ambiguous situations. I fear that the "Strong AI" necessary to satisfactorily address the brittleness problem will remain tantalizingly just over the technical horizon for some time to come.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 23, 2009 5:31:47 AM PDT
Robin Catton says:
Being a man who is most supicious of govt. and the military; this is an excellent critique. I trust my efforts to write will yield such solid writing as this:

Posted on May 24, 2009 10:32:39 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 25, 2009 9:15:47 PM PDT
Aquient says:
Well said. Most political and military leadership is clueless of the technical complexity of building autonomous, well-behaved warrior systems, and formulate opinions based on seductive marketing collateral. Singer is able to expose some of this, but eventually gets caught up in the breathlessness of his own rhetoric.

The biggest flaw in the book is that all encounters with the enemy are characterized by the "we have autonomous robotic swarms, while the enemy will cower and surrender or die" mentality. Any meaningful encounter will almost certainly involve robotic warfare from the other side programmed with a different set of delusions.

My personal view is that much of future warfare will be software/information based e.g. unmanned virus agents, misinformation and misdirection, malicious bot swarms, etc. We'll probably see the end of meaningful physical warfare over the next couple of decades and presumably the stockpile of hardware robots will be re-purposed for household chores.

In any event, I'd recommend this book. It is informative, reflects a sincere attempt to cover all the angles, and well-written.

Posted on Jun 22, 2009 3:39:25 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 22, 2009 4:00:15 PM PDT
nehopsa says:
It is a chilling outlook to see firing machines execute their autonomous "decisions". I am afraid we are moving towards Futurological Congress (S. Lem) reality. Back in the 70-ties Stanislaw Lem described a lunar warfare. Large nations moved their military R&D on the Moon. Arms race started. Precarious balance was soon over. At one point something "decided" to go on preemptive strike. The Japanese underground base was uprooted while right in the middle of new developmental cycle. Their eerily advanced robots were obliterated before they could finish their assembly... When you unleash these systems and give them autonomy you have Armageddon on cards. A Russian roulette with human destiny. I am afraid it is all old news since MacArthur wanted to nuke Korea and Nixon Vietnam. But having these decisions robotized you lost the last vestige of common sense.

Posted on Jun 22, 2009 3:39:25 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jun 22, 2009 3:41:28 PM PDT]

Posted on Jan 9, 2010 12:30:28 PM PST
Bucherwurm says:
Is frequently misspelling the author's name (Sanger vs Singer) one of your ooops moments? :-)

Posted on Jun 24, 2010 11:53:59 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 24, 2010 11:57:14 AM PDT
Alexei says:
I can NOT trust the review, where the last name of the author is repeatedly misspelled.

Posted on Jan 22, 2013 8:54:50 PM PST
AS says:
That's how they pronounce Singer down in Texas?

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 29, 2014 4:32:30 PM PST
I'm a medical doctor. What the heck is an engineering psychologist?

Posted on Mar 12, 2015 9:25:06 AM PDT
The Seeker says:
I for one very much appreciate your comment. Very much.
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