- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (December 29, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143116843
- ASIN: B003YDXDEU
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 153 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,593,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century Reprint Edition
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About the Author
Dr Singer is considered one the world's leading experts on changes in 21st century warfare. He has written for the full range of major media and journals, including Boston Globe, L.A. Times, New Times, amongst many others. He is also the author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry and Children at War. He is also a founder and organizer of the US-Islamic World Forum, a global conference that brings together leaders from across the US and the Muslim world.
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You would be forgiven for mistaking Singer's work for an exciting science fiction novel about the possibilities of warfare in the distant future. Sure, the book includes examination of laser-weapons, microwave-ray guns, and the "singularity" that would result from man's eventual inferiority to his creations. Alas, for better or worse, you'll find the book in the non-fiction section of your library (if those haven't been digitized and relegated to the Stone Age already). The text holds its eminent readability while describing, in detail, the latest advancements in military technology. He takes us through centuries of development, pointing out how each new form changed the rules of warfare. Due to its relatively exhaustive review of warfare equipment technology leaps, the book delivers quite a history lesson throughout. We read about how bows and arrows, cannons, and airplanes have changed war's practitioners' strategies, and are asked to ponder the ethical implications of such developments. We're led to believe that at each of these advancements, man is more and more separated from the act of war. But only in the most recent developments has man literally passed the dirty work onto other "beings," thus dramatically changing the identity of soldiers and warriors.
While Singer does a good join providing the backdrop, the real genius in his book lies in its overview of more recent technology. That technology, developed in response to various global threats, has become increasingly robotic as the decades have passed. The author notes that in 1999, there were nine companies doing homeland security work for the feds. By 2006 there were more than 30,000. And more and more of this work was on autonomous machines that required less and less human engagement. As the United States has become involved in wars in the Middle East, its incentives to use such systems has grown. Sending in "unmanned aerial vehicles" to do surveillance and attacks reduces the risks to American lives. As wars have become more and more visible to constituents, any chance to make war less personal seems to be worth pursuing. Thus we end up in a system where we train more people to fly drones than we train fighter pilots. These drone pilots are able to lead their missions from many thousands of miles away, in places like Nevada, where they are able to return to their families after a day at war.
Robots, the author contends, have become such an integral part of our military that they have completely transformed it. The ability of small groups to make use of advancements in communications technology, for instance, has led to the "loss of the state's roughly 400-year-old monopoly over which groups could go to war." All of a sudden, rogue terrorists are able to strike fear into entire nations, and countries begin declaring war on non-entities. Robots enable us to transmit information at the speed of light, and offer us limitless capabilities. But they are not perfect. The author cites the apple and tomato test--it is found that little kids are much better at determining which of two is an apple and which is a tomato, while machines struggle mightily. They lack some fundamental human judgment.
I generally rate books by their ability to force me to consider my world anew. This book does that. With all of these new technologies come pressing, sometimes intractable, questions. As we are able to use "directed energy" weapons, whereby we can "neutralize" targets with microwave or other waves, we must consider how the weapons fit into our military complex. A drone doesn't have feelings, doesn't get tired, and cannot make a human judgment. How do you attribute accountability when something goes wrong? The author posits these questions, while leaving the answers open. If a robot mistakenly kills a civilian, who is held responsible? The commanding officer? Which one? The one on site or the one controlling it back stateside? The maker of the machine? The policy makers who choose to use this new and still imperfect technology? These questions have yet to be answered. The author quotes Isaac Asimov: "The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."
Wired for War is an excellent read for anyone who is interested in science, technology, politics, war, or the future of our world. Its exposition of the wide array of new war-related technologies and their applications will leave you fascinated by brainy scientists in Boston, concerned about public servants who have to draw up legislation to deal with newfangled technologies, and deeply worried about possibly abuses of such technologies should they end up in the wrong hands. If you liked The Terminator or Minority Report, you'll enjoy this book. If you were a War of the Worlds reader, this book might echo its sentiments.
While the author admits to a long-held interest in and fascination with war, the overall tone is one of extremely cautious awe of man's newfound capacities. Although advances in war products and legal frameworks allow him to make profitable analyses, Singer represents humanity's uneasy acceptance of such new methods into our world. Singer aptly quotes another well-known military-oriented pragmatic pacifist, President Dwight D. Eisenhower: "The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists and the hopes of its children." As we march toward a world of ever-more-complicated armaments, and ever-more powerful and interconnected computers, humanity must realize that such advancements have a trade-off. It's up to wise minds to determine where to draw the line, and how to enforce adherence to totally novel conundrums. Considering so-called Moore's law, which suggests that computers' abilities double every couple years, we need to make these adaptations quickly. It is equally important to maintain one's sensibilities and not adopt an alarmist attitude towards the changing defense landscape, even as we may be frightened by the possible.
They have moved from rejection, to wholesale acceptance of devices such as the Predator (an ariel robot using remote control and GPS). It's cheaper than a jet fighter, can stay in the air longer, is more accurate, can operate at lower altitude and doesn't risk a pilot's life. It's now official policy, wherever possible, to switch to robotic fighting machines on land, sea and air.
He explores this fast changing situation and considers the issue of robot autonomy (robots collecting information and making their own decisions) concluding that humans are being increasingly "pushed out of the loop" for simple operational reasons. Basically they aren't fast enough and get in the way.
He reflects on the Singularity, and the widespread expectation of this event in the robotics community, and at the way that no one seems to care. They are very much focused on building better and more capable machines.
Overall a very interesting book.
This book covers a vast amount of topics ranging from the history of robotics through to the current robotics industry, the influence of science fiction on robotics to the ethics problems that will rise from the usage of autonomous robots (robots that can shoot based on their own decisions without any human involvement) in war.
I found the book to be highly encompassing and very balanced. Singer offers both sides of the coin regarding the robotics revolution and how it will affect the way we are going to conduct war. More importantly, Singer raises some very important issues, which until now, were largely ignored by the military and leading scholars. First, what are the ethical and moral implications of the growing involvement of robots in warfare? For example, what if an autonomous robot shoots an unarmed civilian? Or, what if, during an exhibition (as has already happened), the robot malfunctions and starts randomly shooting and killing innocent people? Who should bear the responsibility? Another question to ask is, what is the likelihood that politicians would be more willing to start wars now that they're not risking human soldiers lives?
Secondly, is an even more interesting observation that Singer makes regarding the lack of doctrine of how to properly use these robots in war. Singer draws an interesting comparison between the U.S. army and the British army during WW2 that, like the U.S. army, was lacking a satisfying doctrine of tank warfare. Thus, even though they had tanks before the Nazis did, they weren't able to translate it to a military advantage. In contrast, the Nazis did have a highly successful tank warfare doctrine that led them to very impressive victories. Singer concludes that if the U.S. army won't develop the correct doctrine for the usage of robotics in warfare, all of this technological advantage won't be any good.
In conclusion, this book is very thorough, but still highly readable. For those of you who are interested in military history, robots, or are just interested in what the future might look like I can't recommend this book enough.