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Technology and the Future of Warfare

Technology and the Future of Warfare

Warfare and its violence are changing in profound ways because of robotic technologies.  Arial drones, essentially unmanned planes, operated by pilots sitting at computer consuls in the United States, are playing a greater and more violent role in warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  While initially these drones, with names like Predator, Global Hawk and Pac Bot, were used for surveillance, they are now being used to conduct battlefield operations, including targeted killings. 

The new weapons are a natural outcome of technological development and the arms race.  However, they raise fundamentally new questions about the conduct of warfare.  Remotely operated machines that fight our wars present logistical, ethical and psychological challenges new to humanity.  For example, operators of these weapons systems may be trained more by XBox and Play Station gaming experience than by boot camp and military officer’s school. Accidents resulting in civilian casualties in Afghanistan may now be the responsibility of someone working in an office building in California or Nevada.  However, the increased power and savings in lives and resources are speeding these new technologies into our mainstream military operations now.

Radio talk show host Terry Gross recently conducted an important interview with P. W. Singer, author of the new book Wired For War; The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-first Century.  Mr. Singer talks about a world that sounds of science fiction but which is in fact part of current Department of Defense operations.  

Listen to the Fresh Air program podcast from January 22, 2009, and begin to participate in this important conversation. This debate will undoubtedly take years to work through, but it must begin across America. 

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Photo of Gorgon IV drone by cliff1066, licensed under Creative Commons.

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4:49PM PDT on Oct 13, 2014

If used properly, those are awesome weapons in the fight against terrorists!

5:19AM PDT on Aug 19, 2012

6:14PM PST on Feb 11, 2009

These drones being used to launch weapons really bothers me. I know it's a natural extension of technology, and if I was a Marine pinned down in Afghanistan, I'd probably love them coming by and saving me. I remember an old Star Trek episode where the inhabitants of a planet eliminated the bad effects of war by having computer simulated battles. Then the computer would tell each side how many deaths there were and that many people would have to go to the disintegration chambers. The moral was that war is not supposed to be painless or easy.


7:29AM PST on Jan 29, 2009

No matter how much tehnology of warfare changes, it will always affect the civilians first. It will lower the manpower that has to be on the field, and reduce casualties but if you are fighting a country or some militia that doesn't have all that tehnology (like the taliban, or iraqi insurgents) there will still be casualties (military and civilian), and no tehnology in the world can or will change that.

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