Book Review | Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-first Century

 By Sharath Kumar
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Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-first Century by P. W. Singer

Peter Warren Singer is an American political scientist, an international relations scholar and a specialist on 21st-century warfare. He is currently a Strategist for the New America Foundation and a contributing editor for Popular Science. For the book research, the author interviewed hundreds of robot scientists, science fiction writers, soldiers, insurgents, politicians, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists from around the world. This book offers a productive exploration of technology, politics, economics, law, and war. The author gives a peek into all new inventions which contributed directly and indirectly to the field of modern weapons technology to the readers.

Singer brought his experience and expertise to show in his book’s 22 chapters, the pace and organization of which are all well traced and, developed, and are complementary of one another. In  Part  One,  the author also throws light on the historicity of the robot  (r)evolution, discussing ‘the loop that we began to emerge from long before robots made their way onto battlefields.  The author talks about every major issue they faced developing those weapons, including the issues of size, source of energy etc, that explains how science fiction has started to play out on this era battlefields, with robots used more and more in war. From the crude radio-controlled planes in world war I and II and Norden bombsight of the  Second  World  War to the AEGIS computer system introduced in the 1980s. There is not a lot of highly technical detail or information. The discussion of various technologies in the play deals primarily with capabilities available as opposed to how those capabilities are achieved. This is as much a sociology book as it is a technology book and as much as it gives insight into how the military uses technology it also gives insight into military trends and subcultures. Primarily the examples are given and information shared deals with the U.S. military. The Chinese military gets some time as well but it is quite small in comparison.

The early part of the book also covers the basics of robotics “for dummies”,  discussing various strategies for manoeuvring and navigating environments, and the differences between autonomous and remote-controlled robots. This section features interviews with eminent AI experts including Ray Kurzweil and Sebastian Thrun, the head of the Stanford team who created the autonomous vehicle Stanley. The first nine chapters that consist part one of the book show the reader both a general overview of the creative and productive changes that took place in the fields of warfare in technological terms and the general effect that the age of machines has meant for those who employe them and those who receive their vicious means and aims. These chapters symbolise the fundamental change in the way in which we now see the great-war paradigm,  its variations,  and critical effects upon all involved. The initial chapters introduce readers to the four fields of  “warbot”  application,  including land, sea, air, and space. The functionality and effectiveness of the various designs of these systems are described in detail, and, in each case,  Singer reveals some of the restraints placed upon their capabilities simply by their artificial quality. Given their progress, and despite the progress that has yet to be made, the author describes how these machines emerge from the  United  States  (US)  Army’s  $340  billion  Future  Combat  Systems (FCS) program. The last chapter of the first section, “The Refuseniks: The Roboticists Who Just Say No” is an interesting look at those who are not comfortable with the direction they see technology being deployed.

The origins of the current advanced technology of robots and unmanned vehicles. history of robots from ancient times to the end of the 20th century, fundamentals of robotics, and exponential change in technological trends.The journey of the computers how the electronic boxes with 10 mile long wirings evolved into today’s microsystems, how the bombs evolved

He points out how the intolerance towards losing soldiers in the people, The massive loss of life in previous wars made the US start to invest more in unmanned vehicles, How they got funding, why people went crazy about unmanned vehicles, and drones.

He says That robots can do a better job in some places he quoted “They don’t get hungry,” says Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command. “They’re not afraid. They don’t forget their orders. They don’t care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.” Robots proved attractive for roles that fill what people in the field call the “Three Ds” (“Dull, Dirty, or Dangerous”). As one unmanned plane advertisement put it, “Can you keep your eyes open for thirty hours without blinking?”  Singer compares the weaknesses and strengths of the human body(mobility and efficiency), brain(creativity and decision making) and robots, artificial intelligence to show the strengths and weaknesses of both sides.

The author elaborates on how the inspirations to create better robots was drawn from nature and not sci-fi movies. Part Two captures the ‘advancement’ of advanced warfare,  the potential short-comings to increased dependence on robots in war, the psychology of warbots, the mutable symbiosis between machines of war and the soldiers whom they fight alongside, as well as the implications that robotic warfare brings to the realms of law and human rights. How the video game console companies like Xbox, Playstation and Wii reduced the work of user interface for the remote-controlled robots and drone makers, and advanced haptic technologies where the information can be “felt” so it can reduce the number of inputs to get information and it reduces the number of things to check regularly. (Eg: feeling a decrease in temperature pad on them whenever there is danger in surroundings, feeling a pinch in the arm whenever the ammo is low). To reduce the difficulty in  “…  trying to figure how to use a revolutionary new technology” while in the middle of a war (particularly one as seemingly abstruse as the Global War on Terror [GWOT]), and that the lack of peacetime study and experimentation. The symbiosis expressed between humans and machines in these initial pages brings to the fore the deleterious reality that human roles were and continue to be redefined, and in a relative alarmist sense, in a manner that has been accepted without thought or due consideration.

the second section deals much more with how all of this change is apt to change us. Singer deals with questions about not only what robots do to war but what they do to warriors, military leaders, governments and civilians. The author points out that we are just beginning to see a massive change in military technology that threatens to make the stuff of “I, Robot” and the “Terminator” come into real life. At least seven thousand robotic systems are now in Iraq. operators sitting in Nevada are remotely killing terrorists in Afghanistan. He draws the debate of just how smart – and how lethal – to make their current robotic prototypes. mixing historic evidence with interviews from the field, Singer vividly shows that as these technologies multiply, they will have profound effects on the frontier as well as on politics. removing humans off the battlefield makes wars easier to start, but more complex to fight. Replacing men with machines may save some lives, but will lower the morale and psychological barriers to killing. The ‘warrior ethos’, which has long defined soldiers’ identity, will erode, as will the laws of war that have governed military conflict for generations. Paradoxically, these new technologies will also bring the war to our doorstep. As other nations and even terrorist organizations start to build or buy their robotic weapons, the robot revolution could undermine America’s military preeminence. While his analysis is discouraging, there’s an irresistible gee-whiz quality to the innovations that he uncovers. “Wired for War” goes from Iraq to see these robots in combat and to America’s suburbia, where the futuristic technologies of war are quietly being designed. In Singer’s hands, the future of war is as fascinating as it is frightening.

Talks about the future when human involvement will be the weakest link in the system, All the places where the robots can be used, how can they look, how will they work, how in some places the human interaction will become obsolete. Singer paints a striking portrait in which the technical aspects of new weaponry have  (in the case of  AEGIS)  stolen our capacity to exercise sound and independent human judgment. Singer suggests that while technology has its advantages, uncertainty remains about how to contain such rules and laws of combat should something go awry; and while governments around the globe are aware of possible problems associated with artificial technology, they are still in the beginning stages of defining what these problems might be and how to combat them. He even points out that due to a decrease in the loss of human life in the future, would it become easier to go to war? When the stakes are low, and he believes that  Murphy’s Law “Anything that can go wrong, will — at the worst possible moment” also applies to robots. That possibility is enough for having a global debate on the subject. Singer issues an earnestly humanitarian call for us to wake up and consider the ethical impacts of autonomous robotic agents. How will they challenge our notions of personal responsibility?

The author offered a very methodical and dispassionate view of the past and present and has peered, based on future weapons contracts, peered into the future. This book is a strategy for the internet generation. it delivers a vivid picture of the current controversies and dazzling possibilities of war in the digital age. For anyone who is getting to know the technologies of weapons and their history, deliberating on what is the future of war the book  “Wired for War” is a must-read.