Paul P. Mealing

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Saturday, 3 March 2012

Technology changes but human nature doesn’t


For science fiction writers and want-to-be science fiction writers, like myself, technology is overtaking our imaginations. Last Wednesday, the issue of drones and robotic warfare was raised and discussed, on ABC’s Lateline programme. I’ve posted on this issue twice before, over a year ago, in Jan. 2011 and Nov. 2010, but it’s more advanced than I thought.

 Unmanned ‘predator’ aircraft are becoming the weapon of choice for war strategists in the US and we can expect other countries to follow. The ability to target and kill your enemy remotely (from the other side of the world) is becoming too seductive to resist. People are already talking about giving robots decision-making abilities to engage the enemy.

In the short term it will lead to a bigger gulf between techno-savvy (therefore wealthy) countries and poorer nations – absolutely guaranteed to boost anti-Western paranoia. In the long term it may lead to warfare between drones or attempts to conduct war in space to eliminate satellites that unmanned aircraft depend on for navigation.

Ballistic and cruise missiles were developed in the cold war because they allowed one to attack a country without setting foot in it. Drone aircraft allow the exact same scenario, which is why they are so popular with politicians and military strategists. The psychological and ethical consequences are being glossed over, but is bombing by stealth with no visible or targetable combatant any less a terrorist act than suicide bombing? I guess it depends which side you’re on.

History reveals that when one opponent has a technological advantage over their adversary, then the adversary adopts strategies that are considered unprincipled by their superior opponent.

3 comments:

The Atheist Missionary said...

Paul, I bet you would enjoy Canadian transhumanist George Dvorsky's Sentient Development podcasts. They are freely available on iTunes. Best, TAM/Erroll.

March Hare said...

Hi Paul, been trawling your blog so forgive the three-month late response.

Remote warfare has been going on since humans figured out throwing stones was better than wading right up to someone. Through slings, bows, sniper rifles and aircraft this has always been the way - our guys as safe as possible while still able to harm the enemy. Drones are the logical extension of this.

However, drones are not, in and of themselves, terrorist nor immoral (as such a term is usually applied) since the actual problem people have with drones is that none of 'our guys' are at risk. Which is such a stupid sentiment.

When you ask are drone strikes terrorist acts, it is not which side you're on that makes the difference but the targets and their locations, and the accepted collateral damage, which make the difference. I would suggest the US has crossed that line by some distance.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi March Hare,

You’re always welcome on my blog, even if I disagree with you.

Yes, in some ways drones aren’t much different to cruise missiles – the personnel responsible for launching them are no where near the target.

Yesterday, I heard an interview with an Aussie journalist, Sally Sara, who’s reported from 30 countries, most of them war-torn, either in Africa or Afghanistan. When asked, ‘Are coalition troops supported in Afghanistan?’ she answered that it largely depended on personal experience – i.e. whether they knew someone who had been killed as ‘collateral damage’. Without people on the ground, the hearts and minds war will be lost, and that’s the only war worth winning in these circumstances.

Basically, we’ve no idea what it’s like to live in a war-ravaged country, like Afghanistan (or parts of Pakistan). Drone warfare is almost armchair warfare where the combatants literally live in different worlds.

On another tack, is there a difference if a bomb is carried by a stealth aircraft or a person? As you point out, the ethical difference may have more to do with the target than the means of delivery.

Personally, I have an issue with warfare becoming more robotic, quite literally; I think it will alienate those ‘on the other side’ or in the ‘other country’ for whom we may have sympathies.

Regards, Paul.