Wired for War. the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Wired for War. The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, P.W. Singer, 2009, The Penguin Press, USA, 512 pages, US $29.95, (Hardback), ISBN 9781594201981

What is a robot? We all have some inclination, but depending on your background or technological interests, you may not appreciate the full potential or perhaps worse, the uncertainty robotics research presents for the future. Wired for War by Singer is a journey through 500 odd pages that attempts to provide some insight into the vast topic that is robotics and especially how it relates to war. The journey is informative and startling on occasion, though there is a sense that sometimes the text is more rambling and even repetitious than flowing. A general theme is apparent (robotics is part of the future), but the form and flow sometimes is a little pedestrian. Perhaps that's because the writing does struggle between that of a novel and a textbook. Nevertheless, it is still a good read that does not require a technical background. It is informative and quite historical in parts with lots of anecdotal quotes from some leaders in the research.

Singer concentrates on the warfare aspects of robotics. Many may immediately think of guns and missiles and Terminator style machines. While Terminator style machines do get a mention (more later), the book starts with relatively simple robots and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that were designed to save lives (predominantly American) in Iraq and Afghanistan and many stories about their success and origin. It then progresses into the more capable and threatening systems such as Predator (a weaponised UAV) that can target an enemy and fire a missile from a command post several thousand kilometres away. And therein lies one of Singer's many points about the future of war fighting.

Wired for War is partially about the disconnection being developed within the first world forces and between first world and third world belligerents. The changing nature of war is seen as a challenge by many senior military personnel. Where once combat was a very personal experience involving smell, taste, and feeling, now with the advent of robotics there is a sense that operations can be conducted remotely from a safe location with an opportunity to 'clock off' and go home at the end of the working day. This disengagement between those working at these remote control stations and their fellow combatants in the war zones is an emerging tension. …