Book review: Wired for War

Wired for War book review

In Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, P.W. Singer examines the current applications and possible future development of robots in the military, and  discusses the technical and ethical challenges robot designers and military commanders face. Much of the content overlaps with the ITGS topic Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and the ITGS specific scenario Politics and Government.

Singer begins with a short history of robots, from the origin of the word to the current robots being used on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. We quickly learn some of the motivations for deploying military robots, with the chance to reduce military casualties and – perhaps more dubiously – inflict more effective damage on the enemy.

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.

Perhaps more directly relevant to ITGS is the second part of the book, where Singer proposes a variety of ways in which robots may be used on the battlefields of the future, and the ethical questions they raise. These ideas often examine multi-million dollar secret military projects and reveal the extent to which the Pentagon places its faith in technology. Examples which stand out include the SWORD mobile weapons platform and the insect-like flying robots designed for covert surveillance.

Singer discusses the ethical issues – such as an increased willingness to wage war when fighting is done by machines, and also asks whether fighting with machines will intimidate and demoralise the enemy or merely strength their resolve.

The final part of the book – the bit I found most interesting – is a discussion of the legal, technical, and ethical challenges which occur as military robots are increasingly automated. International laws – which are applying increasing scrutiny to human soldiers – do not yet take into account the rapid technological advances made in recent years.

Although not required for ITGS, this good contains a good number of examples to support the aforementioned ITGS topics, and would make good wider reading for ITGS students with an interest in the area.Wired for War is available in paperback and on the Kindle, and with free worldwide shipping from Book Depository.

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