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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Looking forward to following the Hungry Beast's presentation of robots on the battlefield. So far the so-called "more gen-Y than Idol" show has come down hard on robots in war. I'm waiting/wanting them to talk about the almost immediate emotional attachment soldiers report developing with their mechanical helpers. Also waiting to hear the Beast table the idea that robots can take the charge out of a situation by lowering the stakes for all involved - thereby making the battlefield safer and making rule-of-law more likely to be enforced (rather than ignored in the name of self-preservation). For example, when going door-to-door in an urban sweep, a robot on point can give a soldier valuable seconds to judge a threat. When you have a soldier on point, you might find the judgements are made much more quickly in the name of self preservation (always in favour of the soldier). A robot with a camera can give soldiers the visibility to discern a child holding a baby from an “insurgent” holding an AK. This gives both the soldier peace of mind, and removes the ability for a true combatant to “take one out with you” by blowing yourself up. I’m counting on the beast, as the voice of the next generation, to move away from knee-jerk dualism. Please, please, please allow your view of the world to be as complex as the world is.

There is an interesting conversation to be had about robots on the battlefield. I think that conversation needs to be held in parallel with the one about women on the battlefield (as soldiers). The battlefield mono-culture of young men with guns desperately needs to be upset. We need to evolve warfare. The sooner women (and robots) are employed to moderate the testosterone culture, the better. And for that matter, I’m pretty sure a clever policy could be developed to see senior citizens more involved in war. No doubt it’d be problematic politically, but when it comes to the culture of “going to war” and the culture of the war as it develops on the ground, it’d be good to have the whole diversity of populations represented and representin’.

This of course begs the question of children and pregnant women. And yes, it does. The idea that only 18 year old boys have been going to war allows us to believe that only 18 year old boys are on the battlefield. In fact, there are pregnant women and children on the battlefield – just not “ours”. I don’t suggest we enforce the conscription of children and pregnant women. I do suggest we admit that there are a great many children and pregnant women “over there”. And I suggest we do everything we can to maintain a “culture of war” that somehow extends the greatest capacity for human rights to be afforded. I believe robots, women, and older persons in theatre are all avenues to maintaining this culture. (18 year old boys are only good at maintaining live cultures between their toes. To ask more of them is inappropriate, even dangerous.)

Postscript: I'm not "pro-war" , a hawk, a war monger, or anything like that. I do admit that wars happen. I regard war as the product of an abject failure of leadership. The business of prosecuting war is left to the military, an essential force. It's important that we recognize when they do real work to manage the fallout of the failures of our leaders. In the case of the US and Australian militaries, I maintain that they are very good at what they do, and deserve credit for that. I believe it is incumbent upon a society to support its military force, even if they don't support the uses to which they are put. This includes thinking rationally about the culture in which they operate (which is extra-ordinary and extreme).

(by the way, I assume it's an ABC thing, but I'm finding comments are very difficult to post to the Hungry Beast website. Not very Google Wave of them)

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