Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

More drones, more robots, more wars

Bernd Debusmann
Jan 31, 2012 15:44 UTC

Sometime in the next three decades, the U.S. military will be able to field robots that can make life-and-death decisions, operating without human supervision thanks to software and superfast computers.

But the technology to get to that point is running far ahead of considerations of the ethics of robotic warfare.

Or, as Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar who has written widely on military robots has put it — technology grows at an exponential pace, human institutions at a linear, if not glacial, pace. That echoes an observation by the late science fiction writer Isaac Asimov that “science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

The subject merits debate after the January 26 announcement that the Pentagon is planning to trim America’s armed forces by 100,000 while boosting the global fleet of armed drones, America’s most effective tool for the targeted killing of anti-American militants. So far, the drones are remotely operated, by pilots on bases in the United States.

But for a glimpse of how U.S. military thinkers see the future of the drone program, an 82-page report by the Air Force is recommended reading. Entitled “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047“, it says that “advances in AI (Artificial Intelligence) will enable systems to make combat decisions and act within legal and policy constraints without necessarily requiring human input.”

Obama, Iran and a push for policy change

Bernd Debusmann
Feb 25, 2011 15:27 UTC

Could the administration of President Barack Obama hasten the downfall of Iran’s government by taking an opposition group off the U.S. list of terrorist organizations? To hear a growing roster of influential former government officials tell it, the answer is yes.

The opposition group in question is the Mujadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) and the growing list of Washington insiders coming out in its support include two former Central Intelligence Agency chiefs (James Woolsey and Michael Hayden), two chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Peter Pace and Hugh Shelton), former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge and former FBI head Louis Freeh.

The MEK was placed on the terrorist list in 1997, a move the Clinton administration hoped would help open a dialogue with Iran, and since then has been waging a protracted legal battle to have the designation removed. Britain and the European Union took the group off their terrorist lists in 2008 and 2009 respectively after court rulings that found no evidence of terrorist actions after the MEK renounced violence in 2001.

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