Fewer Boots, More Robots
Copyright © by Len Holman, 5/30/13
Have you heard of the X-47B? No? Well, you will, or will hear of its progeny. It’s the Navy’s entry into the Robot Wars Against Terror, a drone the size of a jet fighter which can take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The prototype cost $1.4 billion and can carry weapons and provide round-the-clock intelligence and targeting—who it targets and where it gathers intelligence is not public knowledge. The keen thing is that—because it can leave and arrive via aircraft carrier—the U.S. doesn’t need permission from any countries to use their bases.
This is just the latest salvo in America’s war on terror and it is a sop to those who feel a bit squeamish about sending American troops into yet another Muslim county, but who don’t really mind a predator or Reaper obliterating a village halfway around the world. Unlike other drone-style aircraft, this baby has no outside controller (unless a human needs to step in); it relies on computer programs to tell it where to fly, and it can launch with a steam catapult, just like a traditional fighter. The NIMBY policy (Not In My Backyard) is in full force as the military ramps up its robot-warrior programs across the globe. There is a new Joint Strike Force Fighter jet being built, and James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for strategic and International Studies in Washington (the more complex the title, the bigger the ego of the person who carries it) says that the new fighter “might be the last manned fighter for the U.S.”
This new drone is the largest we’ve made (so far), and it marks a clear indication that the U.S. is “pivoting” toward the Pacific, where potential enemies lurk, countries whose air defenses are more muscular than, say, Afghanistan’s (which are non-existent). Robot-style gear is being designed for troops, including “walking” ‘bots which will carry hundreds of pounds and allow our supply lines to be extended and will allow for the non-interruption or interdiction of ammo, food, etc. It’s a real boon for our foreign policy—which policy seems to be to find an excuse to first shoot, then shoot again, then ask whether that was a good idea—but MUCH later.
American TV and other media are already preparing us by showing robots doing cute things and some harmful things, but all just to sell Kias or dog food or something. We are being prepared. Obama continues to insist that drones are a mighty, effective, and necessary weapon against those raggedy, loosely-affiliated jihadis, and that without drones, we are bereft of protection. This is a stunning—and quite overblown—admission that the asymmetry of the modern peril called terrorism is alive and well in the minds, hearts, and imaginations of American policy makers and the military establishment. But these robots will not just be appearing in Will Smith movies or Asimov reprints, but in all our lives.
We will—if past history is any guide—welcome this incremental, half-hidden, creeping invasion of the American Empire into the lives of its citizens. We will be told, both explicitly and implicitly, that we will be safer, that our troops will be safer, that the world will be safer, if we deploy machines instead of flesh, if we put metal pads on the ground instead of boots. What we are being promised is the next stage of a fantasy in which we live in The Garden, protected by angels with flaming swords and a deity who is supreme and omnipotent. We will eat delicious fruits and bathe in rivers of milk and honey, and no harm will befall us. But we know that harm WILL befall us, that no nation is so safe as to be able to keep from looking over its shoulder from time to time.
Robots—and their derivative permutations—are being promised that we will never have to do that and we will all be able to go shopping and buy stuff and vacation at the beach. We have machines doing a lot of things humans used to do, including sniffing around on Mars for signs or water and/or organic life. We have them making cars, and doing the sweat-work which employed millions of Americans at one time, but this moment in history is the first in which our impetus for machine use, for roboticized war-making is on the rise, with all its concomitant consequences. When you catch a hummingbird-sized drone flitting around outside your bedroom window, its cameras on, its thermal-signature equipment working, its data-sensing mechanisms at full alert, don’t panic, and don’t be angry—just be reassured that you are part of a terrorist-protection network which stretches around the globe, that you are doing your part to make America, and the world, safe. These robots will cut down on the amount of warm bodies needed to hold real estate, so that those potential soldiers and Marines, Navy personnel and airmen can make better use of their time, like standing in line at the unemployment office. And don’t forget this mantra when you feel that angst which overtakes a free citizen in a country of ideals: robots are our friends.
ial soldiers and Marines, Navy personnel and airmen can make better use of their time, like standing in line at the unemployment office. And don’t forget this mantra when you feel that angst which overtakes a free citizen in a country of ideals: robots are our friends.
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