DR. STRANGELOVE REDUX

Ted Rall

NEW YORK -- And now a quote that could come from Dr. Strangelove:

"A lot of people fear artificial intelligence. I will stand my artificial intelligence against your human any day of the week and tell you that my A.I. will pay more attention to the rules of engagement and create fewer ethical lapses than a human force."

That is from John Arquilla, executive director of the Information Operations Center at the Naval Postgraduate School. "Dr. Arquilla," reports The New York Times, "argues that weapons systems controlled by software will not act out of anger and malice and, in certain cases, can already make better decisions on the battlefield than humans."

Aren't we lucky that software never makes mistakes?

Dr. Arquilla, a Stanford product and a true patriot, I'm sure, is one of the most dangerous men in the world. And there are many more like him. He is one of the best and the brightest who think they are advancing science and are in the business of reducing the pain of war by substituting robots and other electronic killers for actual human beings. Their philosophy is that machines don't get angry like soldiers do, so they make better decisions than actual men and women on the ground. Their goal is to make starting wars more easy than, say, the Constitution of the United States intended.

Of course, in Afghanistan, which the new Dr. Strangeloves are using as a laboratory, they have no more idea of how to end a war than Pee-Wee Herman. Their tools are Predators, robotic tanks the size of those riding lawnmowers, even smaller tanks to search for mines, and all sorts of humanless transport and reconnaissance vehicles.

Great stuff. They can kill people from thousands of miles away. And they are in the forefront of the new American way of making war. We have evolved from a nation of laws (the Constitution) where the representatives of all men and women are required to declare war as a matter of national consensus, a thing we last did during World War II, to a nation with a volunteer army, which barely disturbs the surface life of ordinary Americans whose children have not enlisted, dealing death by faraway technology.

The new Dr. Strangeloves are trying to revolutionize and, in a way, sanitize warfare. Why should the public, the masses, be bothered with unpleasantness when we can zap the bad guys from afar? Of course, there is the fact that those unfriendlies have a knack for getting at us with fairly primitive technology like cars or vests that go boom!

Again, as Dr. Arquilla told John Markoff, a technology reporter for The Times: "Some of us think that the right organizational structure for the future is one that skillfully blends humans and intelligent machines. We think that's the key to the mastery of 21st-century military affairs."

And some of us think you, Dr. Arquilla, are a nutcase, figuring out a way to fight more and more wars in the 21st century. Wouldn't that be nice, especially if it mobilized fewer and fewer humans and more and more machines?

To make that point: Our Congress, robots themselves, many of them, in 2001 ordered the Defense Department to try to make one-third of United States combat vehicles robotic, that is, with no humans on board. As Dr. Arquilla said, human intelligence and judgment is second-rate from the get-go.

The idea of all this is to make war into a video game with a difference. That is the players will be virtual and the casualties will be real. Dr. Strangelove would have loved it.

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