Drones versus Humans: The End of Navies

Image from Future Atlas.

Over at Future Atlas, a very real question is raised about the viability of hugely expensive nuclear submarines in a future environment that includes autonomous underwater drones like the one above.

I would go one step further and ask about the viability of any military vehicle larger than a drone or occupied by a human.  My country seems hellbent on purchasing a bunch of the F-35 ‘5th generation’ fighters at great expense, but I can’t help but wonder how many drones could be bought for the same price. Future Atlas makes the point:

After all, with Moore’s Law in the drones’ corner, a submarine becomes a larger and larger piece of information to hide.

How many $5000 lightweight drones would it take to find and destroy a multi-billion dollar submarine?  How about an aircraft carrier?

In the air, how many autonomous drones, with maneuverability far beyond anything holding a fragile human, would it take to make a particular volume of airspace non-survivable for a fighter plane or a bomber?  What is the relative cost of each?

In WWII, the Americans actually had weaker tanks than the Germans.  Ditto the airplanes, at least most of the time.  We just had so very many more than they did.  Even then, the soldiers operating the tanks and airplanes had an interest in surviving an engagement.  Drones would have no such concern, and combat would be a simple cost-benefit analysis.  And a drone is much, much cheaper than anything carrying a human (not to mention the obvious interest of the human in question).

Militaries are known for their tendency to prepare to win the last war instead of the next one.  They are also prone to become over-committed to their existing strategies and hardware.  I suspect the dominant military of the future will have most of its humans safely hidden away while the robots and drones do most of the damage.  But that won’t stop current military efforts to continue operating on the same assumptions.

Navies as we currently think of them are essentially doomed, or at least going to change a lot as technology surpasses their ability to control the air and water around them.  I suspect air forces are similarly doomed in their current form.  That said, most current conflict is not between technology rich forces, but between a dominant military and a resistance of some kind.  Drones are already playing a large role in these conflicts, and I suspect that will expand exponentially.

Of course, Stanislaw Lem predicted this decades ago in his book One Human Minute, (The second story, The Upside Down Evolution) but that was his way.

 

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Book Review: Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

Robopocalypse is a near future apocalyptic story written in the form of transcripts and summaries of a variety of key events in a “War with the Robots”.  The concept of an advanced AI choosing to rebel and turning our machines against us is not new (see The Terminator), but the story was exciting and enjoyable to read.

There are a great many similarities in structure and execution to another bestselling apocalyptic SF novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, which I reviewed here.  Both novels take the form of after-the-fact descriptions of events as related (mostly) by survivors.  Both follow a similar story arc, taking us through the initial chaos and panic through the humans regrouping, finding ways to survive, and ultimately triumphing over their adversaries.

Robopocalypse is a darkly depressing novel, portraying our current technological trend toward wholly integrated computing and ubiquitous technology as a massive risk.  Genuinely sentient AI seems possible (if unlikely)even now, and like any sentient being it would be almost impossible to completely predict its actions and choices.

The main character and primary narrator of the book, a Sgt. Cormac Macarthy, relates his own experiences as well as those of a few key other individuals.  His insights into events outside his own experiences are provided by a robot record of the war, which the AI had made a point of preserving.  Most of the stories are compelling, though the story does stretch credibility in some events, as might be expected in an apocalyptic SF novel.

Robopocalypse is currently a strong seller, which is not surprising given the current trend towards apocalypse in fiction and the public zeitgeist.  This book is definitely worth a read, and I encourage anyone with an interest in current SF to try it out.  That said, the novel does not break any new ground, and does not explore new ideas in the manner of the SF greats.

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Journey to the Seventh Planet

A beautiful movie poster for the classic SF film Journey to the Seventh Planet.  The imagery calls up all the classic tropes of SF – bug eyed aliens, square jawed spacemen battling them.

I am intrigued by the poster’s invitation to ‘Travel X times faster than my imagination.’  Solving for X might be a challenge.

found at SciFiction

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Open Source Automated Sentry Guns

Anyone who every played Half Life can agree that these autonomous sentry guns are both cool and very scary.  It is also cool and scary to know that Project Sentry Gun has plans, software and instructions on how to make your own device available for free.  Yes, all the turrets are for paintballs and airsoft guns, but it wouldn’t take much of a tinker to convert them to real, scary guns. It wouldn’t take much of a prison budget shortfall to configure these to create ‘no mans lands’ around prisons, rather than using human guards.

The wistful voice of the turret in the demo video does not help to reduce the creepiness at all.

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Halo 4 Release Date

 

Halo4 , the next installment in an SF video game series that is much loved by its players (unlike many other Microsoft products), will be released on November 6th, 2012.  Given that people have been known to take the day off work when a new Halo is released, what are the odds that all those fanatical players will take time to vote in the US presidential election?

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Will We Ever See SF-ish Laser Guns?

Live Science has a brief but interesting discussion of the plausibility and practicality of laser guns, one of the biggest SF tropes.  Short version:  We are likely to see some energy weapons, but they won’t use visible light and they won’t look anything like the light pulses in films like Star Wars. There also won’t be hand-held energy weapons anytime soon.

“For strategic and tactical weapons, you can store energy on planes, boats or Humvees,” said Beason, “but unless a super-source of energy is invented, you may never be able to do it with handheld weapons.”

The reason a visible light beam shows up is that particles along its path scatter photons into the eyes of an observer. (Think of a flashlight beam in fog versus the same beam on a clear night.) “Anytime you can see a beam, that means light is being scattered in some way,” said Beason. That, in turn, means less energy reaching the target.

Though I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, I can see them existing most often in space where there isn’t an atmosphere to diffuse the light, and where discharging a projectile would have more challenges (no atmospheric oxygen to make a bang and the kickback pushing your ship in the other direction).  It will be quite awhile before we see any of this, if ever.

 

 

 

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Prometheus Full Trailer

As I age I have noticed that I don’t often look forward to movies, and having children I find that movies have come and gone before I have even noticed them. That said, I am really looking forward to this movie.

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RUIN: Short Action Film in an Apocalyptic Ruin

This short film doesn’t spend much time giving us context or story, but it sure is thrilling.  The beginning of the film hints at a back-story, enough to trigger my trope-o-meter and fill in the ‘corporate research run amok’ storyline.  All that is fine, but just enjoy the ride.

It was created by someone named wesball, and the youtube link is here.

via io9.

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