On the Record

Military 2.0: Should You Fear the Killer Robots?

Peter W. Singer

Peter Singer joined Eric Stoner to discuss the military’s sci-fi future, what happens when life imitates Star Wars, and his new book, Wired for War.

Mother Jones: Was there anything in particular that surprised you or scared you as you researched the book?

Peter Singer: I think three parts were most surprising. One was the openness with which people talk about how science fiction influenced what the scientists build and what the military asked to be built. That’s what drew me to research science fiction’s influence on science reality. I was really driven by just how many people would describe some weapon or robot and say, “I was watching this Star Wars movie with my kids and I thought it would be cool if we could have something like that.” And it’d be a Marine colonel saying that. There is also a great scene in the book where the folks at a human rights organization I was visiting are referencing Star Trek more than the Geneva Conventions.

The second part of this is how quickly things moved. In the first draft of the book there were systems on the commercial and military side that didn’t exist then that are out there now. Related, this issue of arming and autonomy of robots is farther along than I thought. Finding some of the studies about “taking man out of the loop” was a little bit surprising and scary.

Finally, the international “blowback” issue was much bigger than I suspected, which became very clear after interviews with folks in the Middle East. I knew, of course, broadly that there were serious issues with our public diplomacy, but how dire it was when it came to our new military technology was a little bit surprising even to me.

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