Editor’s Note: This video interview was originally posted by The Atlantic on July 19, 2012.
What are the biggest changes in your field today?
Peter Singer: You’re seeing the range of new technologies introduced, whether it’s cyber warfare, fighting in a domain that didn’t exist a little over a generation ago – a place of zeros and ones, and you have conflict in that space – to robotics. Our U.S. forces went into Afghanistan with a handful of drones, unmanned aerial systems, none of them armed. We now have more than 7,000 in our inventory. On the ground, we had zero ground robotics and we now have more than 12,000. And it’s not just the U.S. it’s over than 50 countries also using military robotics. These are big deal game changers, and what’s fascinating, but also a little bit scary, is they’re just the start.
What ideas will shape the next five years the most?
Singer: I’m working on a project called NeXTech, we’re trying to figure out what’s the equivalent to the computer in 1980, or where the predator drone was in 1995. That is, it’s real, it exists, but it’s really not made its force felt upon the world. The folks we’ve been interviewing that range from scientists to venture capitalists, they’ve been pointing things out like directed energy – lasers becoming truly real and used in battle – to robotics, but autonomous robotics. Not the human controlling everything but the robot starting to act out there on its own. To artificial intelligence –we saw an AI compete and win in Jeopardy. Would it be so surprising to see it applied in war? Bioenhancements, both chemical but also technological bits put into our body which take us beyond where our limitations were previously. That’s exciting, that’s scary. To things like 3-D printing and new materials, where you can now manufacture in a way that’s totally different than industrial processes that we’ve done in the past. We’ve seen gangs, for example, drug cartels, 3D print out bumpers for their cars that were made of cocaine so they weren’t smuggling it in the normal parts of the car but literally the parts of the car itself. To upgrading your weapons with a conversion kit for a legal AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, to a M16 automatic rifle is a little part that there’s some worries about people stamping those out with 3D printing. Then suddenly you have gangs multiplying their firepower with this little untraceable part that they can make at home.