Sunday, October 31, 2010

ARTificial Life Imitates ART

Review by Bill Doughty

Wired For War is P.W. Singer’s big wave-catching guidebook to the tsunami of change, subtitled as The Robotic Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. Part history, part current state of the art, and all philosophy, his book balances ancient storytelling, futuristic thinking and current ethics.

Are we on the verge of a Singularity, a revolution in military affairs (not to mention social/human reality) not seen since the discovery of gunpowder or invention of the steam engine?What will refinement of robots and nanotechnology mean for our military and society in decades ahead?

Nearly five centuries ago, an emperor of the Incan Empire, Atahuallpa, confronted Pizarro and Spanish Conquistadors in what is now Peru -- the first encounter with swords, armor and cavalry. It was, “a powerful example of just how shocking and powerful new weapons of war can be.”

Sir Winston Churchill, featured in our previous blog post, discussed the paradigm shift of new technology. He saw Edison’s and Tesla’s inventions applied to warfare and predicted the future widespread use of drones.

Singer leads Chapter 2 with this quote from Sir Winston: “The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.”

Churchill, who embraced the advent of aviation in warfare, would no doubt appreciate the evolution of asymmetrical warfare, UAVs and development of the Predator, Raven, PackBot, Ro-Bart, Wasp, REMUS, Zeus, Robo-Lobster, Cormorant, as well as other systems and machines explained by Singer in Wired For War.

Other people, however, find it hard to predict, let alone come to terms with, fundamental shifts in technology.
That’s not new.

Singer reminds us what the New York Times said 107 years ago this month, on Oct. 9, 1903, inaccurately predicting human flight:

“The flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years.”

That same day the Wright Brothers, owners of a bicycle shop in Ohio, began assembling their first airplane -- just seven years before the beginning of the Centennial of Naval Aviation.

Singer shows how the “Dennymite” became the first unmanned plane in history immediately after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Its inventor, Reginald Denny, provided work for Norma Jeane Dougherty -- the future Marilyn Monroe -- who was discovered at a factory where she worked spraying Denny’s drones with fire retardant.

In WWII, John F. Kennedy famously served in the Navy. His older brother, Joseph Jr., was a Navy pilot who served in Great Britain, part of a secret pilot-and-remote-control program called Operation Aphrodite. He was killed in 1944 while flying in support of a drone mission against Germany.

Singer tells us about the important role of Navy mathematician “Amazing” Grace Hopper, who was part of a team that developed COBOL so computers could communicate. USS Hopper is named in Rear Adm. Hopper’s honor.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead visits with Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70) at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on June 9, 2010. Roughead is at the base to participate in the 2010 Japan-U.S. Junior Officers Symposium. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tiffini Jones Vanderwyst.
From ancient mythology, Talos is a mechanical statue who served the Greek and Roman god of metalworks. It’s also the name used by an early Apple Computer operating system and the first computer-guided missiles on U.S. Navy Ships.

Modern “mythology” continues to inspire scientists.

Singer shows how much science fiction has predicted where we’ve come and where we’re going.

He gives a nod to former CNO, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Mike Mullen and the Navy’s Professional Reading Program, which includes SF titles by Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers) and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game). [Wired For War has been included in the supplemental reading list and was recommended by Capt. John Jackson, “father” of NPRP, in his interview with Navy Reads.]

Singer credits Arthur C. Clarke with “one of the most militarily instructive stories on the dangers of being seduced by possibilities of new technology” -- Superiority.

He cites Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss, Joe Haldeman, William Gibson, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and provides dozens of other sources as examples to explain how life imitates art and vice versa.

The unpredictability and uncertainty of war and unintended consequences of conflict are explored with insights from analyst Richard Clarke.

The same analyst who tried to warn against an invasion of Iraq warns about “a real digital divide” between haves and have-nots, educated and uneducated. Clarke recognizes, Singer says, that fear (including fear of change) is extremely powerful and can drive people toward violence, especially when religion is part of a volatile mix.

Nevertheless, change is not only here, it’s accelerating.

Singer gives an insightful quote from Gen. Eric Shinseki, about the constancy and inevitability of change: “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

How will new forms of remote-control or robotic warfare affect the human psyche?

“The courage of a warrior ... is about victory over fear. It is not about the absence of fear,” Singer says, contending, “By removing warriors completely from risk and fear, unmanned systems create the first complete break in the ancient connection that defines warriors and their soldierly values.”

Can understanding and managing change -- like managing and controlling fear -- be part of human “wiring”?

Wired For War, with an obvious pipeline to the Pentagon, is packed with research -- but without jargon -- and backed with copious notes, explanations and examples from literature and popular culture.

Here’s just a partial list (in no particular order) of producers, authors, book titles, movies and games Singer shares:

Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, James Cameron, Mel Gibson, Stephen King, Bertrand Russell, Tom Clancy, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, S.M. Stirling, Stephen E. Ambrose, Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, Ray Bradbury, Albert Einstein, George Orwell, Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Donne, Greg Bear, J. R. Rowling, Frank Herbert, Descartes, Jack London, Marvin Minsky, L. Sprague de Camp, Alien and Aliens, AI, Minority Report, Robocop, Metropolis, Terminator 2, Star Wars, Star Trek, Braveheart, Lost in Space, Matrix, Manchurian Candidate, Twilight Zone, Dr. Who, Battlestar Gallactica, Lord of the Rings, The Last Samurai, Metal Gear, Halo, Medal of Honor, Madden Football, Pixar and Japanese manga.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Churchill Predicted Drone Warfare

Review of The Gathering Storm by Bill Doughty
Book One of Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm From War to War 1919-1939 shows how the seeds of WWII in Europe were planted in the ashes of WWI.

Churchill, known as one of the last century’s greatest orators, was also a writer with extraordinary analytical ability and insight. And, though he denied it, he was a historian who carefully documented events, speeches and testimony.

A “wow” moment in this book — which is on the Navy’s Professional Reading List — comes from Churchill’s writing in 1925 about the technical nature of War, past and present:

May there not be methods of using explosive energy incomparably more intense than anything yet discovered? Might not a bomb no bigger than an orange be found to possess a secret power to destroy a whole block of buildings — nay, to concentrate the force of a thousand tons of cordite and blast a township at a stroke? Could not explosives even of an existing type be guided automatically in flying machines by wireless or other rays, without a human pilot, in ceaseless procession upon a hostile city, arsenal, camp or dockyard? ... A study of Disease — of Pestilences methodically prepared and deliberately launched upon man and beast — is certainly being pursued in the laboratories of more than one great country. Blight to destroy crops, Anthrax to slay horses and cattle, Plague to poison not armies but whole districts —such are the lines along which military science is remorselessly advancing.
That was written in 1925 85 years ago.
Churchill provides historical forensics of events leading to WWII — examining the motives and actions of communists, socialists and followers of “Corporal Hitler.” He examines the consequences of actions by key players in the drama: British politicians, Italy, Spain, Russia, France and the United States.
He warns against paralysm in the name of pacifism, while still hoping for lasting peace in Europe.
He quotes passages from Mein Kampf and shows how Hitler’s unholy bible outlined a vision and agenda for Nazi true believers.
He shows the surprising opposition to building an air force in the Great Britain in the 1930s and the effects of a failure to understand, embrace and control new technologies.
Book Two, Twilight War shows the role of the British Navy at the dawn of the war.

This volume was written in 1948. WWII was still smoldering and the name “Second World War” was still fresh. Churchill saw it as a second Thirty Year War, part of the so-called Great War.
Churchill warns of wars to come in his preface:
One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once “The Unnecessary War.” There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle. The human tragedy reaches its climax in the fact that after all the exertions and sacrifices of hundreds of millions of people and of the victories of the Righteous Cause, we have still not found Peace or Security, and that we lie in the grip of even worse perils than those we have surmounted. It is my earnest hope that pondering upon the past may give guidance in days to come, enable a new generation to repair some of the errors of former years and thus govern, in accordance with the needs and glory of man, the awful unfolding scene of the future.
Can new generations learn how to cherish and sustain the peace and security Churchill writes about? Can we give peace a chance without becoming vulnerable to extremists? Can we imagine a world capable of evolving?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thought Ballistics - The Art of the Long View

Review by Bill Doughty

Futurist Peter Schwartz uses “thought ballistics” to hit the target in his now-classic book on understanding global strategic change.

In The Art of the Long View, he shows that everyone has an innate ability to build scenarios -- stories to explain and understand the future. Research shows that the part of brain that controls speech is the same involved in ballistics -- the ability of our distant ancestors to hit small animals with a rock, spear or arrow. A good quarterback (think Joe Montana, Drew Brees or Peyton Manning) has an extraordinary ability to look ahead down field -- to read the future -- in order to hit his receiver with the ball.

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees, on target.

Scenarios are “what if?” thoughts about the future that can help governments, businesses and militaries -- society in general -- make strategic decisions that are good for all possible futures, says Schwartz, whose book is recommended in the original Navy Professional Reading List.

The author, in turn, recommends or discusses a variety of books throughout The Art of the Long View, including:

The Ascent of Mind by William Calvin

On Thermonuclear War: Thinking About the Unthinkable by Herman Kahn

On Death and Dying by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

American Myth, American Reality by James Robertson

The End of Work by Jeremy Rivkin

The Population Explosion by Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich

The Art of the Long View is a business/history/philosophy/self-help/roadmap for thinking about the future as compelling in 2010 as it was twenty years ago when it was written.

Schwartz provides comprehensive endnotes, a “scenario planning select bibliography” and a detailed index.

His perspective is business and economics and, like Freakonomics, his perspective is futuristic, synergistic and out-of-the-box thinking, using neurobiology to explain why we sometimes act the way we do.

The idea of speed and language as ballistics is compelling.

Schwartz shows how thinkers and planners can miss a target when their scenarios are hobbled by denial or a lack of imagination in examining consequences.

He says leaders failed to imagine victory after the Cold War. What now? “What if we won?” More than 10 years before 9/11 and subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he wrote:

“The new military to cope with the Saddam Husseins of today and tomorrow will be very different from the military needed to contain a hostile superpower.”

Reading The Art of the Long View in the 20/20 hindsight of post-9/11/2001 revealed shadows of things to come. Futurist Schwartz came close to predicting the terrorism that would happen in the beginning of the 21st century.

He acknowledges in his epilogue the seeds of “a deep mutual misreading between Islam and the Christian world” that pose enormous demands upon the world for mutual understanding. And, he says, “The conflicts do not have to be duels to the death.”

Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden and his ilk didn’t get that notice.

In terms of ballistics, those who believe in fomenting fear, hate and terror are off target in today’s world. Some whould argue that, especially in the case of radical Islamists, that’s the reason they are the target.