Current warfare seems ugly enough, what with the drones and Kalashnikovs. But add a dose of computerized efficiency, and the battlefield of the future could be one truly optimizedā€”and terrifyingā€”killing machine.

Tom Scott has a succinct and depressing look at the kind of changes we can expect to see on future battlefields, if a U.S. Army thinkpaper is accurate. The gist goes something like this: the quantity and speed of information will overwhelm human operators, who will need to let computers handle most of the immediate decision-making in order to keep fighting.

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Itā€™s not an improbably scenario: in fact, itā€™s one that is already played out on very small, very particular scales. Anti-air and point defense weapons systems on U.S. Navy ships generally have an ā€˜automaticā€™ mode, so that under intense air attack, operators gan hand over control to the computer, and let it do the shooting.

The ethics of robotic warfare are murky at best: as Scott points out, the E.U. currently has a ban on any major decision (let alone who to kill) being made solely by a computer. But thereā€™s a strong historical trend of law bending to necessity, especially where big fighting machines are involved.

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