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The First Law

In the beginning of war, men fought men.

These days it is complicated. Some war is still men fighting men. Some is men in vehicles fighting other men, those men may also be in vehicles. Battleships shell the earth. Submarines haunt the sea. A hallmark of war is that none participating in it should sleep soundly.

The one major time we strained from this model was the deployment of auto-nonomous mechanical robots, buried in the ground, with the instructions to kill or maim whoevever triggers them. It may seem strange to talk about landmines as "robots", but in regard that they are mechanical agents who are charged with deciding who to employ lethal force on, the glove seems to fit.

Wholesale landmine use in wars has widely been regarded as a pretty terrible idea. Yet it serves as an interesting analog to the current state of warfare.

Teleoperated warmachines are not breaking news. As was fortold by Robin Williams 1992 movie Toys, we've been using them for ten years now to drop missiles on places we'd rather not physically go. The US isn't even unique in this regard, 30+ other countries are actively using drones in their militaries.

It is important to discuss because it breaks the unspoken rule of war, that all participants should be in some state of mortal terror.

This is what makes war difficult to employ. It makes recruitment, training and retention all very difficult. So much of the military structure revolves around it "follow orders!" , "glory in death", "serve your country". They are necessary incentives to get rational humans to perform actions which might lead to their harm or death.

I don't mean to disparage it, I don't think anybody going to sign up for any branch of service is diluded or tricked about the risks involved with the dictionary definition of the job they are electing to do. There is still a nobility there.

This virtue is easier seen when you imagine it not being there. If joining the army was as simple as showing up to work in a big bland office building, going to your cubicle, and driving around a remotely operated shotgun strapped to a camera in a country you probably don't not know the capital of.

When those participants no longer have to ante in any slice of their mortality into the pot, it alters the game entirely.

The distinction between war and murder has always been a murky one. Killing someone who was threatening your person is generally labeled "Self Defense" (a.k.a. Not Murder). War against an unarmed peoples is generally not considered war, but slaughter (a.k.a. Lots of Murder). It seems mutual peril is an important element in making it tolerable to cease a human life on purpose.

So what if it isn't there?

What if it is not difficult to find people willing to kill others for a paycheck? What if you don't have to train them, house them, feed them and dangle the promise of an educated future to get them to do that for you? What if people would literally kill for minimum wage?

The thing I worry about is not that our war machines will become fully-autnomous Skynet overlords. I worry that we will finally invent a way to make humans make life or death decisions with the callous boredom of a machine.