Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Kill the Intruders!

As everyone knows, complicated problems require complicated solutions:

For years and years, the Israeli military has been trying to figure out a way to keep Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip from crossing over into Israel proper. The latest tactic: create a set of "automated kill zones" by networking together remote-controlled machine guns, ground sensors, and drones along the 60-kilometer border.
The chance that a captured contractor or journalist or soldier will someday be driven into one of these "kill zones" is vanishingly small, natch.

Meanwhile, DARPA wants to use moths to infiltrate enemy encampments:
It is hoped that one day, a sensor-enabled insect with a 100-yard range could be placed within five meters of a target using electronic remote control and, potentially, Global Positioning System technologies.

Ultimately, the moth will be able to land in enemy camps in remote location unobserved, beaming video and other information back via what its developers refer to as a “reliable tissue-machine interface.”
In a perfect world, the moths would report directly to the drones, which would then proceed to expunge the evildoers as dispassionately as Jonah Goldberg's robotic vacuum cleaner sucks up the Cheeto dust and perineal scurf under his desk.

As I've mentioned previously, there's some concern that these automated systems will malfunction and kill innocent people. This is a pleasant subject for debate, I suppose, inasmuch as it allows us to pretend that our military operations normally don't kill innocent people.

That said, more and more people seem to relish the thought of automated killing (along the US/Mexico border, for instance). I'm disturbed by the idea of a self-enforcing law that treats individuals as nothing more than moving targets. But it's even more disturbing to consider the possibility that this form of "defense" isn't based on bureaucratic efficiency, or technophilia run amuck, so much as contempt; a casual, fully automated death is what the enemy deserves. Turning the fate of these people over to dispassionate machines demonstrates how passionately we hate them.

It's a bit of a cliche, but post-9/11 security really does seem like an autoimmune disease. Our way of life is in such peril that nothing can be allowed to stand in the way of its defense - including our way of life. Our freedom is so fragile that it requires massive border walls, which require automated kill zones, which require buffer zones, which require perimeter fences, which require drone overflights, and so on. We must adapt or die!

Of course, it's usually easier for insurgents to adapt to rigid, costly defenses than for those defenses to adapt to new insurgent strategies. The terrorists have only to change their tactics, whereas we have to change our architecture, our transportation and infrastructure, our laws, our ethics...our way of life, in short. As things escalate, ever more drastic changes are justified by the promise that life will go on as usual.

In the end, the thing that's most likely to destroy us is our belief that victory is possible.

(The illustration at top is from "Tom Swift and His Giant Robot" by Victor Appleton II, 1954.)


chris said...

Jonah Goldberg's robotic vacuum cleaner sucks up the Cheeto dust and perineal scurf under his desk.

Pass the brain bleach, please.

Great post, Phila, you've given me much to think about, as usual.

ellroon said...

Do I dare go google perineal scurf?

And did nobody watch the Terminator? Robots always go bad.

Phila said...

Robots always go bad.

Sure. Elementary chaos theory proves it.