Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-first Century

In This Review

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the Twenty-first Century
By P. W. Singer
Penguin Press, 2009
502 pp. $29.95

In contrast to the recent past, when it was assumed that the future of warfare would be technologically determined, forecasters are now looking instead to social and ideological factors, demographic pressures, and the struggle for vital resources. Singer, who in his past books has shown a keen eye for new features in the strategic landscape, knows that technology has to be kept in context. He has, however, become fascinated by military robotics. Increasingly "dull, dirty and dangerous" battlefield tasks that once had to be done by people could soon be done by machines. If this means that humans may be able to stay clear of harm's way, it may have a significant impact on governments' readiness to fight, as well as on the form of combat that results. The role of unmanned aerial vehicles and devices for dealing with roadside bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq illustrate the potential, but Singer does not quite prove that the impact of these technologies will be transformational. Their role will always be limited by the extent to which conflicts require human contact (for example, as part of a counterinsurgency strategy). Nonetheless, as Singer explores the issues raised by military robotics -- meeting with entrepreneurs, engineers and operators, ethicists, and pundits -- his enthusiasm becomes infectious. With its informal style and cultural references, and because of its topic, Wired for War is a book of its time: this is strategy for the Facebook generation.