So perusing Matthew Yglesias' blog, I came across this line about the company that makes Roomba's:
Perhaps the most notable American civilian robot is the Roomba, a sort of semi-intelligent vacuum cleaner. But even this is made by a firm, iRobot, that has extensive defense contracts for its PackBot and other military robots.
Why on Earth would a company name itself after a book whose main focus is on the unpredictability of intelligent machines and the danger they could pose to humanity. Maybe it has something to do with that sense of unlimited progress the book evokes, or it could have to do with how wildly unsuccessful the movie franchise was that no one even gets the reference, but I digress.
On a more serious note, military robotics have always been an interesting topic for me. The rise of asymmetric warfare demands that military strategy change to deal with fluid battle lines, unrecognizable enemies, and different types of weapons technologies. I have always wondered why the changing nature of warfare demands turning towards more autonomous forms of war machines. If the threat that a military has to deal with gets more complex, how does making the fighting systems themselves more complex help to deal with it? Why does this not mean we should return to the basics, i.e. focusing on the particularity of the combat environment?Pushing towards greater understanding of the cultures we're fighting in would make more sense to me. For every advanced fighter jet we build, we could be hiring thousands of cultural experts including sociologists, translators, linguists and other academics who have expertise in that area.
But this is the Pentagon where, a Globe review has found, such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life at the lucrative nexus between the defense procurement system, which spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year, and the industry that feasts on those riches. And almost nothing is ever done about it.
The Globe analyzed the career paths of 750 of the highest ranking generals and admirals who retired during the last two decades and found that, for most, moving into what many in Washington call the “rent-a-general’’ business is all but irresistible.
From 2004 through 2008, 80 percent of retiring three- and four-star officers went to work as consultants or defense executives, according to the Globe analysis. That compares with less than 50 percent who followed that path a decade earlier, from 1994 to 1998.