Event summary: ‘Warrior Geeks: How 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Fight and Think About War’

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This is a summary of an event with Christopher Coker, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics, on 14 May 2013; it reflects the views expressed by the speaker and not those of The Henry Jackson Society or its staff.

To view the full transcript of the event, click here

 

Professor Christopher Coker addressed an audience in Parliament on 14th of May 2013 on the occasion of his publication of the book ‘Warrior Geeks: How 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Fight and Think About War’. Expanding on the ideas examined in his book, Professor Coker discussed the modern technological developments and challenges impacting our experience and understanding of warfare.

Have we seen the end of war?

  • Modern technological development has had a huge impact on both militarisation and warfare;
  • Some argue that war is becoming a thing of the past, but the countries with the 15 largest defence budgets in the world are investing in cyber warfare capability, and 76 countries are investing in drone technologies;.
  • This highlights that today states and non-state actors are showing greater interest in ‘post human technologies’, and that warfare is likely to continue.

 Capabilities of the new post-human technologies

  • Today, technology has reached a point where we are becoming part of the technology we use, and where in the future we will co-exist with robotic technologies on the battlefield;
  • We can fly a drone and take out targets without risking the pilot’s life, just by using the joystick and the screen, and in the future, we will be producing the drones that will be capable to process the information and the video streams themselves;
  • At that point drones will be robots and pilots who used to control them will be managers with a duty to oversee the projects and to insure the performance;

Why are states trying to reduce human input into war?

  • The problem is in human fallibility; humans are inconsistent and illogical. They are physically and mentally weak on the battlefield, and they often develop post-traumatic stress;
  • Robots do not make mistakes, they do not get stressed and are consistent in performance; they do what they are programmed to do;
  • Thus, scientists are trying to replace the human rationality with logic, human consciousness with computer algorithms; attempting to reduce human input into war. But these changes have alarming disadvantages.

Challenges

  • The military historian Thucydides said that we co-evolve with our technology, that war and ourselves live in a symbiotic relationship. But Thucydides did not see the technological development that we are seeing today. We are becoming the technology that we use and war is not human thing anymore;
  • Today we have capability to be at war without being physically engaged at war.  War is less physically demanding and more intellectual, because it is done through the screens;
  • This kind of change affects the sacramental nature of war, because the element of sacrifice is taken out of war and that can be very dangerous aspect, desacralizing it;
  • Humans are on the verge of losing touch with their humanity as technology makes war too easy, and “war should never be easy”.

According to Professor Coker, “the Greeks grew a very sharp distinction between the organic and inorganic, between the animal and the machine, but we do not draw these distinctions any longer. Our brains really are changing and we are facing challenges that are completely new at war”.

HJS



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