Animating Military Robotics
From: July 03, 2012
To: July 03, 2012
This paper examines the massive and intensive development of military robotics, a development that can be understood (and not metaphorically) as envisaging their bringing to life as fully functioning perceiving and acting beings. The mid-term goal the United States Air Force has for its Unmanned Aircraft Systems is, for example, to pass from the current deployment of robots as the extension into ‘battlespace’ of operators—a ‘man in the loop’ system resembling the classic cybernetic configuration of the ‘man in the middle’ recalled in the videogame controller interfaces of the UAS operators—to a ‘man on the loop’ deployment where the human monitors the execution of the robot’s now realtime ‘perceive and act vector’. What is projected here is the robot system living out what Henri Bergson called the ‘sensory-motor scheme’ of everyday experience. The ethical and political challenges such a developmental trajectory are evident, even if, today, there is very little acknowledgment or critical debate about the extraordinary proliferation of robotic warfighting systems in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this paper I want to characterise this trajectory of military robotics development as a crucial engine of technological development today, one in which the ‘animation machine’ of perceptual experience converges with that driving the intentional vector of the automoted robot weapon-system. Aside from asking the old question about what happens when the ‘man’ goes out of the loop, I want to consider what and who is reanimated, and how, when the loop becomes the vector of perception and action.
Patrick Crogan teaches film and media at the University of the West of England, Bristol. His book, Gameplay Mode: Between War, Simulation and Technoculture (University of Minessota Press, 2011) explores the complex technocultural legacy of military technoscientific research and development readable in the exemplary entertainment form of computer culture, videogames. He is working on a project with Routledge whose provisional title is ‘Post-cinematic media’. He guest edited the special issue of Cultural Politics on Bernard Stiegler. He has published on film, animation, video games and digital media forms.