The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: Drones

The Age Of Assassination

It’s forgotten now, but the invention of effective pistols created a period with a lot more assassinations.  Effective portable bombs made assassins even more effective. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination started World War I, is the most famous victim, but hardly the only one.

We’re in the start of a golden Age of assassination. It has gone largely unremarked because the victims have been nobodies, and mostly in the developing nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria and so on, though hardly limited to those war zones.

A large group of assassins have been drones (special forces hit squads are the other group.) Drones are not, as I have noted before, a technology of the rich and strong: a good mechanic can make a drone easily enough in their garage. Hezbollah has its own fleet of drones. Iran has invested in them. Turkey, while certainly a powerful nation is not a technological leader overall, but has become a leader in drones and especially autonomous drones.

Drones will get smaller, more deadly and harder to stop. More and more will become autonomous, so that they can’t be jammed.

Meanwhile, the NYTimes has a story about how Israel assassinated Iran’s top nuclear scientist:

Israel’s Mossad used an AI assisted 1 ton machine gun robot. Its parts were detached, smuggled into Iran and assembled inside Iran. The robot used facial recognition to recognize the target.

All of this tech is going to come back to bite our elites in the ass. As Dan points out, there’s no reason these types of technologies can’t be used to kill Western elites, and they will be. The reaction to then try and then clamp down on the technology will do huge harm to tech development, because the items needed to create a drone or stationary robot are simple, not complicated, and will become simpler and less complicated over time.

Ages of assassination aren’t pretty, and they increase political instability substantially. That isn’t always a bad thing, it depends if what’s on offer is better that the status quo, but it’s always a mess.

Technologies are never neutral and that is nowhere more true than technologies of violence. Firearms put a decisive end to the age of the knight, and allowed for the creation of mass democracy. Knights, when they became predominant did the opposite: they entrenched an age of aristocracy, because Knights were expensive as hell, and training to be a knight almost had to start in childhood.

How a technology starts is also not necessarily how it winds up being used predominantly. Consider the machine gun. For the first decades of its existence the machine gun was an offensive weapon: it was used by the Brits and then other colonial militaries to absolutely butcher native forces that dared to oppose them. It helped expand the British Empire and other colonial regimes.

Then came World War I, and it turned out that machine guns were actually a weapon of defense when both sides had them.

Drones have started as weapon by which elites terrorize the weak, and autonomous robots, especially, seem like a dream come true for the powerful. The great problem of power is always the Praetorian one: you need enforcers, and the more you insist on being far richer and out of touch with the commons, the more you need them, but the less you can trust them: whatever the pretense, they become mercenaries, and people who fight for money or for the right to loot and hurt people are never reliable.

Robots seem like the perfect solution, allowing elites to have a much smaller enforcement class; just the people who create and repair them. The real dream is that eventually loyal AIs will design and repair themselves, and non-elite humans will be completely unneeded. The elites will rule alone, with loyal robotic servants and no Praetorian problem or fears that in a revolution, the troops won’t shoot.

But an age of drone and autonomous robots, some of them as small as insects, but still deadly and operating in swarms, is not an age that seems likely to actually favor elites as much as they think, because, as noted earlier, it isn’t actually a hard tech: it’s hard to pioneer, yes, just as were early gunpowder weapons (which were used by Kings to destroy the power of the feudal nobility, since only they could afford enough cannon, and cannon trumped Medieval castles) but once it is pioneered, it will spread and it will be used against elites.

The only way to avoid that is to crack down, hard, on all the precursors, but since the precursors are so simple and basic to a technological society, doing so will make you backwards, and as with Japan completely controlling firearms, this only works if everyone does it everywhere in the world, otherwise one day the “White Ships” show up and you realize you’re helpless before them.

Simple, cheap, effective autonomous or semi-autonomous killing machines are an epochal military technology which is going to change everything if we can maintain societies capable of fielding them. Even in a semi-collapse, we may be able to do so, because they are, actually, simple.

The results are in the air, to be sure. No one in 1500, even, could predict all the results of firearms and the printing press.

But elite who think this will all to their way may find out, as they bleed out their last, just how wrong they were.

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Drones Are a Weapon of the Weak, #2

So, I imagine how everyone heard how drones shut down Gatwick airport, and the police and military were helpless?

Then there is this nice thread from someone who fought ISIS in Iraq. His end conclusion is that trying to shoot down drones is hopeless, you have to find the drone operator and shoot them.

Though I could be wrong, it looks like right now the only technology which really works, is jamming. The problem is that wide-spectrum jamming shuts down more than just the drones. And jamming won’t work against autonomous drones.

Drones are too small and hard for humans to hit reliably. Real attacks involve swarms of fast moving drones.

And drones are cheap. I wrote back in 2012 that drones would be weapons of the weak, and in 2013 discussed how technology was changing the balance of power between weak and strong in war.

This trend continues. Governments may force drone registration and so on, but they are an easy, cheap tech to make with off-the-shelf parts. Currently, they can’t be stopped easily by conventional militaries, and it will be impossible to harden all targets against them in the perceivable future. They will make both terror attacks and assassinations quite simple.

I always thought the US was foolish for developing this technology. They made it happen much faster than it would have otherwise, and while initially it was (and still is) useful to them, in the end it will be a technology that terrorizes them and other powerful governments.

Combined with IEDs, drones make for a very potent insurgency/rebellion/area denial technology. The only real counter to them right now is indirect: Totalitarian surveillance states with the power to track the makers and users. Fear of this sort of thing is, in fact, part of what is driving the rise of surveillance states.

Especially, for the smarter leaders, the realization that drone assassinations are eventually going to be almost impossible to stop.

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing in the long run. Scared leaders and militaries which aren’t invincible are a good thing. But there can be a lot of pain on the way to leaders learning that they can’t just ignore their followers without violent consequences, and a lot of that pain will hit ordinary people.

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Assassination Works Only Under Two Circumstances

For years, decades even, the US has had a policy of assassination. Americans believe that if you kill the leaders, you kill an organization.

This is delusional. It only works when it almost isn’t necessary. How many times has the US killed the #2 man of the Taliban? Did killing Osama stop Al-Qaeda? Assassinating Yamamoto in WWII was not just meaningless, it was a bad idea (he wasn’t a great admiral, but he did oppose war with both the US and China.)

Assassination ONLY works when the organization is unhealthy OR when much of it doesn’t agree with the current leader but is following them anyway.

In a healthy organization, someone else just steps up and leads, and they’re about as good as whoever was there before. It’s not that leadership doesn’t matter, it’s that healthy organizations create lots of people who are capable of leading. Very few leaders are actually genius leaders; most of what looks like genius is leading a good organization, and know-how. Sometimes, someone is the first person to really figure out how to lead an organization, but if they’re good, they train successors, or people learn from watching them.

The second time it works is if there is a genuine disagreement in organization. Perhaps some are willing to make peace, and some aren’t, and if you kill a few of the key leaders who don’t want to make peace, you can get peace.

The problem with all this, however, is that it’s often hard to tell who is actually a genius leader and which people actually believe in the organization. A lower ranking leader, gunning for the first spot, is often not public about disagreeing with , and if he is, may be lying to get followers. It’s just hard to tell. As for genius: It’s rare, and people are good at faking it–until crunch time. Who was America’s last genius general put in real command? I am not aware of one from the last 20 years (Petraeus certainly wasn’t.)

Hannibals, Caesars, and Subotais are truly, genuinely, rare. Genius political leaders are truly rare as well. And genius politicians often are terrible leaders (not the same thing). You may want them in charge.

But the bottom line is simple: A good organization produces a surfeit of good leaders who agree with the organization’s mission. Decapitation only works on unhealthy organizations.

Managers in the US (the US doesn’t have many leaders) lead unhealthy organizations rife with disillusionment, designed to promote time serving managers who don’t take risks, who actively work to harm the rank and file of the organization, and who believe in nothing but themselves.

Such managers find it difficult to get anything done. They have to use fear, coercion, and lies to get the rank and file to follow orders, because their orders are usually both evil and against the rank and file’s self interest.

They know that managing organizations is difficult from their own experience, and they think that all organizations are like that.

But organizations like the Taliban or Hezbollah (not to conflate, I don’t regard Hezbollah as equivalent in many ways) actually believe in what they are doing. People join because they believe in the mission. Even large drug cartels have a belief in a mission and a winnowing of fools and poltroons that often (though not as often as belief organizations) allows them to replace leadership.

When real leadership meets real mission, people fall over themselves to join. They want to belong. They believe. They will work for virtually nothing. They will beg to be part of something bigger than them.

Most Americans have NEVER experienced this. They cannot understand it at a gut level. It is alien to them.

Assassination works only when organizations are unhealthy, and run by managers, not leaders, or during the early stages of a charismatic cult. (A healthy charismatic cult, like the early disciples of Jesus, will quickly create enough leaders to survive a decapitation strike.)

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Why Registering Drones with the Government Matters

DroneSo, drones must now be registered with the Department of Transportation in the US.

Drones are a big part of the future of war. They are cheap, easy to make, and drones will be a chosen weapon of the weak and relatively poor. They are also going to become more and more effective. A drone whistling by at 45 miles an hour is very hard to hit by a person with a gun.

A lot of people focus on an “armed population,” but future wars will be fought more and more with robots: autonomous or guided (which is what a drone is).  These robots will eventually be more effective than human soldiers and can already do things humans can’t.

And they are cheap.

This is being done by the Department of Transport, presumably for safety reasons, but those who worry about the tracking and confiscation of guns, if they were really smart, would worry about the tracking and confiscation of drones.

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