The rise of “Skynet?”

The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

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Not much I have heard about the state of affairs in Pakistan after their elections has given me confidence that this particular iteration of “democracy” will survive for very long there. I was initially most concerned that a weak (and corrupt) central government would hurt ordinary Pakistanis by failing to adequately confront the extremists that sought to de-stabilize their country.

Case in point, let’s consider the huge blast that occurred in September at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad killing 53 people (two of whom were Americans):

A suicide bomb attack that killed 53 people at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan’s capital bore the hallmarks of an operation by al Qaeda or an affiliate, Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials said on Sunday.

Teams combing the burnt shell of the hotel found more charred bodies after the blast on Saturday evening ignited a blaze that swept through the hotel, part of a U.S.-based chain and a favorite haunt of diplomats and wealthy Pakistanis. [Link]

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p>So how did Pakistan respond around that same time to the threat of internal terrorism? For one, they declined investigative help from the FBI who are quite experienced with this kind of attack given past U.S. embassy bombings abroad:

Malik rejected FBI assistance and said Pakistani security agencies were capable of handling the probe.

A US official at the Guantanamo naval base told Reuters “the attack certainly bears all the hallmarks of… Al Qaeda or its associates”.

Six suspects: Online said six suspects from FATA had been held. [Link]

I understand the need to maintain the appearance of “standing up to the U.S.” to play to the domestic crowd, but not in the absence of doing anything. Now that we no longer have the slightly more compliant Musharraf to deal with, the U.S. has had to become a bit more proactive about rooting out terrorists:

Bush confronted Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, with evidence of involvement by its military intelligence (ISI) in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

“They were very hot on the ISI,” said Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister. “Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away.’ “… [Link]

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The solution to America’s Pakistan problem may lie in Iraq. Bob Woodward initially reported a few months ago that there was a secret behind the military success of the surge in Iraq: a sophisticated and lethal special operations program.

“This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target, and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs,” Woodward told Pelley.

“But what are we talking about here? It’s some kind of surveillance? Some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you’re looking for? The leadership of the enemy?” Pelley asked.

“I’d love to go through the details, but I’m not going to,” Woodward replied.

The details, Woodward says, would compromise the program.

“For a reporter, you don’t allow much,” Pelley remarked.

“Well no, it’s with reluctance. From what I know about it, it’s one of those things that go back to any war, World War I, World War II, the role of the tank, and the airplane. And it is the stuff of which military novels are written,” Woodward said. [Link]

And from the LA Times:

A military official familiar with the systems said they had a profound effect, both militarily and psychologically, on the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq.

It is like they are living with a red dot on their head,” said a former U.S. military official familiar with the technology who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because it has been secret. “With the quietness of the Predator, you never knew when a Hellfire [missile] would come through your window.”

The new Predator capabilities are a key ingredient in an emerging U.S. military offensive against Taliban strongholds and Al Qaeda havens in Pakistan. [Link]

In an article on Slate yesterday the author wonders if Pakistan’s new government has finally seen the light. They continue to protest now in public but secretly love the faceless killing machines that are helping to manage their terrorist problems. The key is that collateral damage be kept to a minimum.

In recent weeks, as Pakistani officials urged the U.S. to stop the drone attacks, I wondered whether these appeals were sincere or fake. They sure sounded fake. Now we have confirmation. In Sunday’s Washington Post, Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick report what they’ve learned from interviews with U.S. and Pakistani officials. Here are the highlights:

1. The drones are succeeding tactically. They found and killed three al-Qaida leaders in the first nine months of this year. In October, after drone operations intensified, they killed three more.

2. Pakistan tacitly accepts the drones. The U.S. and Pakistan “reached tacit agreement in September on a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy that allows unmanned Predator aircraft to attack suspected terrorist targets in rugged western Pakistan, according to senior officials in both countries.” Terms: “the U.S. government refuses to publicly acknowledge the attacks while Pakistan’s government continues to complain noisily about the politically sensitive strikes.”

3. Terrorism in Pakistan has made the government more acquiescent to drones, not less. According to U.S. officials, “Pakistan’s new acquiescence coincided with the new government there and a sharp increase in domestic terrorist attacks.” The attacks have persuaded Pakistan that the terrorists along its border are a grave threat to Pakistan as well as to Afghanistan and the U.S. The new acquiescence can be measured in hits: “From December to August, when Musharraf stepped down, there were six U.S. Predator attacks in Pakistan. Since then, there have been at least 19.”

Let’s think through what we’ve just read. Terrorists use civilian deaths and the prospect of more civilian deaths to blackmail governments. This is a political game, not just a military one. It’s what they did, for example, to Spain four years ago. In Pakistan, they’ve tried the same thing, but this time with a new twist: The enemy they’re trying to neutralize is mechanical. The terrorists can’t bog down or kill the drones because drones don’t bleed and they don’t have to land. So the terrorists tried to blackmail the nearest civilian target, Pakistan, to gain leverage over the drones.

If the Post story is correct, this strategy failed. In fact, it backfired. The terrorists are losing not just the military fight but the political one. [Link]

If even only some of this is true it will give President-elect Obama a powerful weapon to use in Pakistan and Afghanistan which he sees as the central front of this war. It may also give the Pakistani government some breathing room and a chance to actually govern.

A senior Pakistani official said that although the attacks contribute to widespread public anger in Pakistan, anti-Americanism there is closely associated with President Bush. Citing a potentially more favorable popular view of President-elect Barack Obama, he said that “maybe with a new administration, public opinion will be more pro-American and we can start acknowledging” more cooperation. [Link]

The only thing that worries me is that I fear the last sentence in the Slate article may be prophetic:

Some day, Pakistan will have its drones. So will India, China, and Iran. The proliferation of drones is well underway. Maybe it will solve the problem of terrorist insurgency. Maybe it will create something worse. [Link]

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This is Skynet people. Once these drones become sentient or fall into the hands of autocrats, then what? Not to mix cyborg references but “resistance would be futile.”

20 thoughts on “The rise of “Skynet?”

  1. Some day, Pakistan will have its drones. So will India, China, and Iran. The proliferation of drones is well underway. Maybe it will solve the problem of terrorist insurgency. Maybe it will create something worse

    Somewhere, papa reagan is proudly shooting starbursts in his grave.

  2. This is Skynet people. Once these drones become sentient or fall into the hands of autocrats, then what? Not to mix cyborg references but “resistance would be futile.”

    you might be interested to know that there were MANY brownz at the singularity summit last month. in any case, the transparent society will probably crystallize before AI.

  3. btw, ray kurzweil is kind of a cultist, but he does like to repeat like a mantra that “growth in information technology is exponential.”

  4. SkyNet, from The Terminator movies, was some kind of very advanced computer network with brains and networked robotic parts.

    The drones used here are just slow-moving planes piloted by a joystick control in a remote location. They will only work when deployed against somewhat backward enemy groups that don’t have much anti-aircraft technology. Drones would be shot out of the sky if used against any enemy with modern weapons technology.

    I don’t get the connection with SkyNet.

  5. Some day, Pakistan will have its drones. So will India, China, and Iran. The proliferation of drones is well underway. Maybe it will solve the problem of terrorist insurgency. Maybe it will create something worse

    India already has drones, courtesy Israel

  6. 5 · Samir said

    Some day, Pakistan will have its drones. So will India, China, and Iran. The proliferation of drones is well underway. Maybe it will solve the problem of terrorist insurgency. Maybe it will create something worse
    India already has drones, courtesy Israel

    India has had its own UAV for a number of years now.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DRDO_Nishant

  7. The only thing that worries me is that I fear the last sentence in the Slate article may be prophetic:

    What about the prospects of a further discredited regime at a time when it’s possibly far closer to substantive political rule by civilians than it has been since the 70s? The issues in Pakistan can’t be divided so neatly into categories like “terrorist” “non-terrorist” and if you read some of the stuff that Ayesha jalal, for example has written, but many others, you’ll see why close collaboration with the U.S. has bolstered or maybe even determined pakistan’s military-industrial state of affairs.

  8. … Maybe it will solve the problem of terrorist insurgency. Maybe it will create something worse.

    Hey, Dr. Strangelove was fun. I, for one, would love to see a live action remake. Shri Pradhan Mantriji, I can walk!!!

  9. The Indian Navy is all over the news today for sinking a pirate ship and this is all you got? :)

    Oh, come on, someone had to say it…..

  10. 10 · MD said

    The Indian Navy is all over the news today for sinking a pirate ship and this is all you got? :) Oh, come on, someone had to say it…..

    Thanks for bringing that up!! Hell yeah! Go Navy!

  11. Im pretty sure India started inducting drones after Kargil in 1999. One was even shot down miles inside Pakistan by a fighter plane when it was on a recon mission. The acquiring of the drones was a major reason for the retiring of the mach 3 capable mig-25 India used for recon previously. Im not sure however if the Indian drones can perform predator-like strike missions.

  12. Im not sure however if the Indian drones can perform predator-like strike missions.

    The Israeli ones India acquired can. India retired Mig-25s because of TES & now Cartosat-2A

  13. The Indian Navy is all over the news today for sinking a pirate ship

    the flying spaghetti monster will smite them all.

  14. It seems many have missed the point of this new technology. The drones are no big deal. Any kid with money to spend at a hobby shop can make a drone these days. It is the sensor technology on the drones and what that technology enables that is the story here. Only the U.S. has it.

  15. 17 · Abhi said

    It is the sensor technology on the drones and what that technology enables that is the story here. Only the U.S. has it.

    Also the networking, targetting and missile guidance technology. A drone is no good if it cannot send useful, fresh information back to others, and if its munitions lack very high accuracy, it is not very dangerous because it cannot carry big enough bombs to make up for the lack of accuracy.

    And, as has been pointed out already, drones are only useful against adversaries who cannot seriously challenge your control of the airspace in the first place. If you deploy them against an adversary that has decent radars, AA batteries and fighter jets, they will quickly be destroyed without gaining you much. Plus, if you aren’t already at war with said adversary, you’ve just handed them a causus belli by violating their airspace. A spy satellite would be much better.

  16. MD, Cmdr. AB, Amitabh: Check Nov. 19th news posted at 7:23am by me. Last time I checked, Drones and taking down pirates on high sea by conventional means are two different issues. Agreed, India is great in many fields, but let us not get carried away with random “victory” here and there. Just my two-cents.

  17. Yo Dad – it was a joke. Something that was once understood around these parts…..

    And, btw, it was a subject of much public interest, because, hello, PIRATES!That was my point.