1.25.2009

Scary Thought Revised, or Why NPR is Worth $35/yr


It always happens this way. I'm driving somewhere and turn on NPR. My favorite show is Marketplace, as lately it's become a prescient little window into the decline of Western Civilization as we know it. It's not on. I leave the radio on and get out the cell phone. I can't just drive, you know.

No one's answering. In the background I hear Terry Gross interviewing someone on Fresh Air. I have a lot of respect for her as she asks the questions I would ask if I were half as smart and ballsy.

Okay, I'll listen. She interviews interesting people. Usually I have no idea who they are, as the only people I've heard of are either dead (History Channel) or on "Top Chef." Why doesn't she interview Tom Colicchio?

She had Rivers Cuomo on recently, for example. I know Weezer but I don't care. My mind wandered while they were talking. It wandered back and zoned in like my dog with chicken when Rivers started talking about going back to school as an English major. A rock star went back to school? Took English classes? Was critiqued by his own set of brown-nosing kids living with or off parents? Why am I not in English classes?

This particular day, Thursday, I'm driving home from my Algebra class. She's talking to some guy about drones. I read Dune. I'm not interested.

He's telling a story about a 19 year-old who is so good at killing Iraqis via video games in Virginia, that when the kid teaches all the big guns in the military, they're somewhat resentful. This is thought-provoking in a variety of ways.

I keep listening.

The drone guy continues to talk. He's starting to scare me. He's explaining how iRobot, one of the companies building the drones, is getting so good that people really don't have to be involved. He says the Bush administration says, "We'll always have humans involved," he says, but adds, "when they start using superlatives, that's when I start to worry."

He gives an example of drones targeting a US helicopter and thankfully being able to shut it down before striking, but that was years ago and technology has advanced so far that humans are only in the loop to shut them down.

He says the medical field has ethical rules but the military robotic field doesn't, of course. He says some people working in the field are worried we'll get another situation like Los Alamos, where, without controls, we open up a pandora's box of something we can't handle and we can never go back.

This is really not what I wanted to hear on the second full day of Hope. Couldn't you just interview Tom instead?

If you need scarin', here are the details: 'Wired For War' by P. W. Singer Explores Robots On The Battlefield Listen Now [38 min 47 sec]