Re: Military applications of SI

From: James Rogers (
Date: Tue Mar 06 2001 - 12:21:10 MST

At 08:52 PM 3/5/2001 -0600, Jimmy Wales wrote:
>Normal soldiers sent into battle are operating outside the environment for
>which evolution designed the human body and brain. There are loud scary
>noises, and a need to react really quickly. Humans make mistake. They
>kill innocent bystanders. They misidentify targets. They freak out and run
>away, or act indecisively.

Many studies done by the U.S. military in the 50s and 60s indicate that
only about 4% of soldiers in the U.S. military are truly effective in
combat, and maybe only 15% are even useful. The rest are dead-weight at
best and useless bullet-stops at worst. Therefore the U.S. military has
moved to have most of their personnel supporting the small percentage of
combat soldiers that actually are capable of effectively engaging the
enemy. As a result, the average effectiveness of line soldiers has
increased markedly. Which isn't to say that you don't have a point, just
that the problems you state can be largely solved with simple and
time-honored methods of selection.

>There is little question that a smart killing machine could easily defeat
>normal human soldiers. Intelligence is needed to move about in an unfamiliar
>environment, and for identification of armed targets (versus innocent
>Prioritization of targets involves rapidly judging the intentions (and
>the actions) of various people and things in the combat arena.

Machines of this level of capability would be vastly more expensive (and on
many levels, more complicated) than their human counterparts. Any
competent and motivated military organization can produce high-grade combat
units with a relatively small investment.

You overlook the combat strengths of light infantry in a theater of
operations. The obvious disadvantages of human soldiers is that they have
low firepower, modest speed, and are poorly armored. However, they have
the enormous value of being extraordinarily adaptive to changing
conditions, very resistant to the environment, far more durable than
machines, and capable of operating with very little logistical support.

Our bodies have evolved to survive under a broad range of adverse
conditions that machines are not even close to being capable of
supporting. The average military truck has a life span of about 15,000
miles and requires very regular maintenance and parts replacement; this may
seem short, but unlike your car and other vehicles that travel on a
carefully manicured and purely artificial environment called "pavement",
military trucks have to be able to travel most places a person can. As any
military person will tell you, logistics will make or break a combat
operation. I am extraordinarily skeptical that any kind of advanced
military machine would not require massive quantities of technical support
in the foreseeable future.

The relevance of this is, after decades of research and refinement, the
military can still not put a vehicle as simple as a truck in the field
without a small company of people to support it, and that it will break on
a very regular basis is a given. If you want to stop The Ultimate Killing
Machine, you simply attack the vast human support structure required to
keep it operational in the field; it will be out of commission in a day or
two due to lack of logistical support. In fact, attacking support elements
is standard doctrine for stopping any advanced piece of war machinery; a
couple guys with guns and explosives can effectively stop an air wing of
the most advanced aircraft without taking a single shot at the aircraft
themselves. All the cool toys in the world won't help you if you can't
keep them running.

>Smart military machines could enter a dangerous urban environment and
>and quickly take out armed targets with (relatively) minimal damage to

Again, at this level of technology, humans have proven to be far more
robust and reliable. Our biology allows us to operate very well in our
native environment. Even a machine with the mental capabilities of a human
would be at an extraordinary disadvantage from a logistical standpoint and
would likely only be used in very limited scenarios where such a machine
could be safely supported. While humans may not have the armor of
machines, we tend to be far more durable and damage resistant than
machines, and of course, are self-repairing and for the most part
self-supplying. The trend has therefore been to augment human abilities;
it is cheaper and more effective for many military missions.

-James Rogers

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