“The number of available boos on the ground is still a major constraint on the projection of military force,” writes Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. We are still a long way off from fighting war entirely with robots. People are still the driving force of a military, as we are seeing in Ukraine right now. Drones are becoming more important and more effective, but having tanks, soldiers in the street, and paratroopers dropping onto strategic targets is hugely important.
But robots have been playing a more important role in wars lately. The United States and NATO countries are able to know a lot about what is taking place in Ukraine thanks to satellite imagery. Ukraine has been able to keep its power up by blocking Russian cyber attacks. Ukrainian drones have played an important role in halting Russian advances and preventing an easy collapse of the Ukrainian government. More and more, war is moving away from soldiers on the ground shooting at each other and toward robotic and cyber attacks.
In The Better Angels of Our Nature Pinker argues that the robotization of war is partially due to the fact that countries value the lives of both their citizens and foreign citizens to a much greater extent than they did in the past. We have developed technologies that allow us to fly planes from halfway across the world, ensuring that when a plane is shot down, a pilot is not shot down with it. The precision of our bombing has improved on those robotic planes, allowing the remote pilots to take out enemies with fewer casualties.
And when innocent civilians are killed, it is a much larger issue today than it was in the past. It is a war crime to bomb and entire country into submission. People are going to die in war, but when a country’s citizens learn about atrocities committed by their side in a war, it can be a much bigger issue for the politicians in charge than it would have been just a couple of hundred years ago. Robots help us fight wars without killing as many people, another indication that humans are becoming less violent and deadly over time.