A little while ago, Gizmodo posted something both quite interesting and deeply troubling – video of CIA agents piloting a Predator drone. Watching this duo target and fire missiles at a white pickup truck – presumably full of terrorists? – offers some real insight into just how unnervingly clinical the operation of these drones is. These are the faces and demeanors you would expect to see from someone in the midst of a particularly tough Halo deathmatch or concentrating on a high level Tetris game – not snuffing out the lives of a truck full of people.

Also, did the CIA have to make the Predator pilot seats look like something out of a sequel to The Last Starfighter, or was that merely an aesthetic choice?

The i Phone – it’s not just for making your friends jealous and checking your email on the bus any more. Researchers at MIT have developed an app for everyones favorite handheld that allows users to control an unmanned drone via their very own palm pilot. It’s quite a feat just one year after their colleagues at UC Berkeley managed to control a small fleet of UAVs from an iPhone.

Between simpler methods of controlling the small wonders and more efficient power sources like solar panels and next gen batteries, UAVs are poised to make a jump from indiscriminate killing machine to phenomenally effective intelligence gathering devices that can operate over long ranges at little risk. Imagine if, rather than maybe probably almost killing a Taliban leader in Pakistan after definitely killing their fairly harmless wives, these things could gather intelligence on where he and his cohorts actually were. Imagine a fight against the Taliban that doesn’t involve us tossing Hellfire missiles around pell mell at every possible target.

Doesn’t that sound like a more effective war? Doesn’t that sound like a war that doesn’t give the people we’re fighting for an endless string of reasons to fear us? Doesn’t that sound like a war we could win?

Oh, BBC, you’ve put me in a wicket that is ever so sticky.

On the one hand, I’m as ready as anyone for a serious rethinking of how we use Predators and other UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s particularly important in the latter theater, where civilian casualties caused by drone strikes play a major part in turning public opinion against US and NATO forces. The fact of the matter is that we don’t win the war against the Taliban in the region until we end public perception that we are the enemy, and we don’t end that perception until we stop killing civilians. Because frankly, until we stop killing civilians, we are the enemy to the vast majority of people on the ground in Afghanistan.

Since I’m on record as feeling this way, I couldn’t be happier to hear that Professor Noel Sharkey, who has been talking for years about the need for a reconsideration of whether the new face of modern warfare is a net improvement. For the soldiers who get to control these heavily armed automatons from half a world away, it certainly seems like it. But if we’re unable to distinguish civilian from combatant – a task that’s often difficult enough for a soldier on the ground – then are we really making wars more winnable? Or are we just making the rules a little different?

America - Are You Going To Let A Robot Fight Your Battles For You?

America - Are You Going To Let A Robot Fight Your Battles For You?

Maybe, by their definition, there’s no such thing as a safe weapon. But there’s a clear line between weapons that are ready to be used safely and ones that aren’t. And it’s time for a serious conversation about where UAVs and other robotic weaponry are in that process. Are they highly advanced? No doubt – technology has made undeniable strides from the days when all that robot warriors could do was rock ’em and/or sock ’em. But are they fool proof? Hardly, and when they’re not, the results are disastrous. So yeah, I’m happy that the media is giving the subject some love.

But really, BBC – did you have to run Jason Palmer’s excellent story on the matter under the headline ‘Call for debate on killer robots‘?

The silliest military acronym in years belongs to one of the most bone chilling pieces of death dealing technology to come down the pipe in recent memory. 

The Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System starts off as a run of the mill Vigilante unmanned helicopter drone. The remote controlled chopper is then fitted with a lightweight, stabilizing turret, which is in turn fitted with a high powered sniper rifle, completing the Vigilante’s transformation from mild mannered UAV to merciless Angel of Death guided by a pilot half a world a way who is using his ultimate weapon of choice – an Xbox 360 controller.

I swear to God I did not make that last part up. What, you thought all those hours you put into perfecting your FPS skills over the past ten years were just for stoner bragging rights? Think again, cupcake – turns out the entertainment industry has been conducting virtual boot camp since you were in short pants. Try and look surprised.

As ironic as it seems to insinuate that a remote controlled helicopter armed with a sniper rifle could actually be a life saving device, there’s a good chance that’s just what the ARSS could become. That’s because the rifle is firing seven precision aimed rounds every minute, as opposed to the Hellfire missiles currently being launched by Predator drones in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of the best things the military could do in this region is cut down on civilian casualties rendered by drones firing at militants. By firing bullets rather than missiles, the ARSS has the potential to do just that, and save gobs of money in the bargain.

Of course, most of that money will have to be reinvested in contracting a supply of the specially engineered beverages that our warriors of the future will need to stay on top of their game.