universal soldier – pilotless planes and the future of war?

My bullet’s bigger than your bullet.

Universal Soldier was one of those 1990s cyborg nonsense movies, built on the back of the kind of  post or transhuman mythology originated by the likes of Philip K Dick and William Gibson.

Van Damme’s Luc Devereaux, the cyborg who does war – was, depending on your perspective either an optimistic or pessimistic view of the future of warfare, inhumanity meted out by unhumans.

Like many of the best sci-fi stories, there is a hint of reality in the story. War has gradually been removed from the harsh reality of hand to hand combat, armies no longer charge towards one another with axes and clubs raised – ready to stab and bludgeon one another. Unless you count football hooligans or rioters of course.

But rioters and hooligans are not deliverers of ‘legitimate violence’ – that is the prerogative of the state, and the state needs to be seen to be as humane as possible in its dispensing of death. In particular it is politically awkward for soldiers to be seen to die in foreign fields, although its less bad if those soldiers are themselves foreign.

Footage of planes ‘delivering’ their digitally targeted ‘payload’ looks much more like a computer game than something inherently ‘real’ – Baudrillard’s seminal ‘The Gulf War did not take place’ develops this theme in much more devastating analysis, pointing to the fact that the way air strikes replaced hand to hand combat effectively made the warfare unreal in terms of ‘conflict’.

What I am leading to with this is the latest iteration in this post humanised process – the removal of pilots from fighter jets. There are already a plethora of remotely operated vehicles capable of delivering bombs and sending/receiving imagery and intelligence. Now legitimate death machine merchants BAE have developed a remotely operated fighter jet which can do all that the famous 80s helicopter Airwolf could, but without the need to involve risk to a pilot. So long, Stringfellow Hawk.

Warfare is always inhumane and removing pilots from planes does not mean that fewer people will die, just that death will become less politically embarrassing to the most powerful warriors.

But without him,
how would Hitler have condemned him at Dachau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body
as a weapon of the war.
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the universal soldier
And he really is the blame
His orders comes from
far away no more.

They come from him.
And you and me.
And brothers can’t you see.
This is not the way we put an end to war

Buffy Sainte Marie – Universal Soldier


Projecting immortality – holograms, facebook, and pyramids

What with plans for the late Michael Jackson to tour again by means of a holographic projection, you’d think he’d never been gone.

In fact to the majority of the world, Jacko was always hyper real, more projection of a persona mediated by a television screen, than actual person. So perhaps a hologram of him is just as likely to float the average punter’s boat as a real live performance.

Although he’s the first performer to come back from the dead in this way, this technology has been used to good affect for a while, Prince Charles was using it in 2008.

But what I find particularly interesting is that what such holograms appear to offer, is a genuine shot at humanistic immortality. The development of artificial intelligence over the years hasn’t quite reached Blade Runner standard yet, but programmers are now able to produce bots which can very effectively mimic human reactions, if not emotions, in conversations.

If you add this ability with the popularity of uploading hopes and dreams, memories, likes, dislikes, crushes and pet hates to cyber space via Facebook, twitter, Pinterest and other social sites, and then mix in the holographic technology, it’s no great leap to imagine that one day in the not too distant future, you’ll be able to have a deceased loved one sitting in the same room as you, talking about the old days.

In fact this kind of project has been under development for a number of years, I first researched the subject at the end of the 1990s, when BT of all strange companies were leading lights in the area. They were, and perhaps still are, looking for ways of developing the digital equivalent of a person’s consciousness, by uploading memories and opinions to a cyberspace database/mind.

That technology has become massively democratised in the last few years, as social networking has gripped the collective consciousness. Now if I want to know what people think about a subject, I can visit their page and often quickly glean enough details to form an opinion. If that same idea was subject to a systematic process, and the results fed into a sophisticated AI machine, which was then linked to a holographic projector… kerpow, I am immortal.

Immortality experiments aren’t particularly new of course, all powerful empires had them, and they were generally aligned with the sophisticated technology of the time, hence the reason we now find pyramids, mummies, and monuments of one sort or another around the world.What this appears to be is the scientific rationalist equivalent of the pyramid.

It seems like humanity is generally questing for immortality, and willing to go to great lengths to achieve it – in the Hebrew scriptures, the writer of the book ‘Ecclesiastes’ says, in the gendered language of his time: “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” True dat.