A video game that kills real people
There are already more than 1,000 unmanned aircrafts in combat, drones that U.S. pilots fly from Nevada. Pilots use a console that is based on the XBox processor and resembles a PlayStation. It's a lot like the video games the pilots probably played growing up.
The technology saves lives, but is there too much of an emotional disconnect from the consequences of war when one side doesn't have to be anywhere near the fight?
The guy in the knit shirt leans back in his leather chair, his hand wrapped around the joystick. On the console display, two plane-shaped icons show the available ammo. As the target vehicle crosses his screen, he squeezes the red button. The car vanishes in a fireball.
I'm watching this scene in a demonstration video on my home PC. My 7-year-old son, who's watching it with me, knows all about computer games. "It went down on this car, and it made a big explosion!" he tells my wife. "It was really cool."
But this is no game. This is the real thing. It's called the Universal Control System. It directs aerial military drones. Raytheon, a high-tech defense contractor, exhibited the system last week at an air show in Britain. It looks and feels like a video game. But it kills real people.
Drones are the future of warfare. Through them, we can hunt enemies abroad at no risk to ourselves. They're perfect for post-Iraq missions, sparing us the difficulties of an official troop presence in foreign hot spots. We're already flying more than 1,000 of them in combat. The big ones hunt and kill. Go ahead, shoot at them. You can't hurt the pilots. The pilots are in Nevada.
If you've seen combat in the flesh, you know what the fireball on the screen means to the people in the car. But to a teenager raised on Doom and Halo, it looks like just another score. He can't feel or smell the explosion. He isn't even there. The eeriest thing in the demo video is the total silence that accompanies the car's destruction. The only sound that follows is the pilot's triumphant verdict: "Excellent job." It's like something you'd read on the screen after getting a high score at an arcade.