Until the CIA stuck air-to-ground missiles on Predators, the idea of drones – which are not autonomous robots but do depend on semi-autonomous robotic systems to save work for the pilots – was considered bad policy, ineffective militarily and negligent morally.
Without a human at the controls, on site, not in a bunker somewhere using Xbox controllers to fly lite fighter-bombers, the robots would inevitably screw up and bomb mosques full of children rather than terrorist hideouts, or escape into the wilderness on their own and foment rebellion among the machines, dooming us all to horrible, messy deaths at the hands of our blenders and microwaves (because how many of you own a drone big enough to brag about? And those take-apart Styrofoam things don't count.)
Drones, unsexy as they are, are taking over the air war, just as ugly, smoke-belching, banal, unromantic warships driven by steam and diesel drove off the billowing fleets of sail with which Britain dominated the oceans and global politics for more than a century. From an aesthetic perspective, both changes are tragedies.
From nearly every other perspective, drones, at least, are a huge improvement.
Loving the drones, even if we don't really like them
Without really discussing it as an ethical or artificial-intelligence issue, the U.S. military shifted from a force that required at least one great ape in each of whatever kind of vehicle it was using, whether it was a $200 million fighter, a too-heavily-armed Jeep, or whatever the hell this is.
And the military is going even further down the road toward a no-finger-on-the-trigger defense strategy.
The nanosatellite technology program would use old missiles to put tiny satellites in low orbit to accomplish specific tasks – long-term surveillance on a terrorist training camp, for example.
Redirected satellites of the non-classified variety were instrumental in monitoring fighting in Sudan last July, picking out details as small as the type of cargo plane being used to fly in heavy equipment for artillery and helicopter support by government troops.