Pixelating War: How Technology is Removing Humanity from Combat


Article by Chris Price | 444 words

The US Defense Sector, arguably the peak of human technological innovation, has its contractors working on “laser artillery” and “directed-energy” weapons. And just recently, the US Navy tested one of its laser guns for the first time off the Persian Gulf.

Like a Video Game

The “weapons control system” was actually just a guy using a modified Xbox controller. Defense contractors are developing groundbreaking ideas for weapons that are old news to avid gamers.

Navy's Xbox controller

Credit: NavyRecognition’s YouTube channel

The most popular of war games they play, including the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, have a subtle irony to them. The title alludes to the main intention of the contemporary war game, which is to make the player feel like a heroic combatant in 21st-century war—up-to-date weapons and all. The irony comes into play when realizing that, as this video game attempts to mimic real-life 21st-century war, real-life 21st-century war is mimicking video games in return.

War Fought on a Screen

Researchers and parents have long wondered whether or not there’s a connection between playing violent video games and engaging in real-world violence. According to a recent article by the University of Missouri-Columbia, criticism of violent video games has decreased as technology has improved and gamers age. However, when using advanced military tools starts feeling like a video game itself, is it possible that soldiers’ respect for real lives will decrease?

News of the first steps of Hector and Gimball, two agile robots with possible military uses, contribute to this discussion. Again, controlling them could feel like simply playing a video game.

On the bright side, the innovation of defense equipment could decrease the likelihood of unnecessary casualties in war. This is due to human error becoming less and less of a factor. However, the pixelation of war introduces the possibility of a new type of collateral damage, where targeted people pictured on a screen now lack the human emotions and expressions present in past war, potentially increasing the likelihood of careless brutality and prolonged warfare. When using many types of military equipment, people become mere targets on a screen, not complete human beings.

Ethics and Effectiveness

Examining the repercussions of marrying two opposites, humanity and lifeless technology, requires honest, ethical journalism, which goes beyond merely reviewing what’s new in the tech world. Public accountability of the defense department is, now more than ever, needed in every region and nation-state (albeit, some states more than others).

The question of “how far” innovation can take defense equipment is inconsequential when compared to the question of “which direction” technological advancement is shepherding a society. The ethics behind military equipment are far more important than how advanced it is.

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