Soldiers, Planks, Insects and Robots

This paper looks at constructions of the future of conflict involving lethal autonomous robotic systems (LARS) as found in some documents, reports, and predictions emanating from the ‘military-industrial complex’. The aim is to examine the forms and figurings through which the relationship between the human and the nonhuman elements of the armed forces in prospective accounts of conflict are articulated. I am especially interested in the thematisation of swarming in these articulations, given its influential part in the (r)evolution of AI and robotics. Swarming is a natural phenomenon found in the animal kingdom that has played a major role in inspiring behavioural, physical and perceptual learning approaches to AI beyond the cognitive modelling paradigm. It is of signal importance in these constructions if one is seeking insights into the way that human and nonhuman systems are being envisaged as articulated in the conduct of warfare – a concept which slips and slides between a human (historical-political) and natural (instinctual) designation across these constructions of the future of conflict.

Patrick Crogan is Co-I for the Automation Anxiety project. He is Associate Professor of Digital Cultures at the Unversity of the West of England, Bristol and a member of its Digital Cultures Research Centre. He wrote Gameplay Mode: War, Simulation and Technoculture (2011), and has published essays on drones, automation, videogames, film and other subjects. He is currently working on a book on Stiegler’s media theory for Routledge.