In conflict, it's (still) about the "who" - Peter W. Singer

On the lookout for more about IdeaFestival 2010 presenter Peter W. Singer, I ran across a video that features the Brookings Institute analyst and author describing his work, which focuses on conflict and our relationship with technology. In the background I recognized the video playing here, which was taken a couple years ago. I blogged it. Commenting then:

Initially, I was weirded out. Looking like a cross between a giant fly and a horse, there's no question that this robot is exceptionally life like... Perhaps that's one reason why I've changed my mind about the possibility of artificial intelligence. Intelligent robots increasingly pass the look test.

But seeing the person accompanying the robot kick it hard in the side - curiously, the scene is replayed in slow motion - I was suddenly aware of another emotion.

As it briefly flailed about trying to regain its footing, I felt genuinely sorry for it.

Watching the video a couple of times again, I was reminded of how we're attracted to things with minds, how the sound of a parent's voice can light up an infant's eyes - how the cooing of a lover can bring union - how the sight of someone in distress can catalyze an emotion buried in our limbs. This is good.

Thus cued, we reach out.

Author, most recently, of "Wired for War," Singer makes clear that the instruments of modern war have sharpened the ages-old questions around armed conflict. It's no longer about the what - it never really was - but as weapons become increasingly smart, and as issues of agency and culpability are raised afresh, about the who.