Saturday, June 13, 2015

Warfare in the Future

So I'm going to make some extrapolations regarding how warfare / anti-insurgency will be conducted in the future based on current technological trends and problems faced by militaries all over the world. There is no guarantee that these predictions will come true, but it is a fascinating exercise to perform these extrapolations.

Technological Advances:

Currently, significant investments are being made by private enterprises in driverless automobiles which can drive very safely on public roads.  Google's own driverless car has famously more than a million miles without any accident that can be attributed to it; other companies are not far behind.

Furthermore, the field of robotics has come a long, long way - there's this famous dog type robot made by Boston Dynamics, for instance, which has demonstrated fairly sophisticated motor skills.

There's drones everywhere in the civilian sphere right now - and some of them have even made it to the white house undetected. And communication technologies have advanced to the point that it is possible that the drone sends back telemetry (including a high quality video feed) to a base station in another side of the planet. Further, miniature drones are rapidly becoming a thing.

We won't even talk about the famous swarm of micro-robots demonstrated on TED recently.

And all these devices have brains powered by sophisticated microprocessors which pack a serious punch even though they're sipping milliwatts.

Military Challenges

The world's most high profile military hotspot right now is arguably the middle east - with ominous rise of ISIS putting entire ethnicities (Shia, Kurds, Yezidis and Christians)  in existential danger. ISIS is hard to beat because of apparent ethical qualms in the west (want to minimize civilian casualties - so ISIS can intermingle between the common folk and use them has human shields).

It is also hard to beat because the Iraqi armed forces aren't keen on fighting a war to defend something that they aren't particularly motivated to defend. The Sunni areas of Iraq are easy pickings for ISIS because of mutual mistrust among various sectarian factions.

America (one of the root causes of the conflict thanks to a historic blunder from W) is not likely to send any substantial number of troops because the public is against it now. Almost all discussion in the media is about sending people to "train Iraqi troops". (Apparently "I must fix what I broke" isn't a philosophy that applies to the mass media of nations at war.)

We'll use ISIS-motivated case study in the following section (primarily because if feels nice to have robots destroy creeps).

Putting it all together

Even right now, wars are no longer fought in battlefields between two opposing nation states. Most major conflicts these days are between state actors on one side and non state actors on the other. And the warfare is asymmetric; the non state actor usually has no qualms about disappearing into the general public after committing an act of war against the state actor. The state uses sophisticated missliles to neturalize these "terrorists" - often resulting in extensive collateral damage which results in negative PR and civilian casualties.

When a rich state battles insurgencies in the future, extensive utilization will be made of more granular unmanned reconnaissance (think of swarms drones or even  insect sized robots) collecting detailed information to "confirm" the guilt of the party in question.

And it isn't exactly a stretch to expect that these little drones can be weaponized - thereby localizing these attacks to an extreme degree. (If civilians are able to do incredible stuff with their drone helicopters - a few orders of magnitude higher military budget can definitely put bombs on these things). I'd go even as far as suggest that these drones can be equipped with cyanide syringes to terminate the target with minimal damage to property (evidence) and civilian populace, thereby improving the PR impact of something like this.

It isn't as if these micro-drones will be the only line of defense against insurgencies. There will most definitely be self-driving tanks and ground troops - which will be completely immune to suicide bombings - because these things will be robotic - and will likely be controlled by a teenager sitting in his/her mom's shed in suburban dallas or something. The question of these devices falling into the wrong hands will also be moot - these things will just not have a way of being controlled without having access to the PC in Dallas. (The tank won't have a cabin, for example).

I expect that sooner or later technology will render all forms of terror moot - because hunting down and slaughtering terrorists will become an exercise with a zero human cost (albeit with a finite cost in machinery, but 3d printing is making machinery cheap anyway). This will render the world bi-polar with America on one side and China on the other. But  I expect an equilibrium with complete peace and mutual distrust.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On why the cow should be worshipped

[Disclaimer: I'm too lazy to provide citations for every little "fact" I have inserted into this "story". To the best of my knowledge, the various facts cited in this story are true - but there might be minor errors. Do feel free to point them out to me. If there are  howlers, I will make the necessary corrections quickly. For 'meh' errors, I'll probably wait for another saturday night when I have time to kill beside my laptop.]

The story starts several thousands of years ago in the last ice age in Siberia - when lowered sea levels allowed a group of hunter gatherers to diffuse into North America over a land bridge between present day Russia and America.

And in America they found a pristine land which no great-ape descendant had ever set eyes on. A pristine land teeming with ice-age megafauna - sabre toothed cats, giant sloths, mammoths, mastodons, dire wolves, massive American lions and several other species extinct / surviving  in the modern era.

They hunted game using sophisticated stone age tools. Game included bison and the occasional mammoth. And when the ice age concluded and the climate turned the corner (and the current holocene epoch began), these Native Americans, just like their Eurasian counterparts invented farming (independently). They invented (through selective breeding) corn, potato, tomato, chillies, squashes and tobacco. Where they differed from their Eurasian counterparts was that they were not in a position to domesticate animals - the llama is the only beast of burden indigenous to the Americas which lends itself to domestication.  And as beasts of burden go, the llama isn't exactly an over-achiever. They can't pull chariots like horses and elephants and bullocks can. They can only carry a small amount of weight (and the Incas did exploit this capability).

In this respect, the Eurasians did have a considerable advantage, viz. the Aurochs - the ancestor of the modern cow. On domesticating the aurochs independently in Europe and the sub-continent, humans were able to secure a resource which provided milk to nourish them (as a matter of fact, they rapidly evolved the ability to digest this milk - indicating exactly how advantageous this domestication was to them). A resource which provided a concentrated source of protein through its meat. A resource that provided humans with leather to protect them from the cold - and a resource that helped them till their fields to improve agricultural productivity.

Just like their Eurasian counterparts, the Native Americans built a sophisticated civilization. Their civilization, at its peak, had more people than Europe did. They performed magnificent feats of architecture all over the continent(just like their Eurasian cousins did in Egypt, Mesopotamia and in the Indus valley). They also invented an effective (albeit rudimentary) form of democracy (the Iruquois Confederacy) - which incidentally motivated Benjamin Franklin to propose the idea of a 'union of states' for a nation he would help found. However, since they did not have a beast of burden worth the mention, they did not find much of use for the wheel (other than in children's toys). The Inca highway, for instance, had stairs - which is ideally suited for llamas - which can't pull carriages.

Due to an accident of history, at the turn of the 15th century, the Europeans had a significant lead over the rest of the world in a couple of respects: Armed warfare and ability of travel long distances at sea (with said arms, and beasts of burden of equine ancestry).And they decided to use these leads to cynically exploit the world economically. And thus began the slow, humiliating and destructive process of colonizing the planet.

Almost immediately after the landing of Columbus on the soil of the new world, the wholesale destruction of indigenous America started. The Eurpoeans, with their superior guns treated American natives with disdain - laying waste to towns they invaded. And in this effort they had trillions of invisible allies - the germs. European germs (which were not lethal to europeans due to their coexistence with domestic anmials (specifically the cow)) killed 19 of 20 native Americans they infected.

This unfortunate de-peopling of North America created a vaccum - which the Eurpoeans were more than happy to fill (and even accelerate - as a study of the brutal and racist history of North America shows - from the shoehorning by lethal force of proud tribesmen into "reservations" to smallpox blankets - to forced conversions to the fundamentalist religion of the conquerors). This resulted in America becoming a (primarily) settler colony.

Contrast that with the story of India. Despite centuries of British colonialism (which cyncially exploited India and kept its economy repressed), India is primarily ethnically south-asian. The question of converting  India to a settler colony never arose - because European germs had met their match (and then some) in India.

And for this, credit must go to that proud descendant of Bos primigenius namadicus, the Zebu cattle (along with other domesticated animals of India) the coexistence of which with Indians allowed the Indian microbiome resist the European Invasion - without a genocide (though the Brits did manage some success at that through cynical and racist mismanagement of famines and the partition).

Long story short: the reason why India isn't a settler colony like North America is - is the cow. The cow is the reason I exist. And if I thought that worshipping and praying made a damn difference (they don't) I'd worship the cow too.