Thursday, 26 July 2012

Book Review: Kill Decision

I don't tend to review fiction on here unless it's pretty exceptional, and Daniel Suarez's new book Kill Decision is definitely that. I've been looking forward to this book after reading Daemon and Freedom some years ago, and it's fair to say that Suarez hasn't lost his ability to take existing technological and social trends and translate them into a tight fictional narrative.

My only complaint about Suarez's style is that he tends to plunge everyman characters (in this case a biologist with a specialisation in ants) into situations which would guarantee post traumatic stress in a grizzled 20 year combat veteran and then have them walk out absolutely fine. Compared to Daemon however there are a lot more grizzed veterans and far fewer civilians, so it's a little more credible than previously.

The book is about drones, and the future of  warfare as humans are taken out of the "kill decision" and replaced by autonomous drones. It explores the transitional state from Reaper style drones towards drone swarms, and whether or not human operators will be involved in operating this type of weapon. In essence taking something like this:

And turning it into a vast swarm of semi specialised killing machines.

The sad fact is that Suarez's vision of the future is pretty likely to come true in some fashion. Swarm based drones are far superior to the heavy Reaper and Predator platforms in almost all situations. High altitude survelliance may always belong to the heavier platform, but the closer you get to the ground, and the higher the risk to the individual platform, the more it makes sense to have a platform which costs less to build, and which can be lost without any great fuss.

Taking humans out of the chain will also come in time, if only at a theoretical level at first. There will always be an argument that it's necessary to have drones which can act autonomously, in case of enemy action, and it wouldn't do any good if a terrorist leader got away would it? Far better that the drones go ahead and kill him even if they do lose their connection to home base.

Suarez also explores the importance that an increasingly privatised military machine will have on warfare. When companies are making their greatest profits during warfare, is that not the same as incetivising them to create (or at least strongly encourage) that very same activity? Drones are very much part of the civilian world, and the technology is now part of the public domain. Drones will form a major part of the Internet of Things, ensuring that private companies have access to the most up to date drone software pretty much from inception.

I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it there, suffice it to say this book is necessary reading.

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