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They already are here, he argues, citing the example of the Stuxnet computer bug as just such an armament. And it worked impressively, physically destroying a key part of the nuclear program. This is not to say Scharre is a blithely optimistic hawk. He sees plenty of pitfalls ahead, both for the people attacked by auto-weapons and for the people who wield them. He foresees, for example, the development of an indoor anti-personnel weapon that flies around rooms killing people like a lethal Roomba gone mad.

See the Forest for the Trees

So he is sympathetic to the idea of calling a moratorium on the development of such arms while some of the more difficult ethical, moral and psychological problems are examined. One key question is whether autonomous weapons should be permitted to attack only other weapons — for example, an AK rifle, rather than the person holding it? Also, how will autonomous weapons affect human behavior? Will they make people feel less morally responsible for taking human life? And what happens as machine-weapons begin to learn?

The more they learn, he notes, the more autonomous they can become. That development will in turn make them less predictable. High learning capabilities also will render them more vulnerable to an enemy who figures out how to make them think mistakenly, as by feeding them false images that can trigger them to fire at unintended targets.

The bottom line is that the more an autonomous weapon is let free to roam in time and space, the more likely it is that something will go catastrophically wrong. Scharre handily explicates an extraordinary set of problems that we will only begin to understand as we see more of the weirder quirks and idiosyncrasies of high-speed artificial intelligence, a field we barely understand today.

File:Russian cruiser Rurik (1892) Jane.png

Even contemporary wars can be difficult to comprehend nowadays. One of the hardest tasks for war correspondents is stepping back to try to see the broad shape of a conflict — its scope, duration and intensity, and especially how it might end. Sometimes historians are better positioned to gain such understanding, even as it is still underway. That seems to be the case with the continuing fighting in Syria and Iraq.

This make sense not just geographically, but also demographically and historically. He also maintains that, despite the presence of external powers like the United States and Russia, it is not a proxy war, and it would continue even if those powers withdrew. He estimates that about a quarter of a million people died in this war from mid to early But foreign powers have played a major role, if not a helpful one.

Secretary of State John Kerry in particular is portrayed as almost buffoonish in his dealings with this war. To be fair, there are so many players in this war, with so many complex interests, that even the most experienced observers may occasionally feel flummoxed.

For example, in Iraq, the United States provides air power to government forces on the ground, which are supplemented by Iranian-controlled or Iranian-influenced militias, while in Syria, Russia provides air power to government forces on the ground, and Iran again provides them much of the manpower.