War in the Age of Intelligent Machines

Took me a couple days but I finished “War in the Age of Intelligent Machines” by Manuel De Landa today. I’m fascinated by AI research and I love reading about all the new autonomous machines our military machine comes up with so I thought this book would be right up my alley. It was, but not for those reasons. The book spent quite a few pages explaining the history of warfare, tactics, strategies and weapons and how those entities changed society and then scattered like a cluster bomb to cover such topics as RAND Corporation, organized chaos, collective rationality and singularities. Because I’m not a great book reviewer and because I write this blog for myself as much as for anyone else, here’s a great summary of the book by Wired and then some quotes from the book that sparked my interest.

From Wired 1.04: “De Landa’s argument turns on the notion that singularities – the “transition points…where order spontaneously emerges out of chaos” – catalyze curiously lifelike behavior in nonorganic matter. By extension, he argues, the military apparatus might be seen as a self-organizing process in which human agents function as “industrious insects pollinating an independent species of machine-flower that simply [does] not possess its own reproductive organs.” More auspiciously, he speculates on the use of the “machinic phylum” – a superset containing all singularities – to facilitate “a symbiosis in which the evolutionary paths of humans and machines interact for their mutual benefit.” [source]

“Mission-oriented tactics, in which only the outlines and overall goal of an operation are laid down, leaving the execution details up to field officers and soldiers, decrease the overall flow of information and therefore decreases the global effects of noise and friction. When armies adopt such decentralized tactical schemes during battle, they begin to resemble the self-organizing dissipative structures mentioned above, islands of stability amid the turmoil of war. Indeed, like the system of eddies and vortices in a self-organizing turbulent flow, decentralized modern armies (like the Israeli army in 1956) have sometimes been viewed as a form of ‘organized chaos.'” (pg 79)

In regard to an invitation that political scientist Robert Axelrod sent out to professional game theorists for strategies in a round-robin Prisoner’s Dilemma tournament: “Many different programs were submitted and then pitted against one another. A majority of programs simulated ‘traders’ who were out to explit other traders (reflecting the traditional pro-conflict bias), while other programs simulated traders who were willing to cooperate. Surprisingly the ‘winners’ of this competition were programs that emphasized cooperation. ‘Winning’ was not defined as defeating rivals in single encounters (in which case betrayers would have won), but in maximizing the benefits of trade. In this situation, programs that tended to betray quickly ran out of partners with which to trade, since one betrayal would start a vicious circle of counter betrayals and mistrust. In the long run, the winning programs were the ones that had the following characteristecs: they were not out to exploit other programs (in Axelrod’s terminology they were ‘nice’, because they did not betray first); they retaliated in kind after being betrayed; and they were willing to reestablish a relationship after retaliating (they were ‘forgiving’). Even in a second tournament, when the human programmers knew that ‘nice, retaliatory and forgiving’ programs had won(and were therefore able to writing betraying programs that took advantage of this knowledge), the same kind of programs won again.” (pg 86)

“A new form of computation is emerging. Propelled by advances in software design and increasing connectivity, distributed computational systems are acquiring characteristecs reminiscient of social and biological organizations. These open systems, self-regulating entities which in their overall behaviour are quite different from conventional computers, engage in asynchronous [that is, parallel] computation of very complex tasks, which their agents spawn processes in other machines whose total specification is unknown to them. These agents also make local decisions based on both imperfect knowledge and on information which at times is inconsisten and delayed. They thus become a community of concurrent processes which, in their interations, strategies, and competition for resources, behave like whole ecologies.” (pg 107)

On predatory machines: “Autonomous weapons are a revolution in warfare in that they will be the first machines given the responsiblity for killing human beings without direction or supervision. To make this more accurate, these weapons will be the first killing machines that are actually predatory, that are designed to hunt human beings and destroy them.” (pg 128).

On the transition from the clockwork to the motor as the dominant assembly paradigm: “An example of a clockwork logical system is the Aristotelian syllogism. Such a syllogism is a formalization of a small portion of deductive reasoning, yet it dominated logical thought for two millenia. Aristotle gave us a recipe for the mechanical transmission of truth from premises to conclusions, a recipe to go from “All x’s are y’s” and “All z’s are x’s” to All z’s are y’s”. If this doesn’t seem very exciting, that’s because it isn’t: the syllogism is a rather trivial mechanism that can correctly transmit data along a given path, but cannot produce new knowledge….. We may view logical notations as little machines, as conveyor belts for transporting truth from one sentence to another sentence. While dedeductive systems transport truth from a general principle (“All men are mortal”) to a particular statement (“I am mortal”), inductive systems operate in the opposite direction. They transport truth from a particular piece of evidence (“This emerald is green” to a statement applying a general category of things “All emeralds are green”). While deductive conveyor belts are prevalent in mathematics, inductive ones are the basis of the natural sciences. Only deductive logic has been mechanized, either as clockwork (the syllogism) or as a motor (Boolean logic). Inductive logic, on the other hand, cannot be mechanized so easily. Indeed, a mechanical version of inductive conveyor belts is equivalent to building a machine that can learn from experience.” (pg 144)

On intercept-antenna farms: “… One such area is Pine Gap, in the heart of the Australian wasteland, an endless expanse of wind-swept earth, reddened like a Martian desert by whirling dust storms of iron-oxide sand … But the conditions that were so disastrous to the local population were precisely those considered ideal by the NSA. Less rain meant less chance of a signal being washed out and less possibility of interference from an electrical storm. The isolation of the area brought with it the advantage of freedom from interference from spurious signals and lowered the chance of being detected…. Today Pine Gap looks like an advance moon colony in the Sea of Tranquility. Hidden in the valley is a secret community of 454 people, eighteen single story buildings…and most startling, a futuristic array of six silver-white igloo-like radomes containing dish antennas ranging in size from less than 20 feet to about 105 feet.”

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