Not that many years ago if you wanted to hear a lecture on how wars will be fought by remotely controlled or increasingly autonomous machines you'd probably have to go to a sci-fi convention and sit next to someone with paste-on Vulcan ears.
Peter Singer, author of "Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century," presented the futuristic scenario in a very matter of fact way at the Air Force Association this month in Maryland. And he made it clear that it's not all that far into the future.
If technology continues to develop in the same timeframe it has historically -- with the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits about doubling every two years -- then the world of 2034 will be one in which a today's computer and weapons systems will a billion times the power they have now. The generally accepted view of technological growth is called Moore's Law, named for Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.
"If you gave your spouse a Valentine's card or birthday card that played music or sounds when you opened it up, that card had more computer power than the entire Air Force had in 1960," Singer said. "So what happens, projecting forward [25 years] ... then our computers, our unmanned systems, will be a billion times more powerful than today.
"I don't mean 'billion' in that amorphous way people talk about it -- but literally," he said. "Take the power of that device or that computer, of that Predator, and multiply it by 1 with nine zeros behind it."
By that measurement, he said, today's unmanned vehicles are the equivalent of the Wright Brothers' plane or the Model T.
-- Bryant Jordan