Members of the cohort were informed early on that we would eventually need to find a unifying theme that would tie all of the papers we’ve done together. I knew from the onset that I wanted to take a look at technology and how it has impacted how humans interact with each other. For me, this paper is a good opportunity to expand on the first paper I did for Dr. Greg’s class, “A New Species—the Digital Native” and explore a couple of things that were casually mentioned but not really explored in depth. The first topic deals with the predator drones the US military and the CIA use for missions in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The second topic, which is related to the first, looks at the role of virtual reality (VR) with new developments (new since I wrote Digital Native) in the field of research specifically dealing with how the US military trains soldiers to wage war, deal with PTSD and how army recruiters use VR to entice potential soldiers to join the military.
Many of us are immersed in technology all of the time from multi-tasking to MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, email, Moodle , Solar , DVR’s, smart phones, voice interactive navigational systems, smart boards and laptops. All of these things are thrusting us into the virtual frontier. We’ve come a long way since the days of; “is it real or is it Memorex? ”
Dr. Jeremy Balimson runs the Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. His research shows that the distinctions between real and virtual are becoming blurred. He says; “we’re not wired to differentiate between wired stuff and real stuff.” In the book that he co-wrote with UCSB Dr. Jim Blascovich, Infinite Reality, the publisher writes, “Infinite Reality explores what emerging computer technologies and their radical applications will mean for the future of human life and society. Along the way, Bailenson and Blascovich examine the timeless philosophical questions of the self and ‘reality’ that arise through the digital experience; explain how virtual reality’s latest and future forms—including immersive video games and social-networking sites—will soon be seamlessly integrated into our lives; show the many surprising practical applications of virtual reality, from education and medicine to sex and warfare; and probe further-off possibilities like ‘total personality downloads’ that would allow your great-great-great grand children to have a conversation with ‘you’ a century or more after your death. ”
One of the more intriguing aspects of their work involves kids. When children swim with whales in the virtually world if you ask them a week later about the experience they will believe that they had actually gone to SeaWorld or some other place where you can find wales in captivity and swam with real whales. This brings up some really interesting questions. If the brain isn’t wired to differentiate between virtual and actual reality does that mean that there will be a new branch of psychology to treat neurosis that develop in the virtual world? That may seem like a sardonic question but it certainly is not .
Exponential leaps in technology have opened up a host of new possibilities many of which go well beyond what was envisioned in science fiction forty or fifty years ago. Today, we have United States Air Force personnel who wake up, have breakfast with their family, drive the kids to school, fight traffic to get to work, arrive at their post, and sit in an air conditioned, high tech workstation for an 8 hour shift. It sounds like an ordinary day typical of any American worker. The big difference is that these workers are utilizing a variety of technologies that allow them to fight virtual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 7,500 miles away using high tech tools like GPS, night vision and unmanned drones equipped with stinger and hellfire missiles. At the time of this writing, it was reported by the NY Times that the Pentagon now has 7,000 unmanned aerial drones (UAV’s) compared to only 50 a decade ago. This changes the dynamics of war completely. The drones have demonstrated that it is possible for United States Air Force and CIA personnel to strike targets with incredible precision from 7,500 miles away with absolutely no risk of being shot at. It has also been reported that it is quite possible that the overall success and effectiveness of these drones have been used as a good argument to accelerate the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The way things are headed; we may see a robotics war similar to the one in Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones in our lifetime.
In his book, Wired for War, author P.W. Singer writes, “Technology is wrapped up in the story of war. You know, look at all the things that surround us, everything from the Internet to jet engines, these are all things where the military has been a driver for technology. And technology opens up new frontiers, new directions we can go in, but it also creates new dilemmas, new questions you need to answer. ”
One of the questions I intend to answer in my paper is, “what is the psychological impact, if any, on the Air Force personnel who engage in the battlefield from a virtual environment thousands of miles away?” It is my intention to put a human face on these virtual warriors who go to work, kill the bad guys, get in the car, drive home and have dinner with their wife and kids. “How was your day today honey?” “Well, let’s see, I blew up a weapons depot, and eliminated several Al Qaeda operatives. It was just another day at the office.” A few weeks after writing that scenario, in preparation for this paper, I read the book, Predator: the Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story written by a genuine U.S. Air Force predator drone pilot named Matt J. Martin. In it, he describes a remarkably similar scenario.
Although Leonardo d Vinci was among the first to raise the specter of using flying machines for war, I doubt he could have conceived a time when a pilot could fight a war long distance: commute to work in rush-hour traffic, slip into a seat in front of a bank of computers, “fly” a warplane to shoot missiles at an enemy thousands of miles away, and then pick up the kids from school or a gallon of milk at the grocery store on his way home for dinner .
If you look at the work environment of these pilots who sit in comfortable chairs in front of multiple screens controlling the drones with a joystick, it’s easy to notice the similarities to playing a video game at an arcade. The pilots know though that they are not playing and their work is not a game. One researcher pointed out that drone pilots have a higher number of cases of PTSD than their counterparts who are physically present in the battle zones because unlike their comrades in arms in the non-virtual battleground, they are relatively solitary so they’re not physically part of the assault teams and they don’t go through the same debriefings following an attack like the ground troops do. P.W. Singer, who was quoted earlier, dubs it “cubical war” although I would call it unilateral cubical wars because the United States is the only nation with the global infrastructure to wage war remotely. It takes a lot of infrastructure on earth and in orbit to wage drone warfare. Also, it should be plural not only because we’re fighting three wars now in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya but also because these drones are also used south of the border for surveillance in the so called “drug wars.”
Before looking at the psychological impact on the pilots of waging war remotely, I want to back up a little and look at how the army recruits new soldiers in this day and age. In 2009, the PBS televised newsmagazine called “Frontline” did a special report on the Army Experience Center (AEC). According to their statistics:
As of October 12, 2009:
• The AEC had registered nearly 13,000 new visitors
• The AEC had contracted a total of 149 recruits — 134 for active duty and 15 for Reserves
• The AEC had obtained 72 “quality enlistments,” referring to recruits who scored in the 50th percentile or above on the Armed Forces Qualification Test
• On average, 80 people visit the AEC per day
• The HMMWV [Humvee] is the AEC’s most popular simulator
The above statistics come from one AEC in the Philadelphia area where the army has invested millions of dollars on a high-tech recruiting station that entices young people to join the adventure (of being a soldier) by offering them virtual combat environments. The Army knows that teenaged boys are predominant users of violent war themed video games and they use these games some of which are more than just a screen—they’re motion simulators—to give young men the feel of being in an adrenalin pumping danger filled environment. You have to be 13 years old to use these centers—the army is thinking five years ahead—and some of the young impressionable boys get very excited about the prospect of going to war.
These types of centers are obviously not without controversy. Some parents were outraged and can be heard chanting, “shame, shame, shame—war is not a game” during protests outside the centers. One of the criticisms is that they are concealing the harsh realities of war because they are just showing the exhilarating parts while concealing the experience of watching your best friend stepping onto a mine and having his leg blown off. Having been keenly interested in this topic it was really quite a surprise recently to have U.S. Supreme Court justices saying that there is no definitive evidence that exposure to violent video games increases a child’s propensity toward violence because I have seen plenty of studies that show a direct cause/effect relationship between participating in these video games and an increase in aggressive behavior in both adolescents and adults but that’s a topic for another paper. The point here is that the simulated experiences at these recruiting stations are almost as real as being in a combat environment in real life. Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on video games each year and the gaming manufactures continue to improve on their technologies. When you merge 3D technology with gaming, something that has already been done, and you couple that with a motion simulator you’re getting something that is close enough to reality that the brain isn’t able to distinguish it from real reality.
There is plenty of scientific evidence that these games do indeed desensitize young people to violence and proof of that can not only be found in numerous studies but also the manner in which the army takes another step with their virtual environments. You see, the army knows that these games desensitize young people to violence because when they encounter soldiers who in combat situations freezes because they are reluctant to kill, they put them through additional training in simulators. According to one source, the U.S. Army has invested 50 million in combat training games .
Some have applied the same criticism (that the military is concealing the harsh realities of war) to the drone program and have questioned the ethics of waging a war that is so unilateral or one sided, the pilots who carry out their lethal missions are in absolutely no danger whatsoever. They can sit in their air-conditioned cubicles and dole out what has been appropriately termed, “hellfire” without any anxiety associated with the risk of the enemy shooting back. Back in the day, warfare required a certain resolve that if you were a soldier engaged in battle, you would be in an environment that is so dangerous, there was a very real possibility that you would never see your loved ones again. Contrast this with the drone pilot’s account of killing the bad guys and picking up the kids and some milk on the way home.
In the process of doing research for this paper, I came across several articles that anticipate a future where the business of war is completely automated. George Lucas has already envisioned a clone army. James Cameron has envisioned robots called terminators that are programmed to kill and you have to wonder how far into the future will it be before there are robot soldiers? In the film Judge Dredd, a robot warrior was one of the characters and it wouldn’t be right not to mention the Cylons—a race of sentient cybernetic beings who try to destroy humanity in the TV series, Battlestar Galactica. As an avid fan of science fiction the prospect of an army that can wage war with no risk to human life is really astonishing. Just today, Discovery News published an article about the next generation of drone aircraft called the X47B.
The big advance with the X47B besides the fact that it is of a stealth design is that these drones are unmanned and unpiloted. There will no longer be a need to worry about PTSD since these drones will be able to carry out missions without a human pilot unless of course it is possible for the computer programmer who programs the drones to develop the disorder which is highly unlikely. The fact that drone pilots do suffer from PTSD affirms Jeremy Bailenson’s & Jim Blascovich’s research that asserts that the human brain is not able to differentiate between virtual reality and real reality. I read a number of scholarly articles dealing with human factors of using unmanned drones and they deal with fatigue, boredom and monotony as being the downside of high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAV’s. Besides boredom and monotony, there are some much more serious conditions that arise from being a drone pilot. PW Singer, who has been quoted previously, did an interview with Spiegel Online who asked him if the drone pilots suffer from as much stress and trauma as those on the battlefield. His answer was:
Singer: Yes, all this doesn’t mean we’re not seeing all sorts of new stressors. In the beginning we feared that drones may make the operators not really care about what they’re doing. But the opposite has turned out to be true. They may almost care too much. We’re seeing higher levels of combat stress among remote units than among some units in Afghanistan. We found significantly increased fatigue, emotional exhaustion and burnout. Drone operators are more likely to suffer impaired domestic relationships, too.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What explains this stress?
Singer: There are different theories as to why. Traditional bomber pilots don’t see their targets. A remote operator sees the target up close, he sees what happens to it during the explosion and the aftermath. You’re further away physically but you see more. Also, the drone war takes place 24/7, 365 days a year. The war doesn’t stop on Christmas. It’s like being a fireman when there’s a fire every single day, day after day after day. That’s emotionally and physically taxing. On top of that, many units are understaffed .
One of the stressors Singer doesn’t mention is the condition known as “whiplash transition.” It’s a condition that has been dubbed “whiplash” because of the sudden transition from the virtual battlefield to what the military would call civilian life and we’ll get back to drone pilot stress in a moment but first there was something that Singer said that sparked my interests and that has to do with the operation to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden. I don’t want to digress but it is absolutely amazing to me that President Obama and his senior staff were able to watch the operation from the Situation Room in the White House in real time because the assault team had cameras mounted to their helmets .
This is one of those pictures that paint a thousand words I think. Contrast this to 50 years ago when President John F. Kennedy expressed great frustration over the fact that he couldn’t see what was going on in the Bay of Pigs.
Getting back to the drone pilots. In a PBS Frontline interview, PW Singer says that there is an element of truth in the stereotype that drone pilots are just gamers. He mentioned that in the process of doing research for his book, he came across a 19-year-old drone pilot who entered the US Army to be a helicopter mechanic but the military offered to train him to be a drone pilot instead. He’s a high school dropout who turned out to be incredible at piloting drones because he was so good at video games. The US Air force doesn’t like the story because for one he’s in the army, he isn’t even an officer and he has taken out more enemy combatants (the time frame was not specified by Singer) than all of the F-16 pilots put together .
In an interview with Slate Magazine, AP reporter, Scott Lindlaw, asks and US Air Force officer about drone pilot stress. He mentions that the drone pilots work longer shifts and tours than pilots in the war zone. He mentions whiplash. Then, he mentions…
A third reason is that unmanned aircraft, unlike manned ones, are often assigned to remain over the target and assess the damage. “When you come in at 500-600 mph, drop a 500-pound bomb and then fly away, you don’t see what happens,” a wing commander explains. But when you fire a drone missile, “you watch it all the way to impact.” Furthermore, Lindlaw notes, the video in a drone console, unlike the view from a traditional plane, shows the resulting fatalities “in high-resolution detail. ”
In conclusion, one of the main reasons why I chose the theme of how technology has impacted humanity is that it is so current. Some of the references I used I found right up until the time I turned this paper in. For example, in the book, An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, author Glenn Reynolds points out that the emergence of technology and interconnectedness have empowered ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We in the USA take things like freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly for granted mainly because those values are interwoven into the fabric of our democracy but in oppressive regimes such as Libya, Syria and Yemen we are seeing those freedoms asserted and the conduit is technology. The “Arab Awakening” is a demonstration that George Orwell ’s classic iconic futuristic 1984 vision in which technology would be used by the power elite to enslave humanity was unfounded. To the contrary, technology—specifically Facebook, YouTube and Twitter—have been essential tools used by the masses to throw off the shackles of autocratic oppression and assert their independence.
• Zur, O. & Zur, A. (2009). On Digital Immigrants & Digital Natives. Zur Institute available online
• Carpenter, Charli, and Lina Shaikhouni. “Foreign Policy: If Drones Had Feelings, They’d Be Hurt. “National Public Radio FP Foreign Policy (2011): Web. 30 June 2011. .
• Caruso, D. (1998). Critics Pick Apart Study on Internet and Depression. Available online.
• Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. (1994).
• Billitteri, Thomas. “Drone Warfare.” CQ Researcher. 20-28.1 (2010): 1. Electronic
• Quinn, M. J. (2009). Ethics for the Information Age (3rd ed.). (M. Hirsch, Ed.) Boston: Pearson.
• Klotz, Irene. “SMART DRONE AIRCRAFT MAKES DEBUT FLIGHT.” Discovery 02/08/2010, Electronic/online.
• Al Katibe, Talal. “Better Than ‘TRANSFORMERS’: Real Life Robots.” Discovery 06/29/2011, Electronic/online.
• Solon, Daniel. “Boom Times in Warplane Industry Fade Into History.” NY Times 06/20/2011, Electronic/online.
• REUTERS. “Pakistan: Fatal Attacks by Drone.” NY Times 06/27/2011, Electronic/online
• Drew, Christopher. “Drones Are Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda.” NY Times 03/16/2009, Electronic/online.
• Schmitt, Eric. “A NATION AT WAR: MILITARY AIRCRAFT; In the Skies Over Iraq, Silent Observers Become Futuristic Weapons.” NY Times 04/18/2003,Eectronic/online.
• Perlez, Jane. “Drones Batter Al Qaeda and Its Allies Within Pakistan.” NY Times 04/04/2010, Electronic/online.
• Bummiller, Elisabeth. “War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs.” NY Times 06/19/2011, Electronic/online
• Drew, Christopher. “Attack on Bin Laden Used Stealthy Helicopter That Had Been a Secret.” NY Times 05/05/2011, Electronic/online.
• “Fatigue in Pilots of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Before and After Shift Work Adjustment.” Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 80.5 (2009): 454-461. Print.
Blascovich, Jim, and Jeremy Bailenson. Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. William Morrow, 2011. Print.
When I wrote, “A New Species, the Digital Native” this book had not yet been published but it was clear as I got into it that my paper shares a lot of the same topics, themes and issues as were addressed in Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution. Jeremy Bailenson and Jim Blascovich focus exclusively on virtual reality. As two of the key researches on the subject at Stanford University and UCSB respectively, they have done a lot of research on the topic and have compelling evidence that the brain is not able to distinguish between virtual reality and real reality. Keanu Reeve’s character, Neo in the Science Fiction film, the Matrix successfully demonstrated that it is possible for virtual worlds to be indistinguishable from real reality although our current technology hasn’t caught up to the Matrix (yet). My paper is going to mainly focus on the psychological impact of fighting wars remotely from 7,500 miles away but this book will be a great reference source when it comes to describing how the military uses virtual space to train soldiers and how doctors at VA hospitals use virtual reality to treat Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who suffer from PTSD.
Billitteri, Thomas. “Drone Warfare.” CQ Researcher. 20-28.1
This article gets into the ethical issues that have been raised concerning drone strikes, numbers and statistics regarding the number of drones, the number of drone strikes and the number of civilian casualties. It also provides some useful resources in terms of predicting the trends in the future with the expectation that drone production will double this year compared to 2010. What is interesting is that drone strikes are not just the purview of the military anymore. The CIA is using drone strikes raising legal questions regarding compliance with international law. The relevance to my paper is it will help to lay the foundation regarding how extensive the use of drone attacks have become.
Warren, Peter. Corporate warriors: the rise of the privatized military industry. Cornell Univ Pr, 2008. Print.
This book is basically about the rise of privatized military. It will be an aside really but I want to touch on it because the subject came up in the gateway class with Dr. Greg. It is relevant to my paper because the general idea will be to explore how technology has changed the way we wage war.
Yenne, Bill. Birds of Prey: Predators, Reapers and America’s Newest UAVs in Combat. Specialty Pr Pub & Wholesalers, 2010. Print.
This book hasn’t been delivered yet but it looks as though it gets into the historical use of unmanned drones as well as looking at the latest highest tech versions of the drones.
J., Matt, and Charles W. Predator: The Remote-Control Air War Over Iraq and Afghanistan: A Pilot’s Story. Zenith Press, 2010. Print.
The reason for including this is obvious. As a collaboration between an actual drone pilot and a professional writer, this takes you inside the air conditioned environment in the Nevada desert at the Air Force base where the drone pilots fight a war that has a video game feel to it. The only difference is that it’s not a game—not at all. The author takes us from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to the Ali Air Base in Iraq & the Balad Air Base in Iraq with personal eyewitness accounts from the perspective of a pilot.