Friday, April 29, 2011


Forward Looking Infrared has been around a long time. I first saw it in use over 30 years ago, cruising along the Rio Grande in an INS helicopter. FLIR has given U.S. troops the ability to see at night without being seen. It has completely altered the nature of modern warfare. It's incredible stuff. It reduces the human beings at the receiving end of a weapon to mere targets on a screen. If it's true, as I was told growing up in Texas, that distant is polite, FLIR makes killing about as polite as it gets.

I read recently that some researches believe playing kill-or-be-killed war games improves cognition. According to Daphne Bavelier, an assistant professor in the department of brain and cognitive science at the University of Rochester, people who play fast-paced games "have better vision, better attention and better cognition." Bavelier was a presenter at a symposium on the educational uses of video and computer games.

I'm constantly running into reports that suggest video game players make the best surgeons, pilots and CAD monkeys.

I guess that depends on the individual. My first video game was Doom, and after playing it for a month or so, I developed tunnel vision that lasted for weeks after I stopped playing the game. It was like walking around, looking at the world through a tube about the size of a coffee can.

Last year, Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker that some of the CIA agents who fly the lethal drones over Afghanistan wear flight suits at work. Mayer's October 2009 article, The Predator War, explores the risks of using predator drones as our weapon of choice in the war on terror.

The New Yorker, October 26, 2009

I don't doubt that video games are educational and have real potential for making work more fun.

One of the best games I've heard about was used by currency traders. The traders sat in the cockpit of a virtual fighter jet and gunned down stacks of foreign currency with bullets denominated in dollars to exchange dollars for Euros, Francs or Marks. To buy dollars, they loaded up with a foreign currency and gunned down piles of dollars.

You could develop a Madoff version of that game that helped investment advisors gun down their clients fortunes, and, in the advanced version, gun down their clients themselves, saving them the trouble of jumping out of windows.

Professor Bavelier had some good ideas about ways to "harness the positive effects" of first-person shooter games without violence.

"As you know," she said, "most of us females just hate those action video games. You don't have to use shooting. You can use, for example, a princess who has a magic wand and whenever she touches something, it turns into a butterfly and sparkles."

Put that into the targeting system of an Apache helicopter and you might have something.

Personally, I'm looking forward to smart weapons that know when to shoot and when not to.


Quinn the Eskimo said...

Good to see the FDL link. Some good stuff and good people, there - but often the place as a whole feels a bit "stiff/stuffy left." Maybe that's changing.

Anyhoo. Viddy games were my life in '79-80. Space Invaders. I played for hours every day. Absolutely addictive. I got good. Won prizes on campus, toured around playing.

Does it change you? Hell yeah. The side effects included words turning into little marching men when I read, constant sound effect intrusion, etc. But also... my mind and motor controls got "re-wired" to become faster at certain tasks, perceive patterns of certain types, etc. I've been convinced ever since that your brain actually re-allocates capacity over.

What's NOT right is to say it creates "better vision, better attention and better cognition." e.g. Your vision can become fabulous at picking up certain objects on a 2-D screen.... but worse at even seeing other kinds of objects, and at working with real-world 3-D.

In general, ANY activity you do, repeatedly, that takes concentration, is going to see your brain respond and change. Becoming a baseball player? Huge brain changes. Learning to drive a car while talking? Ditto. Learning to read. Learning to relax and enjoy sex with animals. Same.

But people want to make it out like these games change you more than READING does. Jesus, reading drags us away from colour, from 3-D, from the external world, damages your eyesight, produces solitary beings - all sorts of horrible sins that, if it was just being introduced, we'd FREAK about.

So yeah, it's the READERS I worry about when it comes to "distancing" people from killing. 'Cause it's not since we started reading that that we really got into mass killing. When you have to strangle a guy up close, even if he's a different colour, he still looks an awful lot the same eh? But hype people up on book-learned differences, and you'll kill him in a second.

Books. Satan's tools.

Billy Glad said...

I've become convinced that this is the future of the "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan and other places. I haven't completely thought it through, but I think what we're doing in Afghanistan now is "preparing the battlefield" for special ops and the remotes. It's really too bad for the Iraqis that the Predators weren't developed enough for us to invade, prepare the battlefield and withdraw -- even as late as the point in time when we had completely determined there were no WMDs and Sadaam was caught and hanged. Almost no US casualties at that point and nothing like the Iraqi casualties we eventually saw. I remember Bush authorizing some "smart bomb" strikes right before the invasion, hoping to kill Sadaam. Nowadays, a "pilot" in Virginia could fly a little Predator through a window at Sadaam's palace and land it on his bed. But I still have to figure out exactly what "preparing the battlefield" entails. Then I might have a good article.

Miguelitoh2o said...

Not so sure that "a pilot in Virginia could fly a little Predator through a window at Sadaam's palace and land it on his bed" now either. It is a fact that of the over 50 launches of the so-called "smart bombs" at the beginning of the Iraq War II none hit their intended targets.

Tom Manoff said...

Do I dare say that I own an Xbox ? That I've flown many a mission over iraq and shot down mysterious looking jets vaguely Soviet-meets-Darth-Vader in design.

Miguelitoh2o said...

You lucky sod!

Billy Glad said...

Probably why you enjoyed Restrepo, Mansky. Did you notice the secret spotting device, covered with a blanket so we couldn't tell what it was? When I was a kid, I got my shoes at Clark's shoestore, and they had this flouroscope device you put your feet in and you could see how the shoes fit -- even see the bones in your feet. Nothing has impressed me since.

Tom Manoff said...

X-rayed feet up. Christ. That's scary. Saw the bones of your feet, you say? Duck and cover.