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My children – little builders


Why I worry about drone warfare
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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You know, I worry about drone warfare, because I worry about... what's happened with warfare is it's all conducted by remote control now. So for the people who are doing it, it's like a video game. And I think it's very... it doesn't have the visceral... I mean if you have to stab someone with a spear. With a spear, you sort of get to see their suffering and there's a human element to it that I think limits warfare, but if you're just operating a little cursor on a screen and push a button like a video game, I don't think you really identify with that person in the same way. So I think, well, it certainly makes warfare safer. It kind of sanitises it in a way that hides the horror of what's really going on. So I worry about that from a moral standpoint. I've never worked on those weapon systems and I really don't want to.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes George Dyson

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: war, drone, video game, human element, warfare

Duration: 1 minute, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017