Monday, March 11, 2013
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.
Contrast that with the kind of killing the grunts in Afghanistan experience, as documented by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington in Restrepo, a little film they pieced together out of video clips they recorded while they were embedded with an Army platoon trying to secure one of Afghanistan's most violent valleys. As much as anything, the Junger and Hetherington effort illustrates the difficulty of using video to document actual combat. It's the kind of video I have to watch a couple of times, then let my memory reconstruct it and fill in the blanks, until I have created, in memory, a complete experience.
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 they 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.
And yet, video games -- even the ones that sparkle -- might not contribute much to learning when to act and when not to act. They may develop motor skills, but do they develop judgment ? When to shoot -- and even if to shoot -- is still a judgment call.