P. W. Singer explores the advances of robotics in warfare in his book Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and 21st Century Conflict.
As Singer explains to Terry Gross, the military has used more than 5,300 unmanned planes in Iraq, including one called the Predator. About the size of a Cessna plane, the Predator started out as a reconnaissance tool before the military decided to arm it.
"Now it's being used in hunter-killer roles," says Singer.
Singer says that the advances push into the realm of science fiction — and raise a host of ethical dilemmas: "We have to figure out, what are the legal consequences of what you could call unmanned slaughter? And who do you hold responsible?"
The psychological ramifications of soldiers who are at war, but not physically in war, are also up for debate. Singer points out that the pilots who are controling the robotic planes can go from killing enemy combatants to sitting down to eat dinner with their kids in a matter of 20 minutes.
This interview was originally broadcast Jan. 22, 2009.