Do remote-control war pilots get combat stress?

Science, technology, and life.
Aug. 11 2008 7:53 AM

Ghosts in the Machine

Do remote-control war pilots get combat stress?

(Continued from Page 1)

My guess is that the difference lies in the remaining factor cited in the story: the "whiplash transition" between the physical world of your family and the virtual world of your faraway drone. Living in the console for a full work shift, with your country's missions, assets, and personnel at stake, is more intense than playing Halo. Walking out of the room and trying to resume your physical life is disorienting. But these factors can't match the stress of physical presence in combat. The point of the drone, after all, is to insulate you.

Lindlaw's reporting doesn't settle the question either way. But he's on the right track. The armed forces should monitor drone operators systematically and track the effects of living in this whiplash world, where you kill on a video screen and then go home to your spouse and kids. Human nature has never been tested in such alternating semi-virtual reality. We may well discover that it combines the worst of all three worlds: the stress of missions, the desensitization of video gaming, and the whiplash of transitioning between physical and synthetic environments.

Advertisement

The wing leaders who supervise drone operations regard mission stress as the main hazard. They worry about sensor operators, who guide the missiles to their targets and are often, as Lindlaw points out, "on their first assignment and just 18 or 19 years old." They fear that the on-screen killing will rattle these kids. Maybe they're right. My fear is that it won't.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.