The widespread use of drones has dramatically changed the game in Iraq and Afghanistan, greatly reducing the force-protection burden of surgical strikes against high-value terrorists. Unfortunately, terrorists are still terrorists, and their fundamental advantage — their lack of concern for human life — still holds true, as William Saletan points out in Slate.
In other words, the terrorists may have found a trump card over the drones. The terrorists can't kill the pilots who operate the drones from the United States. But the terrorists can kill local civilians, thereby generating political pressure on the local government to pressure the United States to call off the drones. And because the drones are operated by humans who answer to other humans who are susceptible to pressure over the loss of life, the terrorists win.The only way to end the moral sway the terrorists hold over us, Saletan notes, is to move from drones to fully autonomous robots. A lot of people seem to think this sort of thing is a joke, but it's not. Within a decade at the very latest, the Department of Defense will be facing pressure to allow autonomous military robots — which have already been demonstrated to be significantly better than human soldiers at differentiating civilians from enemy combatants — to pull the trigger themselves.