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Scott D. Pierce: Playing video games just might be patriotic
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Parents, if your children are spending an inordinate amount of time playing video games, stop yelling at them. They're preparing to defend our country.

They are, believe it or not, acquiring the skills necessary to operate remotely piloted aircraft, better known as drones.

I know, I know. This is the kind of phony-sounding excuse kids use to bamboozle their parents. But in this case, it's coming from PBS.

And not from Big Bird, but from the experts who give the award-winning series "Nova" (Wednesday, 8 p.m., Channel 7) a peek inside the "Rise of the Drones."

"The military is, in some ways, starting to free-ride off of the video-game industry, where it used to be the opposite," said Peter W. Singer, the author of Wired for War and director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institute. "For example, the new generation of controllers for some of the [military's] robotic systems are taking their inspiration from Xbox controllers and PlayStation controllers."

The game companies have spent boatloads of money designing good ones; the military is adapting them for their use. And the military is looking at the content of games as well.

"For example, in the latest 'Call of Duty' video game, there's an armed tactical quad-copter," Singer said. "And we're now seeing research into making that video-game vision real."

"Rise of the Drones" is not all about fun and games, however. It's a fascinating, sometimes chilling look at the development of these unmanned aircraft/extraordinarily effective killing machines that have decimated the ranks of terrorist leadership without putting American troops in harm's way.

But drone attacks have also killed innocent bystanders. Add to that the fact that local police have begun using drones in American cities and there's considerable controversy.

And, as the report points out, other countries are developing their own drones. Which could fall into the hands of terrorists.

As sophisticated as today's drones are, they're in the " very beginning stages," said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who oversaw the first Predator strike in 2001. He compared drone technology in 2013 to where manned flight was in the 1920s.

And, by the way, you have to be more than just great at video games to pilot drones. So, yes, playing games helps, but "I certainly don't want the answer to be interpreted as, 'All you need to be able to do is play a video game,' " Deptula said.

Added Abraham Karem, who invented the Predator drone: "This is military communication, reconnaissance and weapon delivery. So a kid with good talent has a good starting point of using a toy," but that is "not everything you need."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

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