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The First Killer Robots - Andrew May ***

Mention killer robots and inevitably thoughts go to something from science fiction like the Terminator - but Andrew May makes the point in this compact book that the real-life killer robots have been guided missiles. Starting with the V1 and V2 missiles used by the Germans during the Second World War, we come forward in time to see these destructive weapons become more and more sophisticated.

Whether we are talking surface to air missiles, cruise missiles or ICBMs, May gives us a guide to the development of this technology and how it has changed aspects of warfare. Guidance may have changed from vague point and time approaches to potential pinpoint precision, but missiles (and drones get a quick look-in too) are amongst the most advanced technology used in warfare and peacekeeping.

One of the most quoted put-downs in the history of science is Rutherford's alleged remark that all science is either physics or stamp collecting. A fair amount of this book fits into the stamp collecting category. I'm not knocking this, but it doesn't make for the most inspiring reading. However, the book really comes alive when May tells us a story, particularly of a real life situation where a guided missile has been used in error, resulting in particularly shocking outcomes.

I expected to read this book primarily for useful background information, and a lot of it is just that, but I was surprised by how gripping some of the stories of missile deployment were.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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