A few weeks back, Doug McGray was kind enough to invite me to take the stage for Pop Up Magazine, his nifty new occasional (and hopefully more frequent) live event that puts a couple dozen people together in a sort of live, one-night-only periodical. Shockingly, all 400 seats at the theater were sold out for this thing -- no mean feat, as I can attest from the days of The World, Explained. Owing to deadlines, I drove up that day and hadn't really been able to prepare, but the beer was free and yeasty and I had two tall cups full and wrote out some notes in the dark and it turns out that people REALLY like a good caper story, no matter how drunkenly delivered.
Anyhow, entertainment and learning were had by all and the whole think got me thinking about how much fun actual magazines ought to be. It also got me thinking how many great magazine writers there are out there whom I've never heard of. Such as Evan Ratliff, a freelancer and Wired regular who showed slides of himself in the many disguises he took on as part of a recent story for Wired in which he tried to go on the lam. I then checked out his other works, including a recent piece in the New Yorker about Jerry Baber, an engineer and self-taught munitions designer who has designed, among other weapons, a stainless steel automatic shotgun that shoots five shells per second and can be wielded with one hand. If you want to see a great lede, then read this story, which begins like so:
At the age of seventy-four, Jerry Baber has winnowed his primary interests in life to four subjects: shotguns, robots, women, and cars. When Baber is holding forth—his default mode of communication being the filibuster—his conversation tends to fall somewhere among these categories. Often his passions intersect, as in the question of whether or not a Corvette is an ideal car for picking up women. (It is.) Similarly, Baber might be discussing his love of robots and shotguns, and whether, by combining the two, he is helping to shape the future of warfare from his garage. (He is.)
Closing out the opening section we find out why the story's subhed is "an Appalachian gunsmith’s robot army":
Not long ago, Baber decided that his gun was so reliable and accurate that it could be mounted with confidence on unmanned vehicles. Armed robots, he believes, could offer crucial assistance in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; they could be employed on a street monitored by snipers or sent into a building harboring insurgents. Last year, Baber met with engineers at Robotex—a start-up in California that makes ground-based robots—and at Neural Robotics, a company outside Nashville that manufactures unmanned helicopters. Together, they created prototypes of small, remote-controlled armed machines. Baber keeps several in his workshop, and talks about them as if they were pets.
This was all of particular interest to me, as I have been mildly obsessed with the coming robot army ever since I wrote in The Believer about the fantastic vision of the future Air Force as dreamed up by military planners in their master document, Air Force 2025, a blueprint of theoretical systems needed to help the US maintain "Global Battlespace Dominance" in the 21st century. Among the myriad theoretical science fiction combat systems in those thousands of pages are things like: Concept No. 900522: Space-Based, AI-Driven Intelligence Master Mind System; Weather as a Force Multiplier; and, my favorite, Concept No. 900481: Destructo Swarmbots. According to Ratliff, military planners may soon no longer need to dream. Upstarts in Palo Alto and may be teaming up with Baber to take us one step closer to Skynet. Baber seems like a responsible guy for a man who built the deadliest short range weapon ever created, and I hope that "the man in the loop problem" stays theoretical. Sure, we can say we want to stay in the loop. But what if, one day, the machines don't want us there?
Now, for your enjoyment, the AA-12 in action: