Make War a Mere Contest of Machines Without Men and Without Loss of Life

Nikola Tesla? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote investigator: The famous inventor Nikola Tesla envisioned a future in which human lives would be spared during warfare because advanced technology would allow the construction of fighting automatons. This would transform “battle into a mere spectacle” of machines in combat. Tesla hoped that the end of bloodshed would lead to an enduring peace. I am looking for a citation. Would you please help?

Quote investigator: In 1900 Nikola Tesla published an article in “The Century Magazine”. He described his construction of a model boat that could be steered and controlled via wireless signals. He called the device a “telautomaton”, and he suggested that full scale vessels could carry explosives. He also imagined more advanced telautomatons able to act independently of human control. Yet, Tesla’s paradoxical goal was the end of warfare. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

So long as men meet in battle, there will be bloodshed. Bloodshed will ever keep up barbarous passion. To break this fierce spirit, a radical departure must be made, an entirely new principle must be introduced, something that never existed before in warfare—a principle which will forcibly, unavoidably, turn the battle into a mere spectacle, a play, a contest without loss of blood. To bring on this result men must be dispensed with: machine must fight machine. But how accomplish that which seems impossible?

The answer is simple enough: produce a machine capable of acting as though it were part of a human being—no mere mechanical contrivance, comprising levers, screws, wheels, clutches, and nothing more, but a machine embodying a higher principle, which will enable it to perform its duties as though it had intelligence, experience reason, judgment, a mind!

Below are additional excerpts and selected citations in chronological order.

Within his 1900 essay Tesla articulated his hope that a contest of machines without human death would facilitate the emergence of a permanent peace: 2

The continuous development in this direction must ultimately make war a mere contest of machines without men and without loss of life—a condition which would have been impossible without this new departure, and which, in my opinion, must be reached as preliminary to permanent peace. The future will either bear out or disprove these views. My ideas on this subject have been put forth with deep conviction, but in a humble spirit.

In the 20th and 21st century semi-autonomous weapon systems have been developed, e.g. cruise missiles and drones. Yet, these systems often target humans and the bloodshed continues. Hence, Tesla’s prediction appears or be flawed. Nevertheless, someday nations may sign treaties that forbid targeting humans as a precursor to achieving sustained peace.

In June 1900 lengthy excepts from Tesla’s piece in “The Century” were reprinted in newspapers such as “The Wichita Daily Eagle” of Kansas 3 and “The San Francisco Examiner” of California. 4

In 1988 “War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination” by H. Bruce Franklin reprinted an excerpt from the 1900 article that overlapped the text of the first excerpt presented in this article. 5

In 2000 U.S. public television broadcaster PBS aired a documentary about Nikola Tesla. A webpage about the program stated the following: 6

Tesla inherited from his father a deep hatred of war. Throughout his life, he sought a technological way to end warfare. He thought that war could be converted into, “a mere spectacle of machines.”

In conclusion, Nikola Tesla should receive credit for the words he wrote in the 1900 citation given above. He did hope that human versus human battles would be superseded by machine versus machine battles which would lead to an era of peace.

Image Notes: Illustration accompanying article about Nikola Tesla’s telautomaton in “The San Francisco Examiner” on June 17, 1900. Image has been retouched and resized.

(Great thanks to Richard Jermain whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1900 June, The Century Magazine, Volume 60, Number 2, The Problem of Increasing Human Energy With Special Reference To the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy by Nikola Tesla, Start Page 175, Quote Page 184, Column 1, The Century Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1900 June, The Century Magazine, Volume 60, Number 2, The Problem of Increasing Human Energy With Special Reference To the Harnessing of the Sun’s Energy by Nikola Tesla, Start Page 175, Quote Page 188, Column 2, The Century Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1900 June 10, The Wichita Daily Eagle, Automatic Ship: Nikola Tesla’s Latest Pipe Dream, Quote Page 14, Column 1, Wichita, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1900 June 17, The San Francisco Examiner, Section: Sunday Examiner Magazine, The Telautomaton — A Machine That Will Think and Fight: Nikola Tesla’s Latest Contribution to Scientific Inventions, as Described by Him, Quote Page 10, Column 3, San Francisco, California. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1988 War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination by H. Bruce Franklin, Chapter 17: The Age of the Automatons?, Quote Page 206, Oxford University Press. New York. (Verified with scans)
  6. Website: PBS: Public Broadcasting Service (U.S. public TV broadcaster), Documentary Name: Tesla: Master of Lightning, Documentary Details: New Voyage Communications in Washington, D.C., developed the documentary about the life, times, and legacy of Nikola Tesla, Date: Documentary was aired on December 12, 2000, Article title: Tesla: Life and Legacy: A Weapon to End War, Website description: Information website of U.S. public television organization PBS. (Accessed www.pbs.org on May 19, 2019) link