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I wondered when it would come to this

January 29, 2005

We use robots to explore space, disarm bombs, and inspect pipelines.  Why not use them to kill people?  It’s hardly a new idea.  While anything of the sophistication of a Terminatortm is a long ways off, why not have the soldier control a robot from a half-mile away, out-of-danger where can make cool-headed decisions? 

BBC reports that the Pentagon is actually, really doing just that, this spring,  in Iraq.  The robots have night vision, they can go over barbed wire, and they can shoot far more accurately than most human soldiers.

In some ways this is a natural fit.  We have a huge population of video-game conditioned youth who will require little additional training to carry out remote-killing operations.  In effect the robot becomes a weapon used by the soldier. 

This really is new territory.  Can you imagine the psychological effect on an insurgent when confronting a killer robot?  It’s got to just scare the living beheezus out of them.

What are the rules of engagement for a robot, even if controlled by a human soldier?  What would “self-defense” mean?  Would an enemy fighter who feigns surrender and then stands up and blows the robot away with an RPG be guilty of violating the Geneva convention?  Seems there’s as much work here for experts in international law as for technologists.

“Unlike its human counterparts, the armed robot does not require food, clothing, training, motivation or a pension.  When not needed in war, it can be mothballed in a warehouse.” – BBC

“That’s all it does.  It doesn’t get tired, it will never stop until you are dead!”
-Kyle Reese, fictional future-soldier in the war against the Terminators

Next up: remote-controlled robot prison guards.  And gradually improving autonomy for lethal robots.  Asimov’s three laws of robotics?  Never heard of ‘em…

Categories: News
  1. January 30, 2005 at 03:58 | #1

    You know what I wonder, how does a robot take prisoners?

  2. Shelley
    July 4, 2006 at 06:00 | #2

    HI DoF,

    Well, you already know that one of the advantages of robotic soldiers would be a decline in rates of PTSD among human soldiers—which is nice.

    Downsides? Hmmm. . . expensive; break-downs (of the equipment); control issues; further de-personification of the enemy; anything else?

  3. July 4, 2006 at 08:33 | #3

    a decline in rates of PTSD among human soldiers—which is nice

    ‘Nice’ in a very limited way, I suppose.  Traditionally the politicians who send soldiers into war have not suffered from PTSD, and that is all that matters to them.

    The pols make a half-hearted effort to avoid war, it fails, they say; “Oh well, whaddya gonna do?” and send off our soldiers.  I would like to see as much effort developing ways of avoiding war as in ways to expand it. 

    Incidentally, the mental health of the people on the other side is important too.  I have seen reports that suggest kids growing up in war zones suffer PTSD and that tells me they are all the more likely to become tomorrow’s terrorists. 

    In the long run we won’t solve terrorism with weapons, no matter how advanced.  We need an advance in how not to have a war in the first place, hence the reason I’d like to see all the costs of every war toted up.

    Over at Gran’s On Bran, is a good example of the cost that is not counted:  Somme Day

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