Real Robots fighting our wars?

Real Robots fighting our wars?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005 9:38am CST

Category: Site News
Posted by: Razorclaw0000   Views: 17,747
Real robots may be fighting battles sooner than you thought. "No," you say, "that's all science fiction."

In this article at the New York Times, we see that it may not be science fiction any longer.

"They don't get hungry," said Gordon Johnson of the Joint Forces Command at the Pentagon. "They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."


We may see actual robot soldiers fighting within the next ten years, according to the Pentagon, citing a $127 billion dollar program underway to develop the necessary technologies.

In the beginning, fighting machines will operate more by remote control, but will become increasingly autonomous. But the question, "Can we trust robots to correctly determine friend from foe?", is a tough one to answer, and must be carefully considered:

As the first lethal robots head for Iraq, the role of the robot soldier as a killing machine has barely been debated. The history of warfare suggests that every new technological leap - the longbow, the tank, the atomic bomb - outraces the strategy and doctrine to control it.

"The lawyers tell me there are no prohibitions against robots making life-or-death decisions," said Mr. Johnson, who leads robotics efforts at the Joint Forces Command research center in Suffolk, Va. "I have been asked what happens if the robot destroys a school bus rather than a tank parked nearby. We will not entrust a robot with that decision until we are confident they can make it."


Interestingly, there already are some limited robots at work in today's military:

The Pentagon intends for robots to haul munitions, gather intelligence, search buildings or blow them up.

All these are in the works, but not yet in battle. Already, however, several hundred robots are digging up roadside bombs in Iraq, scouring caves in Afghanistan and serving as armed sentries at weapons depots.

By April, an armed version of the bomb-disposal robot will be in Baghdad, capable of firing 1,000 rounds a minute. Though controlled by a soldier with a laptop, the robot will be the first thinking machine of its kind to take up a front-line infantry position, ready to kill enemies.


But the question of trust keeps becoming the most important question:

"As machines become more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them," Mr. Joy [Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems] wrote recently in Wired magazine. "Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage, the machines will be in effective control."


The Penagon continues to believe that robots are the answer to a casualty-free combat experience, and that robots will only get the most "difficult, dull, or dangerous" missions. It's goal is to keep humans from combat.

Also, the Pentagon cites cost as another factor for switching to more robust machines. It estimates that in the long run, robots could cost one tenth of what human soldiers do.

For the time being robots will only be operating in a support role, but that may change:

Meanwhile, the demand for armed bomb-disposal robots is growing daily among soldiers in Iraq. "This is the first time they've said, 'I want a robot,' because they're going to get killed without it," said Bart Everett, technical director for robotics at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego.

Mr. Everett and his colleagues are inventing military robots for future battles. The hardest thing of all, robot designers say, is to build a soldier that looks and acts human, like the "I, Robot" model imagined by Isaac Asimov and featured in the recent movie of the same name. Still, Mr. Everett's personal goal is to create "an android-like robot that can go out with a solider to do a lot of human-like tasks that soldiers are doing now."

A prototype, about four feet high, with a Cyclops eye and a gun for a right arm, stood in a workshop at the center recently. It readied, aimed and fired at a Pepsi can, performing the basic tasks of hunting and killing. "It's the first robot that I know of that can find targets and shoot them," Mr. Everett said


And once again, the question, "Do we want this?" becomes apparent:

The technology still runs ahead of robot rules of engagement. "There is a lag between technology and doctrine," said Mr. Finkelstein of Robotic Technology, who has been in the military robotics field for 28 years. "If you could invade other countries bloodlessly, would this lead to a greater temptation to invade?"

Colin M. Angle, 37, is the chief executive and another co-founder of iRobot, a private company he helped start in his living room 14 years ago. Last year, it had sales of more than $70 million, with Roomba, a robot vacuum cleaner, one of its leading products. He says the calculus of money, morals and military logic will result in battalions of robots in combat. "The cost of the soldier in the field is so high, both in cash and in a political sense," Mr. Angle said, that "robots will be doing wildly dangerous tasks" in battle in the very near future.

Decades ago, Isaac Asimov posited three rules for robots: Do not hurt humans; obey humans unless that violates Rule 1; defend yourself unless that violates Rules 1 and 2.

Mr. Angle was asked whether the Asimov rules still apply in the dawning age of robot soldiers. "We are a long ways," he said, "from creating a robot that knows what that means."


With both negatives and positives to be considered, and many significant technological hurdles to overcome, we're still a long way from real Transformers, but we're getting closer!

Credit(s): New York Times


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