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Some top researchers say removing humans from the killing loop is a good idea

Is an age of autonomous killing machines dawning?  Some experts think so, and cheer that direction.

I. Killing Me Softly

Professor Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology argues killer robots are good news for mankind.  He comments to BBC News, "Everyone raises their arms and says, 'Oh, evil robots, oh, killer robots', [but] we have killer soldiers out there. Atrocities continue and they have continued since the beginning of warfare."

"We need to put technology to use to address the issues of reducing non-combatant casualties in the battle-space.  [Via] the judicious application of ethical robotic systems can indeed accomplish that, if we are foolish enough as a nation, as a world, to persist in warfare."

Professor Ronald Arkin
Professor Ronald Arkin

The professor argues that by incorporating an "ethics switch" robots could autonomously kill, while respecting their masters and rules of combat.  He explains his philosophy in his book "Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots."

Over 76 countries -- besides the U.S. -- are developing semi-autonomous armed robots, according to the U.S.  Nations with drone programs include hostile states, such as Iran.  Those nations are working to develop strike drones similar to those that the U.S. uses to kill its citizens when it believes they have become terrorists.

II. Meet the Swarm

But today's drones may be far less deadly than those of tomorrow.  Large and typically travelling alone, today's drones are deadly, but conspicuous.  By contrast, roboticists envision tomorrow's robotic attackers being smaller armed drones that attack as a swarm, neutralizing their fleshy rivals with deadly precision.

Defense contractor BAE Systems plc (LON:BA), a top weapons dealer to the U.S. and UK governments, is already working on a precursor to such a system.  Collaborating with Professor Arkin's peer, Professor Henrik Christensen, they're making small cake-stand shaped bots endowed with swarm behavior.

BAE Robot
One of the swarm robots by BAE and Georgia Tech [Image Source: BBC News]

The current plan is to have the robots map out a battlefield.  Describes Professor Christensen, "These robots will basically spread out.  They'll go through the environment and map out what it looks like, so that by the time you have humans entering the building you have a lot of intelligence about what's happening there."

But the robots could eventually be made armed and autonomous -- as Professor Arkin is hoping -- to form a deadly fighting force.

III. Ban Killer Robots?

At the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. future warfare expert Peter W. Singer says that robots will be the next major step in the evolution of warfare.  He comments, "Every so often in history, you get a technology that comes along that's a game changer.  They're things like gunpowder, they're things like the machine gun, the atomic bomb, the computer… and robotics is one of those."

Some -- like Jody Williams, a Nobel Prize-winning activist against anti-personnel landmines -- have turned their attention to pushing for a global ban on autonomous killing machines.

Indeed, recent military reports discuss the alarming science fiction scenario of robotic soldiers "going rogue" potentially occurring in real life, given the increasing robotization.

Terminator wide
The U.S. military is worried about autonomous killer robots "going rogue".
[Image Source: TriStar Pictures]

But as nations like Iran race to develop new and more deadly robots of their own, and the U.S. yearns to continue to exert its hegemony worldwide, such pacifistic viewpoints may fall on deaf ears in Congress, and in other governing bodies worldwide.  It appears less a question of whether autonomous killing robots will eventually arrive and more of a question of whether mankind will be able to keep his deadly machines under control.

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By Ammohunt on 3/5/2013 4:32:47 PM , Rating: 4
This is about as good idea as the idiots purposefully making super virulent strains of Bird flu for "Research" the end result is the same if either of these get into the wild.

As a former soldier i would never want to be insulated from the horror of war otherwise we might forget just how disgusting it is and conduct them on a casual basis with devices such as these.

RE: Wow
By natehow on 3/5/2013 4:37:36 PM , Rating: 2
Great point, I would argue we don't need these and on top of that shouldn't be at war to begin with. Worry about defense instead of being the aggressor in so many of this conflicts that occur.

RE: Wow
By othercents on 3/5/2013 4:52:33 PM , Rating: 2
What about using robots that enter ahead of the solder to provide live video feed as you enter a building. Allowing you to mark rooms that have hostiles in them before you get to the room. There are positives on using robots like that especially if the building already has a surveillance system watching you.

There however is a line between arming robots to autonomously kill hostiles vs having someone assess the threat and pull the trigger remotely.

RE: Wow
By RufusM on 3/6/2013 2:32:18 PM , Rating: 2
All that needs to happen is for the robotic intelligence software to be hacked and get out in the open then anyone can create killer drone swarms, ignoring the "ethics switch" part of it.

Maybe it would happen eventually with all of the robot hobbyists out there, but with someone's existing code you just need to flip a few bits to make it turn on anyone.

RE: Wow
By Reclaimer77 on 3/5/2013 5:03:18 PM , Rating: 5
"I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility... for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you want to sell it!

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

-Jurassic Park-

RE: Wow
By maugrimtr on 3/6/2013 8:38:04 AM , Rating: 2
Good quote but most people would be delighted for Science to run away and successfully clone a dinosaur.

RE: Wow
By Reclaimer77 on 3/6/2013 10:32:09 AM , Rating: 3
My point was not to be arbitrarily for or against something but to have a good open dialogue on the ethics of that something. The Goldblum speech just seemed, I don't know it just came to mind.

RE: Wow
By ShaolinSoccer on 3/6/2013 1:14:39 PM , Rating: 2
I feel sorry for any planet that ends up with a scientific civilization that worships science so much, they ignore any warnings and end up committing suicide on a planetary scale due to the accidental nature of science. Matter of fact, it's probably more common of a thing to happen in our universe considering how dangerous science becomes once you start to really mess with the laws of the universe. How can you possibly control something you don't totally understand?

RE: Wow
By marvdmartian on 3/6/2013 9:46:29 AM , Rating: 1
More like:
Sarah Connor: How are you supposed to know? Fucking men like you built the hydrogen bomb. Men like you thought it up. You think you're so creative. You don't know what it's like to really create something; to create a life; to feel it growing inside you. All you know how to create is death...
John Connor: Mom.
Sarah Connor: ...and destruction...
John Connor: Mom! We need to be a little more constructive here, okay?

My question is, what's to stop anyone with the technical know-how from creating their own? When the government decides it needs ultimate control, will we need robots to combat their robots??

RE: Wow
By TSS on 3/5/2013 5:46:07 PM , Rating: 2
Anybody else noticed that "ethical killer robots" is a oxymoron?

RE: Wow
By ClownPuncher on 3/5/2013 6:53:34 PM , Rating: 5
War. War never changes.

The Romans waged war to gather slaves and wealth. Spain built an empire from its lust for gold and territory. Hitler shaped a battered Germany into an economic superpower.

But war never changes.

In the 21st century, war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: Petroleum and Uranium. For these resources, China would invade Alaska, the US would annex Canada, and the European Commonwealth would dissolve into quarreling, bickering nation-states, bent on controlling the last remaining resources on Earth.

In 2077, the storm of world war had come again. In two brief hours, most of the planet was reduced to cinders. And from the ashes of nuclear devastation, a new civilization would struggle to arise.

A few were able to reach the relative safety of the large underground Vaults. Your family was part of that group that entered Vault Thirteen. Imprisoned safely behind the large Vault door, under a mountain of stone, a generation has lived without knowledge of the outside world.

Life in the Vault is about to change.

RE: Wow
By WLee40 on 3/6/2013 1:23:20 PM , Rating: 3
Hey, was that quote from Fallout?

RE: Wow
By 7Enigma on 3/6/2013 1:27:47 PM , Rating: 1

Fallout 3 I believe. Ron Perlman voicing it too!

RE: Wow
By ClownPuncher on 3/6/2013 2:27:42 PM , Rating: 2
It's from Fallout 1, you hack.

RE: Wow
By Skywalker123 on 3/6/2013 5:32:15 AM , Rating: 2
You would rather risk your life than a robots? Not bloody likely. Im sure there were plenty who said we shouldnt use gatling guns either. Its gonna happen, so get used to it

RE: Wow
By Schrag4 on 3/6/2013 11:45:51 AM , Rating: 2
It's not just the technology, it's who's pulling the trigger . I think most of us are OK with the use of unmanned drones for war, but people are still making the decision to pull the trigger. When it comes to letting robots decide whether or not to kill, do you really hold the "what could possibly go wrong" position?

RE: Wow
By Mint on 3/6/2013 8:18:50 AM , Rating: 2
As a former soldier i would never want to be insulated from the horror of war otherwise we might forget just how disgusting it is and conduct them on a casual basis with devices such as these.
I would argue that we're already at that point. Look at the way bombing is carried out today or how mines/IEDs are so indiscriminate. I don't think autonomous/assisted robot killing can be any more insulated than that.

No doubt the US will be given the coward tag when it's first used, but I think this technology can result in far fewer civilian casualties when a decision has been made to eliminate the enemy in an area and such a task is currently carried out by bombing.

The worry, of course, is that we get overzealous in where we use it, but I'm optimistic that the pros will outweigh the cons.

I hate unnecessary wars, but I realize that military combat is not going away any time soon. The enemy of the 21st century is, out of desperation, highly distributed among civilians, and we need ways to attack them without wiping out 10-100x as much innocent life.

RE: Wow
By mars2k on 3/6/2013 8:59:34 AM , Rating: 2
Now now, look on the bright side. You can take the pie stand off and use the Roomba underneath to clean up the mess after the swarm massacre

RE: Wow
By highlander2107 on 3/6/2013 10:52:49 PM , Rating: 2
Stop blaming scientists and engineers for the mistakes of politicians. When you do, you let the liars off the hook.

As a former soldier i would never want to be insulated from the horror of war otherwise we might forget just how disgusting it is

Who cares if you are or aren't insulated from "the horror of war", you were just a soldier. The people who are and always have been insulated from "the horror of war" are the politicians, that is, the people who sent you there.

This technology does nothing to make them understand or not understand "the horror of war", therefore, this technology is of no consequence to the actual problem.

Lastly, as a soldier, you should want to protect your brothers in arms from "the horror of war", if it MUST take place. I don't want MY nations soldiers in a fair fight. If the professional liars we call "leaders" send those brave young men and women into battle, I want our people to prevail with all the help the intelligent and creative men and women of this country can provide.

Good day Sir.

RE: Wow
By Ammohunt on 3/7/2013 12:04:14 PM , Rating: 2
This has nothing to do about fairness in fighting its about ethics! ever wonder why there is a Rules of Land Warfare aka the Geneva convention? It helps preserve our humanity even when conduction the nasty business which is war. Otherwise it would be just fine to use technology we have had for decades now such as VX nerve agent to just gas our enemies and be done with war in a matter of hours.

Robots fighting robots is an improvement
By BugblatterIII on 3/5/2013 6:39:12 PM , Rating: 2
If 76 countries are developing them then eventually that's what'll happen.

And it prevents humans being subjected to the battlefield.

In the end it'll all be simulated, no need to waste resources actually building the robots, and we'll have Star Trek - A Taste of Armageddon. Preferably without the euthanasia.

RE: Robots fighting robots is an improvement
By Solandri on 3/5/2013 11:02:23 PM , Rating: 2
So in the future, international conflicts will be decided a LAN party and which country can field the best video game players?

By Omega215D on 3/5/2013 11:27:58 PM , Rating: 4
"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots."

By Schrag4 on 3/6/2013 12:40:14 PM , Rating: 2
IIRC, the opening to the movie Surragates was kind of like that. The human "soldiers" were controlling human-like robots on the battlefield.

By Rott3nHIppi3 on 3/6/2013 1:15:28 PM , Rating: 2
Although that would be awesome (cause then we can all play), seems like we could just get Anonymous to hack 'their' machines and turn them against their creators!

By titan131 on 3/5/2013 6:31:41 PM , Rating: 2
the development of this kind of technology but it's still sad that mankind is spending large amounts of money on this kind of thing. Empires, wars etc should be resigned to history where they belong. Back then, often, military power was power. Nowadays strong economies are power. Warfare is expensive, creates horrible suffering and is generally a complete waste of time and resources. Developing machines to make goods that we want and need at lower price points while raising overall quality; now that's where it's at! Not this shit imo.

RE: Inevitable...
By JediJeb on 3/5/2013 9:29:46 PM , Rating: 2
The question becomes, what if a tyrant becomes the head of the economically powerful world government? Should an entire population suffer because a few people wish it, or should the population have the option to use force to remove the oppressors?

As much as we wish to rid ourselves of war, we must first rid the world of those who would wish to be above others in society along with those who wish to only survive and not take part in making society work. When the complacent become the majority, then the overbearing minority can easily take control.

RE: Inevitable...
By titan131 on 3/6/2013 8:03:15 AM , Rating: 2
True... I could try to argue that these robots are being developed for government use and not to help civilians protect their own freedoms and I could argue that some governments seem very trigger happy when it comes to starting wars, especially with countries much weaker than themselves and so how could making this considerably easier be a good thing? But... I don't think that's what you're arguing. I said it's a shame mankind is developing this kind of technology when we should all just compete with each other with our goods and services and raise the living standards of everyone. Your saying (I think) that the balance of power could shift for the worse if big businesses aren't controlled, if only through the fear of reprisal, and so there will always be a place for this kind of technology, useless we genetically engineer ourselves (mankind) one day not to be selfish and to always treat each other as equals. Basically, I agree with your point and concede that I was wrong but I still don't like governments, the way they operate currently, developing this kind of thing.

Less violence
By Belard on 3/6/2013 8:35:14 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah... less blood, guts and suffering.

We should make something like a virtual nuclear war. In which countries could actually launch fake rockets with various types of war-heads at each other.

When the rockets impact (not for real) - the people in that area are instructed to go to Death boxes (Think Futurama). No mess, no buildings requiring rebuilding, etc. Easy for other people to move into the recently vacated areas.

RE: Less violence
By Pessimism on 3/6/2013 9:43:43 AM , Rating: 2
There was a Star Trek TOS episode that had that exact thing, two planets warring for hundreds of years and the process reduced to computers and death boxes. Futurama probably borrowed from it. Waiting for a more hardcore trekkie to quote the episode name :)

RE: Less violence
By Yeah on 3/6/2013 1:08:56 PM , Rating: 2
"A Taste of Armageddon"

Episode 23

By makius on 3/5/2013 4:29:33 PM , Rating: 5
I for one welcome our new robot overlords...

By flyingpants1 on 3/5/2013 10:54:22 PM , Rating: 3
There are about 35,000 police officers in New York City.

Their average salary is about $49,000 USD.

That's over $1.7 billion.

Assuming the price of an armed quadcopter falls to below $1000 each, that's enough money for 2 million quadcopters producing the streets of New York. Deus Ex style. Or 1984, or whatever you like.

Yes, it will happen.

Bring on the ethical killer robots.

A good idea?
By Avatar28 on 3/5/2013 5:02:30 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously, have these people never seen The Terminator?

Asimov they haven't a clue.
By mike66 on 3/5/2013 6:29:21 PM , Rating: 2
There was a very good reason why Asimov created the laws of robotics. Oh well hopefully when the first hack or glitch happens with an armed robot Arkins will be there too.

One Word ...
By Malhavoc on 3/5/2013 11:16:53 PM , Rating: 2

Jurassic Park
By Fastyle on 3/6/2013 1:25:58 AM , Rating: 2
@ Reclaimer77:

That be Jeff Goldblum, one of my favorite parts of the movie.

I do have to admit, the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 is bad ass, even without intergrated weapons.

That look reminds me of....
By LordSojar on 3/6/2013 9:39:26 AM , Rating: 2

Kill Decision
By EmbeddedSteve on 3/6/2013 10:07:38 AM , Rating: 2
Read this:

You've been warned!!!!

By cmart on 3/6/2013 10:55:16 AM , Rating: 2
"...the judicious application of ethical robotic systems can indeed accomplish that, if we are foolish enough as a nation, as a world, to persist in warfare."

Gotta love any invention that admittedly helps to accomplish something foolish to do in the first place.

Not if but when
By tayb on 3/6/2013 11:17:21 AM , Rating: 2
AI is 100% inevitable. If the United States military doesn't cook up the first batch another country will and we'll be worse off for it. If another country doesn't officially cook it up it will still be invented in a basement, lab, or at a university. The question is when, not if, and I think it's closer than people realize.

I find AI to be extremely intriguing and extremely terrifying. I think combat units will be controlled well enough and with enough safeguards to not 'go rogue' but once the code is out there you can't take it back. Hackers will have it, viruses will be written, and foreign enemies will have it. The virus bit is what scares me the most.

more stupid people ideas
By KOOLTIME on 3/6/2013 1:59:31 PM , Rating: 2
"Atrocities continue and they have continued since the beginning of warfare."

See this quote, well weapons of any form have been used to kill others since this quote above.

not a matter of guns or robots or bombs or other creations of destruction of life.

That same agenda of weapons for defense, used forever, and for millions of years or however long humans have been killing each other with weapons, since that time to today as we speak, we have not evolved 1 inch of progress to betterment of humanity. Weapons are better, but the same killing process has never changed at all ??

There is no true safety, Look a police officer so called outstanding person for decades, then one day, he goes on a rampage, all it takes is 1 bad day in decades for allot of life's to be ruined by weapons, due to that happening.

All it takes is a soon called good person like the above inventory trying to make a buck, to go rogue and folks die, same ole story for thousands of years, no change, only time. Time is what people ignore when deciding these choices.

By TacticalTrading on 3/6/2013 6:09:00 PM , Rating: 2
3 Laws
Terminator style judgement day

This guy obviously hasn't seen any Hollywood movies. Or, maybe he plans to be the super hero that saves the day...

Or maybe he just isn't afraid of an autonomous machine that kills.

Didn't these guys...
By johnsmith9875 on 3/6/2013 11:37:26 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't these guys watch Iron Man 2? There's a lesson to be learned from remotely controlled drones being taken over by somebody who doesn't have your best long term interests in mind.

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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