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Autonomous and semi-autonomous robots like this stealthy Boeing X-45C may face new legal repercussions  (Source: Boeing)

IRobot's war-robot is one of the autonomous robotic soldiers that may eventually appear on the battlefield, legality pending. Could such a machine commit atrocities?  (Source: iRobot)

Another deadly autonomous bot is the Foster-Miller MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System). The MAARS implements advanced technology to eliminate friendly fire problems.  (Source: The Wired Danger Room)
Researchers debate where the fault divides between the operator and the machine

The U.S. military is working very hard to develop autonomous robotic warriors.  The U.S. is not alone -- the technology is the wave of the future in warfare, and is being pursued by dozens of countries worldwide.  While expensive, weapons-toting robots can provide deadly accuracy and protect a nation's human soldiers.

Already, the U.S. has extensively utilized unmanned aerial vehicles in the war in Iraq, for both surveillance and offensive strikes, with drones such as the Hunter UAV shooting deadly missile strikes into enemy hideouts.  The SWORD robots, designed by the army and armed with machine guns, patrol the streets in Iraq.  Meanwhile a semi-autonomous Bradley Fighting Vehicle, named the Black Knight, is being developed in the U.S.  Not to be left out, the Air Force states that it wants to have unmanned heavy bombers by 2020.

The key feature among all these robotic killers that have been deployed or are under development is that they need a human to pull the trigger.  However, there is growing sentiment among military circles that eventually robots should be developed to be fully autonomous -- fighting and killing enemies, all without human intervention.  Exactly when and how such robots should be legal and troubling moral issues raised were topics of discussion at Royal United Service Institute's conference, "The Ethics of Autonomous Military Systems", a summit of international scientists and military officials held on February 27 in London.

The question "Can a robot commit a war crime?" was raised during the conference.  Such a concern -- that robots might malfunction and target civilians or friendly soldiers -- remains a frightening thought to many military men.

English Barrister and Engineer Chris Elliot explained carefully his thoughts on the legality of autonomous robotic weapons systems in terms of international criminal and civil laws.  He points out that at a certain point the robot's engineers can no longer be held reasonably culpable, and the blame for errors resulting in catastrophic loss of life may come to rest on the shoulders of the robot who committed the assault.  He states, "We're getting very close to the where the law may have to recognize that we can't always identify an individual - perhaps an artificial system can be to blame."

The idea of a robot being charged with murder raises provocative questions about punishment and the fairness of such measures.  Elliot did not back down from taking other hard stances on issues.  He made it clear that currently there was a clear legal burden for humans choosing to deploy systems lacking in sufficient judgment.  He stated, "Weapons intrinsically incapable of distinguishing between civilian and military targets are illegal."

Elliot stated that robots should only be allowed to autonomously wage war when they pass a "Military Turing Test."  He explains, "That means an autonomous system should be no worse than a human at taking decisions [about valid targets]."

The original Turing test, developed by computer pioneer Alan Turing, states that if a human is unable to tell in a conversation with a robot and a real human, which is the man and which is the machine, then the robot conversing with the human has achieved intelligence.

Elliot could not say when or how such a test could or would be administered, stating simply, "Unless we reach that point, we are unable to [legally] deploy autonomous systems. Legality is a major barrier."

Bill Boothby, of the UK Ministry of Defense, argued a slightly differing perspective that if the situation was carefully controlled, an autonomous fighting machine would not need to be quite as intelligent as Elliot's test would require.  Boothby hopes that by lowering the requirements, robots could assist on the battlefield sooner as opposed to later.  He describes this stance, stating, "There is no technology today that can make that kind of qualitative decision about legitimate targets ... [but] it may be possible to take precautions in the sortie-planning phase that enable it to be used within the law."

Boothby argued that in a way, human operators might be no better as they might simply "rubber stamp" the robot's targeting decisions.   Boothby's comments were found more appealing to many military commanders who wished for sooner deployment of such robots as the new SWORD autonomous fighters or Foster-Miller's MAARS combat robot, which implements advanced technology to reduce friendly-fire incidents.

The difference in opinions expressed between Elliot and Boothby are reflective of the mixed feelings society holds about deploying independently operating killing machines to warzones.  There remain many fears in the mind of  the public, both realistic ones, based on practical assessment of the current limitation, and fantastic ones, fueled by popular culture such as the Terminator movies, which depict a future in which cold-blood lethal robots have turned upon mankind.  The issue is sure to only become more contentious with time and technological advances.

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RE: saving lives?
By RogueLegend on 3/2/2008 5:10:02 AM , Rating: 2
It's interesting how you take one case (in this case Bill Gates) and show how self interest can be good. It shows you had no ability to respond to all the other arguments I made about what capitalism's self interest has done to people. You can't deny it, so you simply ignore it. That, and you minimize my argument to "slightly better leaders." How 'bout you pay attention to the part where I mention resources? Resources are why most of the conflicts I mentioned were fought in the first place. Oh, that's right, you can't respond to it. It's easier to just ignore it and hope the two paragraphs of thought you're capable of will make you look right.

And I never argued it can't be good- you just assumed that. Self interest has its good aspects But lets not pretend Bill Gates and Microsoft can only do good. There are reasons why Microsoft has been investigated over and over again, and fined by both the United States government and the European Union. Self interest drives corporations to break laws and decieve customers. So let's not pretend Bill Gates hiring people was necessarily *just* a good thing. He did it out of necessity, so he could make more money. And after he hired these people, he went on to break antitrust laws and intentionally decieve customers, and a whole host of other things in order to make an almighty buck. There are some good things about Microsoft, but at the same time that it helped to define an industry, many feel that Microsoft time and time again has held the industry back with its dependence on it, stifled true growth and used its market power in unfair ways, stealing products protected by other licenses to promote its own growth while at the same time complaining about pirates.

And a great many who work for Microsoft aren't necessarily happy there- they have some very unorthodox ways of managing the costs of employees which make employment there very unattractive (I peresonally know people who programmed integral portions of Vista who recieved no benefits). Microsoft is lucky it has a strong industry name, an OS that everyone is entrenched in, and all that money to throw at middle management. Few other companies could survive like they have the way they do business. If they ever have a programmers strike demanding residuals on their code like the Writers Guild did... wow- let's just say the entire industry is lucky there are a lot of desparate programmers out there.

Oh yeah, and when you do have the ability to respond to anything else I said about capitalism, let me know- I'd be curious to see what your response to the slaughter of Native Americans, the slave trade, or any other campaign the U.S. has taken in the name of expanding democracy would look like.

RE: saving lives?
By Duwelon on 3/2/2008 9:12:44 AM , Rating: 2
You started firing off sentences on the premise that self interest is bad. I'm not going to respond to all your points because it would be a waste of time when I know the very premise that underlies your argument is false.

Again, if you think Stalin just needed to be slightly better then you haven't actually read what he's done. Even the History channel makes him look worse than Hitler.

Microsoft... employee's with no benefits means absolutly nothing. I've worked full time with no benefits at a huge bank in the US. It all depends on the conditions. I was a contractor and the conditions of my pay were based purely on pay. There's nothing wrong with that. I agreed to take the Job with the benefits they gave. It's called a free market. Also, I didn't actually work *for* the bank, I worked for a temp agency that worked for the bank. I suspect that's what happened because I know for a fact Microsoft pays quite well.

The native americans.. dont' make me laugh. Go read up on Stalin or Hitler or Castro and tell me what you think would have happened to the beloved Native Americans under their reign. They wouldn't have their own land at this point in time, i can gaurantee you that.

Whatever country your from has done a good Job of telling you the US is evil, but obviously their world history ended there.

RE: saving lives?
By kiwik on 3/2/2008 10:16:48 AM , Rating: 2
Thanks for sharing your conservative view on the History channel, though I must say that your opinion (that you're trying to show as fact) is a little bit one sided.

We all know that Stalinism was bad, but it shouldn't be considered communism because it wasn't. It was just another totalitarian regime that lasted for the better part of a century with hegemonic ambitions.

The only difference with the USA is that all these totalitarian regimes had no mechanism of checks and balances.

All in all, thanks for this nice debate, but just like any political debate, the corrupting liberals and the evil conservatives will not understand each other and at the end of the day, nothing will be accomplished.

And before you call me a liberal + [whatever insult you can find], I just want to tell you I have no political affiliation and do not live in the USA.

Your shitstorm can continue, have a good day sir.

RE: saving lives?
By seraphim1982 on 3/3/2008 10:45:45 AM , Rating: 2
You (Duwelon)are a NOOB, your responses to RogueLegends & punkalicious comments are just plain stupid and ignorant. You take facts totally out of their context and try to apply them to your stupid idea of History. Read more before you make stupid comments.

His arguement on self-interest is an excellent point as it shows us that Communism and Capitalism both have their downside of of one controlling power, with self-interest in mind. Hilter did it for the Nazis, Stalin did it for Himself, and Bush does it for the $$$. To each their own. Hilter did for his society he was trying to create, Stalin just didn't want anyone taking his place, and Bush does it for the money, including Bush's Grandfather who tried to take do a cout de tat in the early 20's-30's (Don't believe me there is a recent report on it). YOUR quote "It is self interest, in a society where Justice is valued and upheld, that allows a nation to become successful and it's people more free." There are numerous injustices that happen EVERY SINGLE MINUTE in your "just" country, so don't give me that. Successful???, how many people in America are in poverty? More free? Who are you comparing yourself too? Americans have lost about half their rights so called guaranteed by the Constitution in the last 4 years.

"It's the self interest of Bill Gates for example that created thousands of Jobs. The money he earned isn't sitting off in a giant Vault either, never to see the light of day. It's taken and invested back into some markets so that even more money and opportunity can be made."

Comparing Bill Gates to Stalin, Mao, and Hitler, I just find funny.....your comparing totally different people from different periods, and different positions. Say if Bill Gates did wanna take over the world, he is still not a national leader, in charge of armies and national policy. Your arguement has no validity to it.

"Psssssssst. Your liberal elite leaders don't want you to know: Communism leads to economic hell, loss of opportunity and the oppression of the people in every single instance where it has been tried. Ever heard of Stalin? Ever heard how many people died in the name of "communism"?"

Stalinism and Communism in theory are quite different. One person controlling all power vs. the general public/ community. Communism is an ideal that never came to full fruition. You are saying Communism and Stalinism are the same? DUDE read a history textbooks, some history journals, some GOOD documentaries, before you blurt crap outta you ass. Also, calling people FOOLS in a one paragraph response is just rude.

Punkalicious response is straight the to point and logical, unlike your incoherent bullcrap. Everything, is tied together creating an enemy, war, economy, money, power, profits from war. If you had more knowledge of the world and its history, it might make sense to you, but unfortunately the world is filled with noobs like you.

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton

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