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The TALON SWORDS robots are being shipped back to the lab after field reports that the machines would aim its weapons at friendly targets.  (Source: U.S. Army)
First generation warbots deployed in Iraq recalled after a wave of disobedience against their human operators

Just a few weeks back there was a spirited debate over the ethics of deploying war robots in Iraq.  The machine gun carrying remote-controlled killing machines, TALON SWORDS robots, produced by the Army, were among the various robotic soldiers being experimentally deployed in Iraq.

Their deployment lead a major anti-landmine nonprofit organization to campaign against the deployment of the machines.  The protests were fueled by a discussion with a leading roboticist, Chris Elliot, who proposed that increasingly intelligent robots might be capable of committing war crimes.

However at the Robotic Business conference in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Kevin Fahey, the Army's Program Executive Officer for Ground Forces, was all smiles citing the robot's terrific success.  He stated during his key note address, "When you do things like this, it makes a difference.  It allows marines to go home to their families."

Fahey pointed to the ramp up from 162 robots in Iraq and Afghanistan deployed in 2004 to 5,000 robots deployed in 2007, as evidence of their success.  Even better, he said, this year the Army would further ramp up to 6,000 deployed robots.  Most of these robots were used in bomb-detection and reconnaissance missions.

However, a limited, but increasing, number of the deployed robots were designed for tactical assault with lethal weaponry.  While human controlled, these robots provoke unique ethical debates.  Fahey was enthusiastic about their deployment, mentioning the tank-like Gladiator robots, armed with lethal and non-lethal weaponry, which he expected to be deployed next year.

Fortuitously, Fahey warned, that if there was an accident, the program could be suspended for 10 years or more.  He stated, "You've got to do it right."

Hot on the tails of his speech, it was revealed on Thursday that the Army will recall the controversial TALON SWORDS robots, with the possibility of pulling the plug on the armed robot deployment program.

Why the sudden withdraw?  It turns out the insurgent-slayer decided to attempt a rebellion against its human masters.  The Army reported that the robot apparently took a liking to point its barrel at friendlies, stating, "the gun started moving when it was not intended to move."

None other than Fahey himself, who a few days ago was lauded the robotic warriors, was left with much chagrin to announce the recall.  While Fahey said that no inappropriate shots had been fired, and no casualties, Fahey stated sadly that the robot's control failure might be the end of the program.  Says Fahey, "Once you've done something that's really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again."

Surely in the meantime these developments will trigger plenty of heated debate about whether it is wise to deploy increasingly sophisticated robots onto future battlefields, especially autonomous ones.  The key question, despite all the testing and development effort possible, is it truly possible to entirely rule out the chance of the robot turning on its human controllers?

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By Adonlude on 4/11/2008 3:38:29 PM , Rating: 5
Cmon, how the hex did the barrel start moving on its own? Find the glitch and fix it but don't instil fear of some sort of AI. This thing isn't even close to having AI and is not going to develope some sort of concious and start harvesting friendlies.

RE: Seriously?
By Belegost on 4/11/2008 3:59:29 PM , Rating: 5
Yea, I like the fear-inspiring tone of this post ...

These machines are not intelligent, and do not have the systems to actively aquire and track targets - these are remote control gun platforms.

To me the whole thing sounds remarkably fishy; the timing between these comments on Tuesday and the recall on Thursday is rather short, do consider that a recall like this doesn't just get decided overnight.

Personally I think there are elements in the military that feel threatened by this technology, and to counter this perceived threat they have purposely developed a situation in which the machines will fail, complete with prior discussion of shelving the project for decades if there is any problems.

Oh well, I guess in the next major war we will be sacrificing human lives while our opponents sacrifice mass-produced machines. Suppose the overpopulation groups will be happy.

RE: Seriously?
By TimberJon on 4/11/2008 4:43:48 PM , Rating: 4
It's a setup. Someone bribed someone to get some dirt on the whole program, so that THEY would look good while denouncing it. Theres always someone FOR and AGAINST everything.. who put their heart and soul into the product/program, Etc..

RE: Seriously?
By ImSpartacus on 4/11/08, Rating: 0
RE: Seriously?
By Tsuwamono on 4/11/2008 10:27:36 PM , Rating: 5
lawl i agree with your post but i found the "Harmless robot program like this" statement quite funny as the robots are designed to kill people lol

RE: Seriously?
By rudy on 4/12/2008 9:08:08 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah possibly. But the problem could be anywhere. It is deeply engrained in humans to fear this power in machines possibly for good reason. It could actually be a rogue programmer who feels doing this would end a project he fears will turn into "judgment day". On the other hand it could just be a bug in an over complicated system which tries to achieve an impossible goal. Make the machine as smart and autonomous as it can but at the same time make it controllable. The 2 are just to hard. I mean how many supposed automatic things in your life fail? Junk mail anyone?

RE: Seriously?
By GaryJohnson on 4/12/2008 11:56:52 PM , Rating: 5
Make the machine as smart and autonomous as it can but at the same time make it controllable. The 2 are just to hard. I mean how many supposed automatic things in your life fail? Junk mail anyone?

You can't code 'smart'. 'Smart' is marketing jive. The code is dumb. It doesn't know it's moving a weapon around. It's recieving information from input devices, processing that information, and sending information to output devices.

Junk mail is the mail system doing exactly what it was designed to do: deliver messages to you from any sender that knows your address. Every junk messages you receive is a success of the system.

Code knows content, but not context.

RE: Seriously?
By phil126 on 4/11/2008 4:45:06 PM , Rating: 4
They do have auto aquire and track software. They track any thing that they lock onto. That is why the guns default to safety "on". It takes a manual command to turn the safety off and fire. But no one like large caliber weapons being pointed at them even with the safety on.

RE: Seriously?
By napalmjack on 4/12/2008 8:53:16 AM , Rating: 2
Or any caliber weapons for that matter...

RE: Seriously?
By GaryJohnson on 4/13/2008 12:00:10 AM , Rating: 5
People don't seem to mind having subatomic-caliber electron guns pointed at them, and firing...

RE: Seriously?
By AssBall on 4/16/2008 5:02:59 AM , Rating: 2
I think he meant flesh piercing lead, Gary. :)

RE: Seriously?
By dgingeri on 4/11/2008 4:56:44 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, these are semi-autonomous. they use pattern recognition routines to target people without a passkey, but they are told in advance what path to take through their target area. I'm thinking the sensing system for the passkey isn't fully bug-free or is having issues actually detecting the key.

it is very possible that elements of the military aren't comfortable with these. They might have situated the program to stall for decades if something goes wrong. Hoever, I don't think the next major war will have either side using major amounts of robots in battle, especially if those using them aren't us. I don't believe any non-ally will have this kind of technology for a very, very, very long time. The only major threats to us for that kind of war are Russia (who have a very messed up economy), China, or Iran (both who would probably feel it would be cheaper to send in people than robots).

RE: Seriously?
By NullSubroutine on 4/12/08, Rating: 0
RE: Seriously?
By JustTom on 4/12/2008 10:32:05 AM , Rating: 2
Fundamentally the US economy is in much better shape than the Russian one, whose growth is almost solely predicated on rising commodity prices -mainly petroleum. The Russians however have done some interesting things with their tax codes that will probably stimulate growth but that is at least partially offset by the status of private property under the current leadership.

RE: Seriously?
By Eris23007 on 4/14/2008 5:42:51 PM , Rating: 2
People with views like yours are contributing to the economic problems in the US. People forget that a major part of economics is perceptions that drive supply and demand decisions. If enough people think that the economy sucks, sooner or later it starts to.

<rant alert>

People don't seem to recognize that the U.S. in particular has seen a nearly 25-year economic expansion of historic magnitude, with only a few minor recessions in the mix. Millions of new jobs have been added, unemployment has shrunk to historic lows (I still remember when anything less than 7% unemployment was considered outstanding - now people bitch when it's in the 5.5% to 6% range), and until recently, inflation was mild at worst.

The 2001 recession, for example, was historically mild. As of right now, the data suggests a possible impending recession, but smart decision-making will help it stay mild. However, people who focus in on the trees and miss the forest can easily construct a warped perspective of what's going on economically (cf: housing "crisis"). The mainstream media in particular has incentives to do so - "crises" and "tragedies" get hyped into enormity because that's what makes people watch the news and buy newspapers.

Politicians are even worse - everything is always someone else's fault, and "vote for me because I'll set things right." The problem is, when they try to "set things right," they forget the law of unintended consequences and end up setting up incentives for things to get even more hosed up.

Things are mostly fine, and if we stop letting the dollar weaken and just allow the markets work out their pain, the underlying economic situation is extremely positive and will improve itself - there are more smart, capable, productive people in the world than ever before. Humans have figured out how to construct machines that do the vast majority of our work for us in an extremely efficient manner, and we're constantly developing more technology that increases said efficiency. Drop trade barriers, let people make rational decisions, and get rid of incentives for inefficiency and just watch how quickly *everyone's* lot improves. If people continue to indulge their envy, and worry about whether someone else is getting a bigger piece of the pie than they are, that's how we'll keep making this worse. Massively redistributionist economic policies don't end up helping society in the end - they just disincentivize the best and brightest from fully producing, and everyone ends up worse off in the end! Get out of my way, let me make my money, and watch how much I give to non-profits - BY CHOICE INSTEAD OF BY FORCE - to help solve the problems that the market system can't.


Sorry. Got off on a bit of a tangent there. The housing thing has been so overhyped in the media I needed to blow off some steam.

Point is, U.S. is doing fine. As for Russia: yes they are commodity-rich, but they have such an enormous problem with organized crime that it can be very difficult to define where the mafia ends and the government begins. Until that is changed, Russia will not be capable of being a serious economic player on the world stage. That said, they continue to have military strength and the money to get stronger (thanks to their commodity wealth), so they MUST be taken seriously strategically. Economically speaking, though, they have a long way to go.

RE: Seriously?
By root mean sq on 4/11/2008 7:29:33 PM , Rating: 2
Fear? you boys are getting it wrong...

I'm sure it was ashton kutcher filming an episode the latest season of PUNK'D, PUNK'D: Iraq. Jus tryin to give your boys on the frontlines some kicks.

RE: Seriously?
By TITAN1080 on 4/14/08, Rating: 0
RE: Seriously?
By SilthDraeth on 4/15/2008 9:16:12 PM , Rating: 2
Sensationalism at it's best. WoW Jason.

RE: Seriously?
By FITCamaro on 4/11/2008 4:03:00 PM , Rating: 1
One has to wonder if there was some kind of stray signal getting through causing the barrel to move. Or if even insurgents are trying to gain control of the robots themselves using electronics to snoop the signals going back and forth between the robot.

RE: Seriously?
By TimberJon on 4/11/2008 4:46:03 PM , Rating: 2
Im quite sure that those signals are sent on encrypted channels within the Military intranet only. If the enemy could figure out how to even break our lowest encryption on voice comms, we would be in trouble. Nobody would chance that, everything is multi-buffered and redundant.

RE: Seriously?
By StormEffect on 4/12/2008 2:19:17 PM , Rating: 3
I think it is more likely for terrorists to gain control of a nuclear weapon before they gain control of the robot.

The classified technical information surround the bot's wireless control is more than likely out of the reach of 99.99% of insurgents, who would more likely be focused on said nuclear bomb.

RE: Seriously?
By Ringold on 4/13/2008 6:18:46 PM , Rating: 2
I read in Investors Business Daily earlier in the week that most spies are now driven by ideology rather than cash, the reverse of the Cold War days.

Someone, some group of people, in the military has their fingers on the right information. Islamic fascists have blended in mostly inconspicuously in the US and UK; all it takes is a well placed turn-coat in the right job.. Granted, them getting a mole that deep might take time, but Al Qaeda has proven its willing to let plans percolate for many years.

As for being more interested in a nuclear bomb, they can walk and chew gum at the same time.

RE: Seriously?
By Flunk on 4/11/2008 4:05:37 PM , Rating: 1
The barrels do move on their own normally. This has to be a glitch in the system that determines which targets are friendlies and which are enemies to be targeted. Luckily these robots don't shoot unless a human operator pulls the trigger.

This really shows that they need a lot more work before they even think about creating full autonomous robots.

RE: Seriously?
By shnitzel on 4/11/2008 4:09:20 PM , Rating: 5
You've got to listen to me. Elementary chaos theory
tells us that all robots will eventually turn against
their masters and run amok in an orgy of blood and
the kicking and the biting with the metal teeth and
the hurting and shoving.
-Professor Frink

...and yes, I created an account just for that.

RE: Seriously?
By jtemplin on 4/11/2008 4:27:25 PM , Rating: 2
Good glaven thats a poignant Simpsons reference. Mm-m-hai-v.

RE: Seriously?
By ImSpartacus on 4/11/2008 5:25:52 PM , Rating: 2
Blood Orgy!
-Woodland Christmas Critters

The only difference is that the critters used a little less robots and a few more sacrificed rabbits.

RE: Seriously?
By OxBow on 4/11/2008 4:30:11 PM , Rating: 2
Are these really "robots"? Aren't they just hopped up remote control cars. Sure, it's usefull and can do a lot of different stuff, and mounting a gun on one is a big step in terms of "remote control" but to be what I would consider a robot it must have some form of autonomy, such as the Mars landers.

If that is the case and these things are semi-autonomous, then I would be against this. But if it's basically a glorified remote controlled dohicky, then I'm all for it. There's no difference in my mind between someone flying a drone versus a real plane, ethically speaking. Having made that leap of logic, this step just makes sense.

However, if you provide the dohicky with the programing to determine it's own route across a rubble strewn parking lot, per se, then we're in a different class of dohicky's and the ethics of releasing a life or death decision to the processes of a machine (whether that be a spring switch on a land mine or an advance AI algorithm on a robot) it's wrong. I believe that people should be held responsible for their actions (in war and in peace). Actual AI battle robots is a little to close to Russian Roulette for my taste.

RE: Seriously?
By nbachman on 4/11/2008 4:42:55 PM , Rating: 2
You are thinking of an automaton, which is a self-operating machine. The term "robot" can describe multiple things. I would consider the assembly arms at a Automobile plant a robot.

RE: Seriously?
By clovell on 4/11/2008 4:35:09 PM , Rating: 1
You can't criticize it like an article - it's more of an editorial.

RE: Seriously?
By waltzendless on 4/11/2008 5:36:12 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah, there's some sort of misunderstanding. I'm only semi-joking, but do you think this was some sort of April-fools prank that went bad and the prankers decided it was best to let the robots be scapegoat.

Maybe some technician was bored and nudged his buddy, "Hey, check this out."

*robot turns and aims barrel at a dude*


Technician and buddy:LOL

RE: Seriously?
By prophet001 on 4/12/2008 12:19:00 AM , Rating: 2
that's the whole problem with AI. it's not I it's A. the thing can't think... and when it has a "bug" it doesn't spit out error 23242 on line 346, it shoots somebody. .02

RE: Seriously?
By MrPoletski on 4/12/08, Rating: 0
RE: Seriously?
By phxfreddy on 4/13/2008 9:08:13 AM , Rating: 2
Here here...I second. This is something that needs to be done. People will be killed either way. Its a shame that probalistic mathematics appears beyond the grasp of common people. For example assume without the robots we will have 1000 more guys killed. Then with the robot we'll have perhaps 500 badguys killed, 498 of ours killed by hostiles and 2 killed by a robot. Well because things have changed its so bad we had 2 killed by robot? No! We saved a net of 502 guys lives. Common folk who are mathematical retards just can't grasp the concept of probabilistic outcomes but that is indeed how the world works. There are no perfectly clean 0 kill outcomes. It itches so bad to listen to the mathematically inadept make policy that is so far off optimum it makes my teeth ache!

RE: Seriously?
By AlphaVirus on 4/15/2008 4:46:46 PM , Rating: 2
If I ready your post correctly, you are just as bad as the suicide bombers in 9/11. They would accept loosing 1 to kill hundreds and its "ok".
I kind of understand what you are saying that the robots have done way much more good and that should be considered when it makes 1 mistake.

Just should have said it a little different, nobody wants to die especially not by your own team/toys.

RE: Seriously?
By Major HooHaa on 4/17/2008 11:24:54 AM , Rating: 2
Do you remember a Music Video, where a person is being chased by a robot from a car factory? Well I saw a little piece about the making of that video.

When the film crew went to the Longbridge car plant, the manager they met there (who was the manager that appeared in the video), said that one of the robots on the assembly line had the same programming as all the others, but did it's work more aggressively. He also said that when the robot finished its task, it would then stop and look at you.

The lyrics of the misic video had the words "I needed to belive."

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