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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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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.

"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad
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