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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 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.

</rant>

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.


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