Iraqi War Robots Recalled Following Alarming Behavior
April 11, 2008 2:51 PM
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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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Can anyone spell "redundancy"?
4/11/2008 10:37:15 PM
Easy to solve (not cheap, but war ain't cheap.)But why, oh why do software designers loathe redundancy so much?
In WWI we learned that communications had to be multiply redundant - up to seven methods were used by the Canadians, simultaneously, during offensives to keep frontline troops in clear communication both ways - wires, radio, runners, pigeons, etc. All communications were always sent more than three different ways to avoid snafus and missed messages.
Just have at least three truly different connections to the robots (or four with a spare vote) so that no one system impairs control, and even a failure of two comm systems will allow you to use the third to disarm it and either shut it down or send it scuttling home. (It's best to also include two way communications so that all orders received can be sent back by another path for confirmation(resend) before any order is executed.)
This ain't rocket science. It's only exaggerating a little to say we solved this sort of problem in WW I. Not with robots, but still...
"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson
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