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A new Navy-funded report warns against a hasty deployment of war robots, and urges programmers to include ethics subroutines -- a warrior code of sorts. The alternative they say, is the possibility of a robotic atrocity, akin to the Terminator or other sci-fi movies.  (Source: Warner Brothers)
Robots must learn to obey a warrior code, but increasing intelligence may make keeping the robots from turning on their masters increasingly difficult

Robots gone rogue killing their human masters is rich science fiction fodder, but could it become reality?  Some researchers are beginning to ask that question as artificial intelligence advances continue, and the world's high-tech nations begin to deploy war-robots to the battlefront.  Currently, the U.S. armed forces use many robots, but they all ultimately have a human behind the trigger.  However, there are many plans to develop and deploy fully independent solutions as the technology improves.

Some mistakenly believe that such robots would only be able to operate within a defined set of behaviors.  Describes Patrick Lin, the chief compiler of a new U.S. Navy-funded report, "There is a common misconception that robots will do only what we have programmed them to do.  Unfortunately, such a belief is sorely outdated, harking back to a time when . . . programs could be written and understood by a single person."

The new report points out that the size of artificial intelligence projects will likely make their code impossible to fully analyze and dissect for possible dangers.  With hundreds of programmers working on millions of lines of code for a single war robot, says Dr. Lin, no one has a clear understanding of what going on, at a small scale, across the entire code base.

He says the key to avoiding robotic rebellion is to include "learning" logic which teaches the robot the rights and wrongs of ethical warfare.  This logic would be mixed with traditional rules based programming. 

The new report looks at many issues surrounding the field of killer robots.  In addition to code malfunction, another potential threat would be a terrorist attack which reprogrammed the robots, turning them on their owners.  And one tricky issue discussed is the question of who would take the blame for a robotic atrocity -- the robot, the programmers, the military, or the U.S. President.

The Ethics and Emerging Technology department of California State Polytechnic University created the report of the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research.  It warns the Navy about the dangers of premature deployment or complacency on potential issues.  U.S. Congress has currently mandated that by 2010 a "deep strike" unmanned aircraft must be operational, and by 2015 on third of the ground combat vehicles must be unmanned.

The report warns, "A rush to market increases the risk for inadequate design or programming. Worse, without a sustained and significant effort to build in ethical controls in autonomous systems . . . there is little hope that the early generations of such systems and robots will be adequate, making mistakes that may cost human lives."

Simple laws of ethics, such as Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics, the first of which forbids robots from harming humans, will not be sufficient, say the report's authors.  War robots will have to kill, but they will have to understand the difference between enemies and noncombatants.  Dr. Lin describes this challenge stating, "We are going to need a code.  These things are military, and they can’t be pacifists, so we have to think in terms of battlefield ethics. We are going to need a warrior code."

The U.S. Army had a scare earlier this year when a software malfunction caused war robots deployed in the field to aim at friendly targets.  While the humans still had control of the trigger, the incident highlighted the challenges a fully autonomous system would face.  The offending robots were serviced and are still deployed in Iraq.

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RE: What a load of crap
By Rugar on 2/17/2009 10:35:22 AM , Rating: 2
Wow... That so totally had to do with my comment.

And by the way, it's because of the reverse engineered chips!

RE: What a load of crap
By callmeroy on 2/17/2009 11:33:40 AM , Rating: 5
First...enough already with the dramatised replies to such articles.

My hunch, albeit just a hunch...tells me the team researching this and writing this kind of code are a notch above the average run of the mill programmer who just got their degree from. Now I don't know anyone personally on these forums - so perhaps some of you are akin to a programming God , maybe you have multiple PhD's, perhaps you already have the foundations down for designing a time machine, curing cancer and solving the problem with world hunger.....BUT I think you also might just be overly down playing the skills of these folks and their knowledge just a tad.

I'm sure there's more to it that what we've already discussed here...

RE: What a load of crap
By Rugar on 2/17/09, Rating: -1
RE: What a load of crap
By arazok on 2/17/2009 2:53:01 PM , Rating: 5
Do you seriously think that I am actually suggesting that there is a company named Cyberdyne which reverse engineered a chip taken from the arm of a destroyed T-800 sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor?

That’s what I thought. You have no idea how relieved I am to know you weren’t serious.

RE: What a load of crap
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 2/17/2009 5:23:03 PM , Rating: 2
TextDo you seriously think that I am actually suggesting that there is a company named Cyberdyne which reverse engineered a chip taken from the arm of a destroyed T-800 sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor?

TextThat’s what I thought. You have no idea how relieved I am to know you weren’t serious.

Yea, I was worried about that too. In real life the company is call Cybertech Autonomics LLC. They had to change the name in the movie. The movie did not want to pay for the royalty rates to use the real name of the company. :)

RE: What a load of crap
By bigboxes on 2/17/2009 3:39:25 PM , Rating: 5
Are you serious about being serious about this dude being serious? You can't be serious. Seriously.

RE: What a load of crap
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 2/17/2009 5:27:59 PM , Rating: 5
I think you missed a great dude opertunity....

new quote: "Dude are you a serious dude about this dude being serious? Dude can't be serious, dude. Seriously dude."

RE: What a load of crap
By MrPoletski on 2/18/2009 8:43:16 AM , Rating: 2

RE: What a load of crap
By JKflipflop98 on 2/21/2009 2:52:45 AM , Rating: 2
Dude. . .

RE: What a load of crap
By bohhad on 2/19/2009 2:10:47 PM , Rating: 2

RE: What a load of crap
By MamiyaOtaru on 2/22/2009 5:56:28 PM , Rating: 2

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)
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