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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  Unfortunately, such a belief is sorely outdated, harking back to a time when .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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By Cerberus90 on 2/17/2009 12:23:42 PM , Rating: 3
can't they just equip all friendly soldiers with a chip, and program the robots 'NOT' to fire at those chips.

Surely that would be better than teaching it about ethics, as then it might not shoot anyone, and sit down in the middle of the battle and start wondering about the meaning of life.

RE: Why...
By Schrag4 on 2/17/2009 1:13:54 PM , Rating: 2
Friendly fire isn't the only concern here. There's quite an emphasis on leaving civilians unharmed as well. And if you try to hand these chips out to civilians, the enemy's military will end up with them, making the whole chip system meaningless.

RE: Why...
By TSS on 2/17/2009 6:34:08 PM , Rating: 2
that'll work great once the enemy captures one of your bots and reprograms it to shoot everybody with a chip.

while your own bots have to be limited to watch out for civilians, their reprogrammed bots can be let loose in even the most crowded of areas.

RE: Why...
By mindless1 on 2/17/2009 10:02:29 PM , Rating: 2
Presumably the chip is planted under the skin, right? That way, when the enemy captures some solders they don't just take them captive, first thing to do is cut out the chip for their own use, or of course just create fake duplicate chips. Such tech might work well for awhile against 3rd world countries but against those we have less need for robots this advanced.

RE: Why...
By Fritzr on 2/18/2009 11:44:38 AM , Rating: 2
An actively replying IFF chip is a targeting device. Just set up an automated weapon with a directional chip detector. Turn it on and then keep an eye out for enemy sappers trying to kill your weapon. The enemy's IFF chips tend to insure that targets are found and served :)

RE: Why...
By mindless1 on 2/18/2009 8:04:54 PM , Rating: 2
Except we were talking about chips that protect our own troops, and our robots not yet knowing if the chip is in one of ours or theirs because the chip is the identification device itself.

RE: Why...
By Fritzr on 2/19/2009 10:00:46 PM , Rating: 2
Put the chips in the field and the other side will use them as beacons. Just like any other IFF, you ping all devices and shoot the ones that reply "not your friend".

Cloning the other side's chips is just repeating the millennia old trick of dressing infiltrators in enemy uniforms before sending them across enemy lines.

RE: Why...
By SpaceOddity85 on 2/18/2009 2:51:13 AM , Rating: 2
Ever seen Screamers?

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