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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  Unfortunately, such a belief is sorely outdated, harking back to a time when .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 SiliconAddict on 2/20/2009 12:28:25 AM , Rating: 2
Hmmm and just because we have had decades of falures to create a real honest to God AI means that it will never happen? Look at computing power. Its come a hell of a lot closer in the past 10 years to the capability of the human brain then in the past 20. Look at our ability to program. How the hell do we know where the tipping point is between a program designed be intelligent in a narrow confine and one that has the ability to program itself. Something that starts doing thing could easily be seen as simply a programming error on the part of a human and overlooked. This is where the "code is getting to big" comes into play.
There is a certain amount of arrogance based on past failures in your statement that is exactly why an article like this should be "considered" No I'm not talking OMG! RUN FOR THE HILLS! THE ROBOTS ARE GONNA GET US! DESTROY ALL TECH NOW BEFORE ITS TOO LATE!!!!111oneoneone
But start taking this seriously as we move forward.


RE: What a load of crap
By Larrymon2000 on 2/23/2009 1:24:36 AM , Rating: 2
AI is possible, but I think the program of self-learning and run-time self-programming new behavior is a different story. I mean, you can create a set of choices and then use sensory information to effect a decision by the system, but providing ways to adapt new approaches is a different thing. Of course, one could argue that we could just provide an infinitely large set of atomic subroutines and then let the system arrange the order of execution and the choice of subroutines as it's running. In essence, this really isn't *too* different from humans.


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