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Some top researchers say removing humans from the killing loop is a good idea

Is an age of autonomous killing machines dawning?  Some experts think so, and cheer that direction.

I. Killing Me Softly

Professor Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology argues killer robots are good news for mankind.  He comments to BBC News, "Everyone raises their arms and says, 'Oh, evil robots, oh, killer robots', [but] we have killer soldiers out there. Atrocities continue and they have continued since the beginning of warfare."

"We need to put technology to use to address the issues of reducing non-combatant casualties in the battle-space.  [Via] the judicious application of ethical robotic systems can indeed accomplish that, if we are foolish enough as a nation, as a world, to persist in warfare."

Professor Ronald Arkin
Professor Ronald Arkin

The professor argues that by incorporating an "ethics switch" robots could autonomously kill, while respecting their masters and rules of combat.  He explains his philosophy in his book "Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots."

Over 76 countries -- besides the U.S. -- are developing semi-autonomous armed robots, according to the U.S.  Nations with drone programs include hostile states, such as Iran.  Those nations are working to develop strike drones similar to those that the U.S. uses to kill its citizens when it believes they have become terrorists.

II. Meet the Swarm

But today's drones may be far less deadly than those of tomorrow.  Large and typically travelling alone, today's drones are deadly, but conspicuous.  By contrast, roboticists envision tomorrow's robotic attackers being smaller armed drones that attack as a swarm, neutralizing their fleshy rivals with deadly precision.

Defense contractor BAE Systems plc (LON:BA), a top weapons dealer to the U.S. and UK governments, is already working on a precursor to such a system.  Collaborating with Professor Arkin's peer, Professor Henrik Christensen, they're making small cake-stand shaped bots endowed with swarm behavior.

BAE Robot
One of the swarm robots by BAE and Georgia Tech [Image Source: BBC News]

The current plan is to have the robots map out a battlefield.  Describes Professor Christensen, "These robots will basically spread out.  They'll go through the environment and map out what it looks like, so that by the time you have humans entering the building you have a lot of intelligence about what's happening there."

But the robots could eventually be made armed and autonomous -- as Professor Arkin is hoping -- to form a deadly fighting force.

III. Ban Killer Robots?

At the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. future warfare expert Peter W. Singer says that robots will be the next major step in the evolution of warfare.  He comments, "Every so often in history, you get a technology that comes along that's a game changer.  They're things like gunpowder, they're things like the machine gun, the atomic bomb, the computer… and robotics is one of those."

Some -- like Jody Williams, a Nobel Prize-winning activist against anti-personnel landmines -- have turned their attention to pushing for a global ban on autonomous killing machines.

Indeed, recent military reports discuss the alarming science fiction scenario of robotic soldiers "going rogue" potentially occurring in real life, given the increasing robotization.

Terminator wide
The U.S. military is worried about autonomous killer robots "going rogue".
[Image Source: TriStar Pictures]

But as nations like Iran race to develop new and more deadly robots of their own, and the U.S. yearns to continue to exert its hegemony worldwide, such pacifistic viewpoints may fall on deaf ears in Congress, and in other governing bodies worldwide.  It appears less a question of whether autonomous killing robots will eventually arrive and more of a question of whether mankind will be able to keep his deadly machines under control.


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RE: Robots fighting robots is an improvement
By Solandri on 3/5/2013 11:02:23 PM , Rating: 2
So in the future, international conflicts will be decided a LAN party and which country can field the best video game players?


By Omega215D on 3/5/2013 11:27:58 PM , Rating: 4
"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots."


By Schrag4 on 3/6/2013 12:40:14 PM , Rating: 2
IIRC, the opening to the movie Surragates was kind of like that. The human "soldiers" were controlling human-like robots on the battlefield.


By Rott3nHIppi3 on 3/6/2013 1:15:28 PM , Rating: 2
Although that would be awesome (cause then we can all play), seems like we could just get Anonymous to hack 'their' machines and turn them against their creators!


"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes














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