U.S. engineers are building unreliable, autonomous killing machines, a U.K. computer scientist said today. Terrorists will be making their own.
Too cute? Watch the DoD’s 12-year-old Robart III (left) knock down some Coke cans, here. The Army’ s more recent SWORDS robot (below, right) has made the rounds at auto and robotics shows. (Images: U.S. Department of Defense)
While Japanese researchers are building humanoid robots that will care for their aging population, the U.S. Department of Defense is developing autonomous weapons that will decide which humans to cut down.
But there’s a problem: Robots make lousy decision makers, said University of Sheffield professor Noel Sharkey, in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall.
“Current robots are dumb machines with very limited sensing capability,” said Sharkey, in a statement released yesterday. “What this means is that it is not possible to guarantee discrimination between combatants and innocents or a proportional use of force as required by the current Laws of War.”
Sharkey also predicted that terrorists are likely to replace suicide bombers with killer robots, which they can produce for only a few hundred pounds with off-the-shelf parts.
Some military officers argue that without any messy emotions to get in the way, autonomous weapons (AW) will make more efficient killers.
“AW can better discriminate targets and calculate the impacts of an engagement in real time to insure the impact is proportional to the military advantage gained,” writes U.S. Air Force Major Michael A. Guetlein, in a 2005 research paper (click here to download the PDF). “Emotions and adrenaline cease to affect the decision to engage. Instead, the decision becomes one of probabilities.”
Guetlein also predicts that “social conditioning” (his words) will eventually any public objections to giving robots a license to kill.
“Society is likely to welcome some aspects of AW,” Guetlein writes.
Notes: See my 2004 Wired article, “Robots May Fight for the Army.”
The DoD has been trying for years to turn soldiers into flesh-and-blood-based killing machines. See “The guilt-free soldier,” about emotion-deadening drugs, which my brother, Erik, wrote in 2003.