Friday, February 20, 2009

'Terminator'-style Military Robots?

Attention given to military robots by the mainstream press attention has increased recently. Drones such as the Predator, a robotic drone (actually semi-autonomous, as it is actually tele-operated) have become an increasing part of the "G**T"(*)

Then just last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee disclosed that Predators have been operating out of a base located on Pakistani soil, causing a diplomatic row last week. And shortly after that disclosure, a drone attack killed 30 people in Pakistan, although the intended target (a Taliban leader) was apparently not killed.

On the heels of all of that comes a new report issued by the Office of Naval Research (part of the US Navy) and by three scientists at Cal Poly (Patrick Lin, PhD., George Bekey, PhD., and Keith Abney, M.A.) The study, entitled “Autonomous Military Robots: Risk, Ethics, And Design” appears to be the first of its kind produced by the military on the ethics of military robots, and covers a wide range of topics.

The mainstream press has picked up on the potential for a robot turning (or being turned) against its makers. The Times of London quotes one of the report’s authors, Patrick Lin, as saying “There is a common misconception that robots will do only what we have programmed them to do.”

FoxNews is running (as of this writing) a similar story on the report, entitled "Experts Warn of 'Terminator'-Style Military-Robot Rebellion."

The onus for the ONR Report may be the increasing use of robots by the military, a trend that will only increase in coming years. According to the ONR report, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 requires that by “2010, one-third of all operational deep-strike aircraft must be unmanned, and by 2015, one-third of all ground combat vehicles must be unmanned.”

The Report also explores the role that the Laws of War (LOW) (generally) and Rules of Engagement (ROE) (specific with respect to a mission or engagement) may play with an autonomous robot. While certain of the LOW/ROE may be challenged by autonomous robots (for example, who bears responsibility for a battlefield decision by a robot), the authors also indicate that unemotional robots may be less likely to commit atrocities.

The entire report is available here.

(*)- The struggle against terrorism that may become 'formerly known as' the "Global War on Terror"

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