Friday, 27 January 2012

Robots of War

I begin with an extract: 

Imagine the face of warfare with autonomous robotics: Instead of our soldiers returning home in flag-draped caskets to heartbroken families, autonomous robots—mobile machines that can make decisions, such as to fire upon a target, without human intervention—can replace the human soldier in an increasing range of dangerous missions: from tunneling through dark caves in search of terrorists, to securing urban streets rife with sniper fire, to patrolling the skies and waterways where there is little cover from attacks, to clearing roads and seas of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), to surveying damage from biochemical weapons, to guarding borders and buildings, to controlling potentially-hostile crowds, and even as the infantry frontlines.

These robots would be ‘smart’ enough to make decisions that only humans now can; and as conflicts increase in tempo and require much quicker information processing and responses, robots have a distinct advantage over the limited and fallible cognitive capabilities that we Homo sapiens have. Not only would robots expand the battlespace over difficult, larger areas of terrain, but they also represent a significant force-multiplier—each effectively doing the work of many human soldiers, while immune to sleep deprivation, fatigue, low morale, perceptual and communication challenges in the ‘fog of war’, and other performance-hindering conditions.

The extract above is taken from this report and it demonstrates that militarily, at least, there is a push to engage with new technologies. Given that Artificial Intelligence like many emerging technologies almost certainly has military patronage, is it feasible to ask if robots programmed to identify and 'fire' on the enemy combatants are one day developed to 'think' intelligently?

Whilst some of this sounds a little like Skynet from Terminator, I do have a serious question. Can we predict the future directions of 'intelligent' technologies? Are people always in 'control'  or could there be a type of artificial intelligence that eventually develops its own reasoning and consciousness and in the process choose break free of control?

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