Sunday, January 13, 2008

Armed Robots To Iraq

Every war is a proving ground for the next war and the conflict in Iraq is no exception. For several years now unarmed robots have been used for surveillance and deactivating IEDs. Now however In These Times reports that armed versions are set to be deployed. These mobile devices will be configured to carry various machine guns and rifles. While the present generation of robots are essentially remote controlled devices in the future robots carrying out armed activities independently are in the works.
Noel Sharkey in The Guardian noted some of the obvious and uncomfortable implications inherent in these developments:

"This is dangerous new territory for warfare, yet there are no new ethical codes or guidelines in place. I have worked in artificial intelligence for decades, and the idea of a robot making decisions about human termination is terrifying. Policymakers seem to have an understanding of AI that lies in the realms of science fiction and myth. A recent US navy document suggests that the critical issue is for autonomous systems to be able to identify the legality of targets. Then their answer to the ethical problems is simply, "Let men target men" and "Let machines target other machines". In reality, a robot could not pinpoint a weapon without pinpointing the person using it or even discriminate between weapons and non-weapons. I can imagine a little girl being zapped because she points her ice cream at a robot to share. Or a robot could be tricked into killing innocent civilians."

Isaac Asimov foresaw these questions sixty years ago when he developed his "Rules of Robotics", the first of which was "A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

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