22 January 2009
Robots in war
By Jim Pinto
Experts have already issued warnings over the threat posed to humanity by new robot weapons. Consider this moral problem: In the future, will countries boast about killing thousands of enemy combatants without any casualties of their own?
The U.S. Department of Defense continues to invest heavily in robotic technology that will take the place of human soldiers in battle. Unmanned ground vehicles have already flooded the battlefield.
There are about 6,000 robots in use by the Army and Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by October 2006, unmanned aircraft had flown 400,000 flight hours.
Currently there is always a human in the loop to decide on the use of lethal force. However, this will change; autonomous weapons are under development that will decide where, when, and who to kill. It may not be long before robots become a standard terrorist weapon to replace suicide bombers.
This is the start of an international robot arms race. Countries are working to develop robotic weapons, with the U.S. having the biggest budget, expecting to spend an estimated $4 billion by 2010.
Other countries too are working on robot weapons programs—Europe, Canada, South Korea, South Africa, Singapore, and Israel. China, Russia, and India are also working on development of unmanned aerial combat vehicle. Where is this robot-race leading?
The protagonists said robot warfare is no different than developing tanks and artillery where just a few people kill many with superior technology. The ethicists insist robotic warfare is technology going too far. The optimists say Defense spending always leads to advances that bring technology to other areas. Affordable service robots will soon be able to do heavy, dirty, monotonous, or irksome tasks.
What do YOU think?
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Behind the byline
Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and founder of Action Instruments. You can e-mail him at email@example.com or view his writings at www.JimPinto.com. Read the Table of Contents of his book, Pinto’s Points, at www.jimpinto.com/writings/points.html.
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