We recently reported
on the NY Time article, "A
Soldier, Taking Orders From Its Ethical Judgment Center". It brought
the issue of lethal military robots back into the news with the
suggestion that robots could behave more ethically than humans on the
battlefield. The Conscious
Entities blog takes up this question in a
recent post called Ethical Kill-bots, and
suggests it would be better to say that robots might "exceed the human
in propriety" by more accurately following rules of engagement. The
essay notes that current military robots are not actually
agents capable of ethical action. The author also questions whether
robots will ever be able to grasp ethics and morals. Appropriately, the
post is illustrated with an image of a Bender, everyone's favorite
Once autonomous robots capable of exercising deadly force do begin to be used within war zones I think it will become clear that the idea of the ethical robot soldier is nonsense. In fact I think the use of such robots will make massacres and other unethical activities easier to prosecute, and also carry a greater degree of deniability for war criminals. As we know from everyday life, automaticity is frequently used as an excuse for poor service or bad behavior. In a battle situation it may be used to excuse acts which if committed by a human would be deemed reprehensible.
Incidentally, once you have a robot capable of autonomously making high level ethical decisions based upon its sensory data you've solved the grounding problem, and are a good way towards solving the AGI problem, in which case a technological singularity is pretty close at hand and you'll have a lot more to think about than merely military applications.