Military Robotics

Robots, Terrorists, and Morals

Posted 9 Nov 2002 at 17:15 UTC by steve Share This

When a car carrying six Islamic terrorists was blown up recently by a Hellfire-C missle fired from a Predator RQ-1A UAV, most US news stories expressed relief and a little pride. Relief at having 6 fewer terrorists and pride in the technology. Some non-US stories seem more reserved or undecided, though Jane's remains objective as usual. Despite the incident being part of a war declared first by Al-Qaeda and then by the US, Amnesty International and World Socialist News still question whether the action violates international law or moral standards. Other experts on the topic disagree. All of this controversy is over a robot remotely controlled by humans. What sort of reaction will we see the first time a fully autonomous robot like the X-45 UCAV engages the enemy? One interesting thought is that while the robot's action violated the first of Asimov's laws, it would have been allowed under his zeroth law. Best quote from any of these articles: "Al-Qaeda's zealots never thought they would be fighting American robots -- and losing." from the Washinton Post story.

Gen2 American soldiers, posted 9 Nov 2002 at 17:54 UTC by ROB.T. » (Master)

To my mind the problem isn't that U.S. forces are using unmanned drones to project U.S. military power across the globe, but that they aren't using enough of them. If the U.S. had a militarily oriented light armored semiautonomous robotic force (leg/wheel combo), ``Tora Bora'' type problems would be reduced in stature from a major problem to a minor nuisance. Various hotbeds around the world could be pacified via occupation by semi-autonomous robotic platforms hosting a combination of the considerable technologies that the U.S. already has.

I have seen no indication that the DOD has dared to dream of semiautonomous soldiers replacing their human counterparts on the battlefield - I'm hoping there is a black project somewhere working on it. (That way I don't have to start one :->)

Robots and Empire, posted 9 Nov 2002 at 19:44 UTC by motters » (Master)

I think it's unlikely that Asimov's laws have been violated in this case, since I bet that this type of UAV is at best a semi-autonomous system which isn't capable of taking high level decisions like what vehicle to fire at. A remote human operator sitting in a leather armchair stroking a pussycat probably pressed the destruct button in this particular case.

It would be tempting to think of this as a landmark example of a robotic soldier killing its human enemy, but actually semi autonomous or even completely autonomous weapons have been around for decades in the form of guided missiles. To me this seems like a logical progression on preexisting technologies.

- Bob

To motters point, posted 11 Nov 2002 at 02:05 UTC by braceman » (Observer)

To motters point, in world war 2 the US developed a guided missile (though never implemented) that utilized a pidgeon or dove (i can't remember which). It worked like this: The pidgeon had been taught to peck at the picture of a battleship. The viewport of the rocket allowed a view of the ocean once in the vicinity of the enemy ship, with the window broken up into 4 quadrants. The pidgeon would peck at the ship, and the quadrant that was tapped would register this. The rocket would then adjust accordingly. At the time, I'm sure that this would have raised hackles - the notion of a pidgeon selecting a target.... In any event, doesn't it seem that there should be some guidelines or understandings developed before we have this (semiautonomous) type of technology?

Bat Bomb, posted 11 Nov 2002 at 15:21 UTC by jeffkoenig » (Master)

From the book:

"It was a crazy way to win World War II in the Pacific - All the United States had to do was to attach small incendiary bombs to millions of bats and release them over Japan's major cities. As the bats went to roost, a million fires would flare up in remote crannies of the wood and paper buildings common throughout Japan. When their cities were reduced to ashes, the Japanese would surely capitulate..."

If you can find this book, it is an excellent story of the development of this weapon, written by one of the team members. It's also a fun read, heavy on the humor. I originally bought it to prove to others that the Bat Bomb was indeed a real project.

"Bat Bomb" by Jack Couffer, 1992. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0- 292-70790-8

Don't forget the WWII Japanese Fire Bomb attacks, posted 11 Nov 2002 at 22:20 UTC by earlwb » (Master)

The Japanese in WWII attempted to start forest fies in the Northwest United States during WWII. They used balloons with incendiary devices attached, with a simple altitude/weight dropping system to cause the payload to be dropped over the target. Fairly low tech, and maybe would have been more successful if it wasn't for the fact that the Northwest is really wet and soggy for much of the year.

They may have killed or injured six people with the antipersonnel bomb versions. But since the war was still on, the officials kept it all secret.

that's our own wishful thinking, posted 13 Nov 2002 at 18:07 UTC by evilrobots » (Observer)

I am afraid that "Al-Qaeda's zealots never thought they would be fighting American robots - and losing." is our own wishful thinking.

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