Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Robots as warriors

We all know that wars have caused so much human casualties. And not only, that, wars have caused so much destruction to the environment. All those senseless bombings have obliterated tens of thousands of flora and fauna and natural habitats have been turned into smoky mountains.

I stumbled upon an article that features a move by America’s Department of Defense to try to replace much of its armed vehicles and other weaponry by sophisticated robots by 2015. While this may cause them to invest additional money for research and development, America claims that it may save them money as damaged robots are a lot cheaper that human death tolls.

Although I personally am not in favor of war in any form, I think this is a laudable move. For one, robots are more precise than humans. Say, if a robot aims at a particular target, it will be a closer hit. In contrast, human control in weaponry is subject to high inaccuracy and may cause catastrophic impact on the environment. Another thing is robots are very easy to replicate. In contrast, a dead army man can never ever be replaced even if cloning is possible.

The Pentagon has already been using robotic airplanes which are known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Al-Qaeda’s chief of military operations and one of Osama bin Ladens closes ally Mohammed Atef was killed by a firing from a remotely controlled UAV.

And to push the development further, the Pentagon is seriously considering developing robots which are capable of deciding when to use lethal force. This is in contrast to the remotely human controlled UAVs.

Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology is said to be developing some programs to simulate ethics for robots in the use of lethal force in the battlefield. He calls the method “multidimensional mathematical decision-space of possible behavior actions”. All the inputs from radar data to intelligence inputs are processed and are given corresponding ethical outputs. For computers geeks and programmers, this may be as simple as if-the-else structure but many specialists argue that ethics cannot be simply translated into several lines of computer codes. One very strong argument is regarding the garbage-in, garbage-out concept in computer science. What if the data input from radar data or intelligence data are wrong?

Well, my general view as an IT fan is that this is a good development. I am all for robotizing weapons. But more research should still be done as this involves not just the lives of people but the life of the planet as well. America is home to top-notch programmers and innovators so I have high hopes that the war robotic technology can be near perfect before 2015.

As for war, it is only the individual character of man that can stop or minimize its devastating effects. As long as man continues to disregard the harsh effects on war, no amount of high technology can prevent it from damaging this planet. Even if the old adage goes “to prevent war is to prepare for war”.

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