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The military will lead in robotic development 2010-Dec-29 at 16:27 PST

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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And that’s OK.

It makes sense.  The U.S. military has the most to gain from using robots on the battlefield… every robot that does the job that a human might do keeps a man or woman out of harm’s way.

From War Machines: Recruiting Robots for Combat, by John Markoff, 27-Nov-2010:

And while smart machines are already very much a part of modern warfare, the Army and its contractors are eager to add more. New robots — none of them particularly human-looking — are being designed to handle a broader range of tasks, from picking off snipers to serving as indefatigable night sentries.

Three backpack-clad technicians, standing out of the line of fire, operate the three robots with wireless video-game-style controllers. One swivels the video camera on the armed robot until it spots a sniper on a rooftop. The machine gun pirouettes, points and fires in two rapid bursts. Had the bullets been real, the target would have been destroyed.

“One of the great arguments for armed robots is they can fire second,” said Joseph W. Dyer, a former vice admiral and the chief operating officer of iRobot, which makes robots that clear explosives as well as the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner. When a robot looks around a battlefield, he said, the remote technician who is seeing through its eyes can take time to assess a scene without firing in haste at an innocent person.

Although there is a risk of lowering the barrier-to-entry for war by sending robots rather than humans to do the fighting, our main threat (and therefore our main area of military focus) over the next 40 years is going to be terrorists, not other nations, and most terrorists won’t be able to afford these robots.  Of course, they have suicide bombers, which enable some sophisticated kinds of attacks that aren’t otherwise possible.

Better they bomb a bunch of robots, for now.

One thing I wonder about… when the military has a significant number of these kinds of robots, and AI grows up, someone will mix that peanut butter and chocolate and we’ll have some military-specific robots that are capable of performing some sophisticated decision-making.  When that happens, will we still be so cavalier about sending them into battle, when we know that they’re exhibiting identifiable signs of intelligence?  And will we eventually have to establish a command structure in the military that includes AI-based commanders?

I’m guessing that, at some point in the next 40 years, we’ll have artificial intelligence capable of holding an officer’s rank, and probably General or Admiral.

P.S. Sorry I’ve been away… working on the book!  I’ll try to do both now… walk and chew gum.  I can do this.