April 01 2008 / by Accel Rose
Category: Technology Year: General Rating: 7
In what appears to be the first concerted effort to keep robotic warriors off the battlefield, an English lobbying group named Landmine Action “hopes to ban autonomous killing robots in all 150 countries bound by the current land mine treaty”, reports Jason Mick over at Daily Tech .
Richard Moyes, Landmine Action’s director of policy and research, explains, “That decision to detonate is still in the hands of an electronic sensor rather than a person. Our concern is that humans, not sensors, should make targeting decisions. So similarly, we don’t want to move towards robots that make decisions about combatants and noncombatants.”
The organization hopes to sway the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International, two leading organizations in war ethics lobbying. Landmine Action is spurred on by Sharkey’s comments, including his statement that, “We should not use autonomous armed robots unless they can discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. And that will be never.”
Never say never, Richard.
While the regulation of battlefield robots may make sense on some levels, it seems completely illogical to discount the possibility that robots will eventually, probably within 10-20 years, get better at discriminating between warriors and civilians than us humans. Systems that can swiftly determine human behavior and motivations based on readings are a distinct near term possibility – and that’s just one technology out of many that could prove his statement false.
What’s even more ironic is that complex robots may be just what Landmine Action needs in the near-term to defuse dangerous explosives and landmines. Researchers have in fact already developed a robot that can be used to dismantle bombs remotely, a technology that will no doubt save many lives.
Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seriously contemplate the international regulation of battlefield robots, but I do believe that a carefully reasoned approach to war robotics rather than a knee-jerk anti-tech reaction is in order. Technology is neutral. It can both help and hurt. If it’s progress that we seek as a whole, then the emphasis should be placed on learning and studying rather than banning.