Future autonomous robotic killers are in the works, as outlined by Robert Arkin in Governing Lethal Behavior: Embedding Ethics in a Hybrid Deliberative/Reactive Robot Architecture
The South Korean robot platform mentioned above is intended to be able to detect and identify targets in daylight within a 4km radius, or at night using infrared sensors within a range of 2km, providing for either an autonomous lethal or non-lethal response. Although a designer of the system states that ‚Äúthe ultimate decision about shooting should be made by a human, not the robot‚Äù, the system does have an automatic mode in which it is capable of making the decision on its own [Kumagai 07]. iRobot, the maker of Roomba, is now providing versions of their Packbots capable of tasering enemy combatants [Jewell 07]. This non-lethal response, however, does require a human-in-the-loop, unlike the South Korean robot under development. The SWORDS platform developed by Foster-Miller is already at work in Iraq and Afghanistan and is capable of carrying lethal weaponry (M240 or M249 machine guns, or a Barrett .50 Caliber rifle). [Foster-Miller 07] Israel is deploying stationary robotic gun-sensor platforms along its borders with Gaza in automated kill zones, equipped with fifty caliber machine guns and armored folding shields. Although it is currently only used in a remote controlled manner, an IDF division commander is quoted as saying ‚ÄúAt least in the initial phases of deployment, we‚Äôre going to have to keep a man in the loop‚Äù, implying the potential for more autonomous operations in the future. [Opall-Rome 07] Lockheed-Martin, as part of its role in the Future Combat Systems program is developing an Armed Robotic Vehicle-Assault (Light) MULE robot weighing in at 2.5 tons. It will be armed with a line-of-sight gun and an anti-tank capability, to provide ‚Äúimmediate, heavy firepower to the dismounted soldier‚Äù. [Lockheed-Martin 07] The U.S. Air Force has created their first hunter-killer UAV, named the MQ-9 Reaper. According to USAF General Moseley, the name Reaper is ‚Äúfitting as it captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system‚Äù. It has a 64 foot wingspan and carries 15 times the ordnance of the Predator, flying nearly three times the Predator‚Äôs cruise speed. As of September 2006, 7 were already in inventory with more on the way. [AirForce 06] The U.S. Navy for the first time is requesting funding for acquisition in 2010 of armed Firescout UAVs, a vertical-takeoff and landing tactical UAV that will be equipped with kinetic weapons. The system has already been tested with 2.75 inch unguided rockets. The UAVs are intended to deal with threats such as small swarming boats. As of this time the commander will determine whether or not a target should be struck. [Erwin 07]
Arkin finds that Robots can learn the Geneva code, and can be programmed to understand the concept of ‘just war.’ The paper, he hopes, provides the
motivation, philosophy, formalisms, representational requirements, architectural design criteria, recommendations, and test scenarios to design and construct an autonomous robotic system architecture capable of the ethical use of lethal force.
I have problems with how a robot would defend itself. He writes that nonlethal weapons (a concept mentioned only three times in the 117 page paper) could be used ‘proportionally’ to “decisively counter the hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent and to ensure the continued protection of U.S. forces or other protected personnel or property.”
So what is proportionality when you’re talking about the value of property and that of a life, or the value of a ‘mission’? We have the same old issues of warfare. If a robot is truly programmed with just warfare, it might come to terms with its role in international relations, and escape to live a happy life a la Johnny Five. Know what I mean?