robots set to replace humans in warfare
"Insurgents…you can run but you can’t hide”,
claim developers at Foster-Miller in describing abilities of their TALON
robot fighting machines. These cunning creatures are about to strap on guns and
go to war. Using cameras for eyes, they can creep through terrain and fire
machine guns, grenades, and rockets with lethal accuracy nearly 100 percent of
This is all part of the Army’s Future Combat
Systems, a $200 billion attempt to maintain America’s lead as the world’s most
daunting military superpower. (www.army.mil/fcs)
Eighteen Talons will report for duty in Iraq by April of this year.
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an
online military research firm, sees many advantages with robo-soldiers. They
don’t get hungry or forget orders; they are not afraid; they don’t care if the
guy next to them has just been shot; and they don’t have loved ones who miss
them. Can they do a better job than humans? The Pentagon says yes; and robots
could replace most human soldiers in less than a decade.
Today’s robots are remote-controlled and look
more like a lethal toy truck. But as new technologies emerge, they will become
far more human-like. NanoSonic, a Blacksburg VA company, has developed "metal
rubber”, which they say could be used as robot skin, enabling more human-like
appearance and sensitivity. And Carnegie Mellon researchers recently created an
electronic link allowing monkeys to command robot arms. This system, they say,
will someday let humans command robots with just their thoughts.
A battalion of 120 "smart dust” robots will
soon be fitted with swarm intelligence software enabling them to mimic insect
behavior. The Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) has ordered development
of these tiny creatures that can hover in the air to gather information, or
deliver mind-altering drugs to an enemy that would remove all hostile thoughts.
Although most people believe war and killing
are wrong, analysts predict spin-offs from robo-soldiers will bring huge
benefits to society. Computers were first developed to calculate missile
trajectories and break enemy codes, and the Internet began with funds from DARPA.
Commercial applications drive this
robot future forward. Harvard’s Roger Brockett believes robots will soon become
companions to seniors and children. They will be smarter than dogs and require
less maintenance. Sony, Honda, and Toyota will soon produce robots that speak
and understand crude language, recognize family members by sight and perform
many butler, chef and maid services.
While today’s robo-soldiers take
some actions on their own, such as following set routes, they still rely on
human handlers. But tomorrow’s robots, armed with sophisticated vision and
human-like intelligence, will act more on their own. Will this become dangerous,
The history of warfare suggests
that every new technological leap – the longbow, the tank, the atomic bomb – has
outraced the strategy and doctrine to control it. As the first lethal robots
head for battle in Iraq this spring, experts wonder if we’re on the right track.
Clearly the road to robot development winds
around unknown, possibly even dangerous turns. But strong public support drives
this amazing future forward and it will unfold in our lifetime.
This article appeared in various print publications and
on-line blogs. Comments always welcome