Saturday, October 4, 2008

Battlefield Bots

iRobot Corp has just received a $3.75 million R&D contract from the US Army to build two iRobot warrior platforms.

IRobot said in a press release: "A powerful and rugged robot, the iRobot Warrior can perform a variety of critical missions such as evaluating danger zones and inaccessible areas, providing real-time video, audio, and sensor readings to warfighters and SWAT teams. The robot will feature an advanced digital architecture and a multi-mission chassis that supports up to 150-pound (68 kg) payloads."
In all the excitement over replace existing cannon fodder with our new robot minions, it's important to consider the ethical rationale and concerns about autonomous weapons on the 21st century battlefield. Good thing the US Army is thinking about ethics, while developing the robots. Or at least, fact-checking how much popular opposition they might encounter on ethical/legal grounds. A survey completed last October by Georgia Tech's Mobile Robot Lab asked the public, politicians, roboticists and military personnel questions like:
"In which roles and situations is the use of such robots acceptable? What does it mean to behave ethically in warfare? Who, and to what extent, is responsible for any lethal errors made? What are the benefits and concerns for use of such robots?"
The full report is here, but in particular note the following findings:

So, let's see, R&D in this area is proceeding apace despite a concern that robot warriors will lower the threshold for resorting to armed violence, and that "our" soldiers' protection will come at the expense of "their" civilians' lives.

Kenneth Anderson has the latest in a series of posts on legal issues at Opinio Juris.

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