Sunday, February 1, 2009

Robots at War: The New Battlefield

An article excerpted from P.W. Singer's new book, Wired for War is in the latest issue of The Wilson Quarterly. Throughout this article Singer reinforces our concern that the talk of "keeping humans in the loop" does not reflect that increasing autonomy of robots carrying lethal weapons. He also underscores our concern that robotic armies will make wars more likely.

Here are a few quotes from the article:

The reality is that the human location “in the loop” is already becoming, as retired Army colonel Thomas Adams notes, that of “a supervisor who serves in a fail-safe capacity in the event of a system malfunction.” Even then, he thinks that the speed, confusion, and information overload of modern-day war will soon move the whole process outside “human space.” He describes how the coming weapons “will be too fast, too small, too numerous, and will create an environment too complex for humans to direct.”

. . . Perhaps most telling is a report that the Joint Forces Command drew up in 2005, which suggested that autonomous robots on the battlefield would be the norm within 20 years. Its title is somewhat amusing, given the official line one usually hears: Unmanned Effects: Taking the Human Out of the Loop.

So, despite what one article called “all the lip service paid to keeping a human in the loop,” autonomous armed robots are coming to war. They simply make too much sense to the people who matter.

. . . Lawrence J. Korb is one of the deans of Washington's defense policy establishment. . . . In 2007, i asked him what he thought was the most important overlooked ussue in Washington defense circles. He answered, "Robotics and all this unmanned stuff. What are the effects? Will it make war more likely?"

Korb is a great supporter of unmanned systems for a simple reason: "They save lives." But he worries about their effect on the perceptions and psychologies of war, not merely among foreign publics and media, but also at home. . . . Robotics "will further disconnect the military from society. People are more likely to support the use of force as long as they view it as costless." Even more worrisome, a new kind of voyeurism enabled by the emerging technologies will make the public more susceptible to atttempts to sell the ease of a potenital war. "There will be more marketing of wars. More 'shock and awe' talk to defray discussion of the costs."

. . . Thus, robots may entail a dark irony. By appearing to lower the human costs of war, they may seduce us into more wars.

1 comment:

kgrifant said...

I've just begun this book and already find it absorbing. Singer's combination of history, mainstream media references and overall depth of knowledge makes this a good resource for anyone interesting in learning how robotics and A.I. are rapidly changing the battlefield.