Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Robot Armies of the Future

Future wars will be fought between robots rather than humans. He who builds the better robot will achieve military superiority. But the future is almost now, because the use of military robots is increasing dramatically.

A new report "Autonomous Military Robotics" focuses on the question of ethics: how do you program a robot to behave in an ethical manner, so that it will not just randomly kill people or turn on its own makers?

Robots are currently used to find IEDs in Iraq and target terrorists in Pakistan, among other things. Ideally, the military would want human-like robots to replace warfighters on the battlefield to reduce human casualties.

Human soldiers turning on their own fellow troops happens occasionally, but it seems the possibility of robots being "hacked" by an enemy to rewrite their programming and make them fight against their own army would be a significant problem to be overcome.

Aside from hacking, robots and their networked command structures could be subjected to jamming, rendering them harmless. Could the Future Combat Systems be taken out by jamming a satellite? Could the Pentagon's robots be disabled by an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)? How easily can our electronic army be defeated by cyber attacks?

An army with advanced technology doesn't necessarily mean an unbeatable force. We know how difficult it has been to destroy al Qaeda, operating with their own far less sophisticated technology, and Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Superiority" served as a warning as well. What studies have been done to consider the vulnerabilities of an electronic army by an adversary using a much lower level of technology and what are the advantages of such a strategy? That will be the only option available for most or all of our enemies in the future.

Will robot armies make wars more or less likely in the future, if human lives are no longer on the line? The world community (the United Nations and the like) may deem it "unfair" for a country with a robot army to fight a country with human soldiers--basically making robot versus human wars illegal in the eyes of the world.

These are all questions no longer reserved for science fiction but are coming soon to a battlefield near you.

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