Ethics Repercussion of Robotic on the Battlefield
(Micro robotic “insect robot” systems get personal)
Current Army robotics strategy identifies only unmanned vehicles’ replacement of soldier tasks that are repetitive and/or dangerous in nature, based on technology of the near future. However, moon landings, PCs and lasers were examples of science fiction later to become reality. We are now at a crossroads where technological advances have moved beyond both concepts and policies regarding autonomous robots.
(UK-military-robot-plans system future development)
Given emerging technologies like a Watson, the intent of this article is to be a catalyst for discussion on the future implications of AI on operations across the war-fighting functions, and for the military to look again at policies on autonomous robots and its current robotics strategy.
Is the Army robotics strategy correct?
Because of rapid evolution in technology, the Army strategy toward robotics needs updating. While it was appropriate for technologies of the near term, computers like Watson were nonexistent at the time of concept development. Unquestionably, sophisticated AI converging with other potential technologies, such as non-silicon-based or nonbinary computing, will bring computers to another level, with significant ramifications for military operations.
The ad hoc nature of employment of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Iraq and Afghanistan is an example in the lag in concept development. Initially, commanders on the ground didn’t have a clear concept of how to employ unmanned systems. Now the Army is using more than 3,000 UGVs and has flown more than 400,000 sorties of UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan. All are operated by a human operator in a safe location. This relationship could change once autonomous capabilities improve.
Army robotics strategy has its basis in multiple documents. The Congressional National Defense Authorization Act states that by 2010, one-third of the operational deep-strike aircraft of the armed forces will be unmanned, and by 2015, one-third of the operational ground combat vehicles of the armed forces will be unmanned. This is just over three years away, and yet there is little significant headway in attaining this goal.
Another key document is the Office of the Secretary of Defense Unmanned Systems Roadmap (2009-2034), in which four key missions are described: reconnaissance and surveillance; target identification and designation; counter-mine warfare; and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive tactics.LS3 All Terrain Military Robot “Mule” Could Play a Green Role, Too
Boston Dynamics has just won a $32 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop LS3, a walking robot. Also known as the Legged Squad Support System, the purpose of the LS3 is to serve as a robotic mule to aid in combat operations by carrying supplies over rough terrain.
The Army Capabilities Integration Center’s (ARCIC) Science and Technology Division and Tank-Automotive Research and Development Engineering Center jointly published a Robotics Strategy white paper in March 2009 in which they identified 32 soldier tasks to be replaced by robots in five categories: logistics, security, engineering, medical and maintenance. A feasibility analysis followed in which each task was rated as most-feasible, potentially feasible, and near-term infeasible, based on schedule, cost and complexity.
AUTONOMY AND CULTURE
Culture is an even bigger issue than technology. Perceived “Terminator-style” robots ranging the battlefield are still an anathema to U.S. culture. Policies regarding usage do not adequately address the advances in autonomy and the future capabilities that AI will allow.
Due to the lack of trust, having a human in the loop is still the default for armed robots, given the risk of killing innocent civilians. This is despite the fact that accidental civilian deaths have occurred with armed Predators operated by humans.
(military medical robot early develop met prototype)
(military medical robot early develop met prototype)
The medical community is also wary of autonomous robots treating humans. Even the new Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot, or BEAR, is still manipulated by a human operator. Another concern is the degree that soldiers are replaced by robots. The current intent is to supplant tasks, particularly dull and repetitive ones, to free soldiers for other missions. Hypothetically, what if robots become so good that soldiers are no longer needed? A military purist would argue that a human soldier can never be replaced by a robot. However, advancements in AI are proving that ever-increasingly complex tasks can be handled without human intervention. As an example, debates over a replacement helicopter for the Kiowa are shaped over the alternative solution of UASs. Where will all the helicopter pilots go? Nobody wants to be unemployed.
This argument is analogous to the post-World War I fight between the horse cavalry and the tank. In hindsight, the debate seems almost comical. We are once again at a crossroads of military development that technology has brought upon us. In a time of budget constraint, investment in robotics will compete for other program dollars. In addition to the research and development and procurement costs, concept experimentation needs resourcing. The current Army budget provides $54 million per year for applied research and advanced technology development for unmanned vehicle technology. Additional funding is needed for future robotics programs of record.