Robo-Warriors: Part One

Been a lot of talk this week in the blogosphere regarding the New Face of Killer Robots, thanks to a well-time PR land-grab by a robotics dude at the University of Sheffield, who warns us that it’s only a matter of time before terrorists start deploying robots against us. This overstates the problem. We’re a long, LONG way from the days of a robot being cheaper than a human. Just because it’s a jihad doesn’t mean the laws of economics don’t still hold sway. “Let me see, I can either build a super-expensive mobile robot or I can recruit some teenage fanatic. Hmm. I JUST CAN’T DECIDE.”

Still, hyperbole aside, the underlying point being raised here is a good one, particularly with UAVs buzzing all over Afghanistan and similar ground-vehicles now under development. Part of the problem in calling for an agreement to “limit” such weapons or determine rules for them is that right now the U.S. is the only nation that is anywhere near close to tapping the full range of operational potential that such assets afford. Russia fielded some recon units in Chechnya, but they’re a long way from the general’s wet dream of being able to watch your enemies on a screen while you sit back, open up a sixpack, and hit the KILL button. As with space weapons, this is an area in which the U.S. maintains a decisive advantage, and they’re unlikely to be held back by calls for international agreements from those who can only wish they had this kind of hardware to fuck around with.

But the key variable in all this is the level of sophistication of the robot brain that’s targeting that terrorist strongpoint on the next street corner/deciding that maybe those kids hanging around on that corner are actually just innocent bystanders. Even soldiers have trouble with this (as so many headlines from Iraq underscore), and robots are a long way from getting to this kind of threshold. Fast-foward enough years/tech development, and the questions become very interesting though. To be continued . . .

2 Responses to “Robo-Warriors: Part One”

  1. Pak AKA Chew Says:

    I have seen some of the same reports and I agree that the usage of robotics by “terrorists” – at least as the term is used to describe the typical islamic jihadist – may not prove likely in the near future, I wouldn’t forget the same possibility by other “terrorists” entirely – as ultra-nationalists, christian extremists and separatists of all sorts also still exist.

    Also in some news reports – the amount of sophistication in IEDs in Iraq has grown by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the occupation and does demonstrate their willingness towards technological improvisation so if we fast forward 10, 20, 30 years I think any predictions we make today will certainly require our return for reconsideration.

    Either way – I would stay out of the Sand Box. It might not be a robot – but semtex + ball bearings and a cell phone will still kill you dead :-D

  2. JamesW Says:

    What I got out of the Sharkey article is that we’re one step closer to the Butlerian Jihad, but it may not look quite like Terminator squads scorching the earth. Pak’s semtex/cell phone device strapped to a remote controlled or laser-guided toy plane wouldn’t need an AI to do its job.