Military robots

From: Philip Sutton (
Date: Wed Feb 27 2008 - 06:22:18 MST

ABC News
Wednesday February 27, 2008
(For more news visit ABC News Online at

*Killer robots 'a threat to humanity'*

Increasingly autonomous, gun-toting robots developed for warfare could
easily fall into the hands of terrorists and may one day unleash a robot
arms race, a top expert on artificial intelligence says.

"They pose a threat to humanity," University of Sheffield professor Noel
Sharkey said, ahead of a keynote address before Britain's Royal United
Services Institute.

Intelligent machines deployed on battlefields around the world - from
mobile grenade launchers to rocket-firing drones - can already identify
and lock onto targets without human help.

There are more than 4,000 US military robots on the ground in Iraq, as
well as unmanned aircraft that have clocked hundreds of thousands of
flight hours.

The first three armed combat robots fitted with large-calibre machine guns
deployed to Iraq last summer, manufactured by US arms maker Foster-Miller,
proved so successful that 80 more are on order, Professor Sharkey said.

But up to now, a human hand has always been required to push the button or
pull the trigger.

It we are not careful, he said, that could change.

"[Military leaders] are quite clear that they want autonomous robots as
soon as possible, because they are more cost-effective and give a
risk-free war," he said.

Several countries, led by the United States, have already invested heavily
in robot warriors developed for use on the battlefield.

South Korea and Israel both deploy armed robot border guards, while China,
India, Russia and Britain have all increased the use of military robots.

The US Government plans to spend $4.28 billion by 2010 on unmanned
technology systems, with total spending expected rise to $25.7 billion,
according to the Department of Defence's Unmanned Systems Roadmap
2007-2032, released in December.

Human-robot ratio

James Canton, an expert on technology innovation and chief executive of
the Institute for Global Futures, predicts that deployment within a decade
of detachments that will include 150 soldiers and 2,000 robots.

The use of such devices by terrorists should be a serious concern,
Professor Sharkey said.

Captured robots would not be difficult to reverse engineer, and could
easily replace suicide bombers as the weapon-of-choice.

"I don't know why that has not happened already," he said.

But even more worrisome, he continued, is the subtle progression from the
semi-autonomous military robots deployed today to fully independent
killing machines.

"I have worked in artificial intelligence for decades, and the idea of a
robot making decisions about human termination terrifies me," he said.


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