Author Peter Singer wrote in the July 2010 Scientific American about "one of the most profound changes in modern warfare since the advent of gunpowder or the airplane:  an astonishingly rapid rise in the use of robots on the battlefield."[1]  --  Singer defines robots as "machines built to operate in a 'sense-think-act' paradigm."  --  Though "[n]ot a single robot ac­­companied the U.S. advance from Ku­­wait toward Baghdad in 2003," there are now some "7,000 'unmanned' aircraft and another 12,000 ground vehicles" in the U.S. military inventory," including "Fire Scout unmanned helicopters," "Protector robot sentry motorboats," Pack-Bot bomb defusers, and, of course, Predator and Global Hawk drones.  --  Some new robots "have literally no form at all.  ChemBot, a creation of the University of Chicago and iRobot, is a bloblike machine that shifts shape, such that it is able to squeeze through a hole in the wall."  --  Some miniaturized robots are measured in millimeters and grams, and "nanoscale robotics" is coming, along with gigantic systems like Lockheed Martin's High-Altitude Airship, "an unmanned blimp that carries a radar the length of a football field, designed to fly at above 19,800 meters for more than a month at a time."  --  After initial resistance military élites have "embraced a war of the machines as a means of combating an irregular enemy."  --  "One U.S. Air Force three-star general forecasts that the next major U.S. conflict will involve not the thousands of robots currently in the field but 'tens of thousands.'  --  Future soldiers may act as quarterbacks for robotic teammates.  --  "[B]ut the growing  use of robots also raises deep political, legal, and ethical questions about the fundamental nature of warfare and whether these technologies could inadvertently make wars easier to start."  --  Because they can reduce and even eliminate an army's casualties, robotic warfare like the drone war now going on in Pakistan's border territories "is not even considered a war, because it comes without any cost in U.S. human lives."  --  And to "go to war" for soldiers can now mean to "wake up, drive to work, sit in front of computers and use robotic systems to battle insurgents 11,300 kilometers away.  At the end of a day 'at war,' they get back in their cars, drive home and, as one U.S. Air Force officer puts it:  'Within 20 minutes you are sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids.'"  --  Peter Singer is the author of Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (Penguin, 2009)....


1.

WAR OF THE MACHINES

By Peter W. Singer

** Robots on and above the battlefield are bringing about the most profound transformation of warfare since the advent of the atom bomb **

Scientific American

July 2010
Pages 56-63

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=war-of-the-machines (purchase required for full article)

KEY CONCEPTS


*  The U.S. military once shunned robots as obstacles to traditional soldiering.

* “Unmanned” systems have proliferated in conflicts in the Middle East, either helping to negotiate the urban labyrinth of streets and alleyways or acting as scouts in remote villages.

* As robots do more on their own, they continue to raise a host of ethical and legal issues.

***

Back in the early 1970s, a handful of scientists, engineers, defense contractors, and U.S. Air Force officers got together to form a professional group.  They were essentially trying to solve the same problem:  how to build machines that can operate on their own without human control and to figure out ways to convince both the pub­lic and a reluctant Pentagon brass that ro­­bots on the battlefield are a good idea.  For decades they met once or twice a year, in relative obscurity, to talk over technical issues, exchange gossip, and renew old friendships.  This once cozy group, the Association for Un­­manned Systems International, now encompasses more than 1,500 member companies and organizations from 55 countries.  The growth happened so fast, in fact, that it found itself in something of an identity crisis.  At one of its meetings in San Diego, it even hired a “master storyteller” to help the group pull together the narrative of the amazing changes in robotic technology.  As one attendee summed up, “Where have we come from?  Where are we?  And where should we -- and where do we want to -- go?”

What prompted the group’s soul-searching is one of the most profound changes in modern warfare since the advent of gunpowder or the airplane:  an astonishingly rapid rise in the use of robots on the battlefield.  Not a single robot ac­­companied the U.S. advance from Ku­­wait toward Baghdad in 2003.  Since then, 7,000 “unmanned” aircraft and another 12,000 ground vehicles have entered the U.S. military inventory, entrusted with missions that range from seeking out snipers to bombing the hideouts of al-Qaeda higher-ups in Pakistan.  The world’s most powerful fighting forces, which once eschewed robots as unbecoming to their warrior culture, have now embraced a war of the machines as a means of combating an irregular enemy that triggers remote explosions with cell phones and then blends back into the crowd.  These robotic systems are not only having a big effect on how this new type of warfare is fought, but they also have initiated a set of contentious arguments about the implications of using ever more autonomous and intelligent machines in battle.  Moving soldiers out of harm’s way may save lives, but the growing  use of robots also raises deep political, legal and ethical questions about the fundamental nature of warfare and whether these technologies could inadvertently make wars easier to start.

 

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