London: Scientists feel that robots can replace humans on the battlefield quite soon, thus bringing about a military revolution.
Most of the robots currently deployed on land deal with non-combat tasks such as bomb disposal - unlike lethal aerial drones. But, according to a report by BBC News, Bob Quinn, who works for the US subsidiary of the British robot manufacturer QinetiQ, says the future promises more armed robots on the battlefield, including driverless vehicles.
“The closer you are to being shot, the more you understand the value of having a remote weapons capability,” he said.
He stresses the need to make sure “that the weaponised robots only operate under the control of the soldier and never independently”.
“When you talk about autonomous robots, a natural response might be to programme them to be ethical,” said US academic Patrick Lin, who was recently commissioned by the US military to study robot ethics.
A striking example of a robot in need of careful programming is a driverless vehicle developed by the Pentagon, called the EATR. It can refuel itself on long journeys by scavenging for organic material, which raises the haunting spectre of a machine consuming corpses on the battlefield.
Its inventor, Dr Robert Finkelstein of Robotic Technology Inc, insists it will consume “organic material but mostly vegetarian.”
“The robot can only do what it’s programmed to do, it has a menu,” he adds.
According to Dr Patrick Lin from California Polytechnic, “If there’s an area of fighting that’s so intense that you can assume that anyone there is a combatant, then unleash the robots in that kind of scenario. Some people call that a kill box. Any target (in a kill box) is assumed to be a legitimate target.”
Other researchers suggest robots may avoid the faults of human soldiers.
“Robots that are programmed properly are less likely to make errors and kill non-combatants, innocent people, because they’re not emotional, they won’t be afraid, act irresponsibly in some situations,” said Robert Finkelstein.
The military revolution in robotics has already advanced rapidly in the air, where remotely piloted drone aircraft are now central to conflicts such as Afghanistan.
First Published: Tuesday, February 09, 2010, 19:03