As the age of the robots exponentially approaches, companies race to provide the very best in robotic limbs, and machine-gun mounted war machines. New technological advancement provides an opportunity to use robots to save and improve lives, whilst also causing great concern over the morals of using certain robots, which could potentially take lives.
For anyone who still lives in the 1990’s robot wars is no longer just that show which Craig Charles hosted. That was merely a preliminary to what was to come. Now, the advancement of military technology has lead to the development of drones, bomb squad robots, and cyborg modifications for soldiers.
The good news is that much of the throwbacks of military technology eventually ends up leading to a more convenient life; robots that can mow the lawn really neatly, or can replace the girl on the checkout making labour costs cheaper for Walmart. If anyone needs more examples of military-gifted conveniences look no further than the smartphone, computers, and GI Joe.
Much of the planet’s technology is the direct result of military research. All of those twinkly satellites were not launched into space to orbit the planet merely so that car drivers could enjoy Mr T’s voice telling them to “Turn right, fool!” They were primarily to assist soldiers in war.
As a result it is easy to see the multi-faceted nature of technological advancement; the same pair of robotic legs which can help a person to walk again, could also be used to create a more powerful soldier. Whether or not a person is fully in favor of the age of the robots, is probably, at least in part a matter of moral opinion, and their views towards the use of robots in war.
Either way there is no denying how incredible the technology is, and how fast it is moving. It is both marvelous, and for some, a little intimidating. Anyone can see how much technical genius is on display when a robot learns how to handle a ball, but what about when it learns to handle a gun? How intelligent is it really, to teach a robot how to shoot a person?
The military currently uses robots for many reasons, some of them more agreeable than others. The company iRobot (Remember that film?) for example, display some of their “defence and security” products on their site. An example is the iRobot 110 Firstlook, which can be deployed to enter a potentially dangerous situation, and can provide situational awareness with a variety of informational updates.
Other military robots, such as the Mesa Robotics ACER robot, can clear out explosives, pull vehicles and cargo, and plough through minefields to prevent humans from having to do so. The Northrop Grumman Global Hawk, is a UAV device which provides satellite information from the air, and represents one of the many flying robots used for military purpose.
As long as war is abound, it may as well be robots losing their parts to bomb disposal and minefields, rather than human lives being lost. The moral boundary only becomes more than a little blurry when one considers the prospect of placing a grenade launcher and an M249 SAW machine gun turret on top of a robot.
Foster-Miller have manufactured a small TALON robot which is capable of being mounted with machine guns or a Barrett-50 calibre rifle. Great! Really clever idea. With commercial companies working on offensive war robots it is little wonder why many have reservations in their morals about where this sort of technologic advancement will lead.
It is one thing for a robot to save a life, and an entirely different one for a robot to take a life. The dehumanization of the act of killing is a devastating blow to the standards of morals. Even if the robots are remote controlled, the act of killing via a machine begins to resemble a video game. As if to highlight this point, the robot controllers are often indistinguishable from a games console control pad.
This would be all well and good were war fought between two teams of robots that met on a prescribed battlefield. Whoever kills the other countries lead robot first wins the war, and subsequent democratic peacemaking would follow. Then war would be similar to Robot Wars with Craig Charles.
Unfortunately, this has rarely, if ever, been the case, and war can often happen on the doorsteps of innocent people. The dark vision of robot killing machines entering civilian territories, is enough to disturb even the most militant minded individual.
Somewhat reassuringly most of the robots in use do not act autonomously. Usually, they are remote controlled by soldiers, and lack the AI to function fully on their own. In the case that they hold autonomous abilities they are still often deployed by a human, and if they should malfunction, can be quickly switched to safe mode.
Hopefully, it will remain that way, and no humans will ever be under threat from an autonomous robot with a gun!
For all this talk of military robots, one must not lose sight of the fact that some advances in robotics are helping to save lives. There are many lifesaving robots out there inspiring new hope, and granting humans with opportunities that would not have been available to them in the past.
For example, a man who’s leg was amputated after a motorcycle incident, was given a robotic leg hooked up to his nerves, which he was capable of moving with his mind. Many people have seen benefit from robotic leg technology, among other advances, giving them the option to walk again.
The military technology mentioned above, such as a Firstlook, or a TALON, can be used to save lives. Whether in the case of a fire to scout the building for survivors, incase of a bomb to assist with it’s removal, or to investigate a chemical contamination, robots can deal with situations both within, and beyond a military context, which save the pain, suffering, and life of human beings.
It is perhaps useful to view the robotic technologies as essentially neutral. Rather, it is the intention behind the uses of the technology which provides the moral slant, and the inclination to fear the world of robots. Like nuclear technology, and probably just as much of a game-changer, robots can be used to create better lives, or to destroy them.
It is a huge responsibility on the part of the manufacturers, governments, and corporations of the world, to utilize the technological advancement of robots with a sense of morals, for the betterment of humankind, and not just for war.
By Matthew Warburton