Relentless patrolling at the border. Night-long vigils, where smoking is the one recreation, but is prohibited because it could attract enemy fire. A tired private, bleary-eyed and cold, suddenly notices some movement across the border. He fires. A rabbit dies. His firing attracts the enemy, and the post gets wiped out.
In time to come, this kind of situation may not be common. The bots are here.
Really, who has robot soldiers, may we ask?
Already, South Korea and Israel are deploying armed robot border guards and China, Singapore and the UK are among those making increasing use of military robots. The biggest player yet is the US: robots are integral to its $230bn future combat systems project, a massive plan to develop unmanned vehicles that can strike from the air, under the sea and on land.
According to The Guardian, the US is treading on dangerous ground by deploying robots that can identify enemies and attack them with missiles.
Congress has set a goal of having one-third of ground combat vehicles unmanned by 2015. Over 4,000 robots are serving in Iraq at present, others in Afghanistan. And now they are armed.
When a semi-autonomous MQ-1 Predator self-navigated above a car full of al-Qaida suspects in 2002, the decision to vaporise them with Hellfire missiles was made by pilots 7,000 miles away. Predators and the more deadly Reaper robot attack planes have flown many missions since then with inevitable civilian deaths….
Today’s robots are designed to be autonomous. In other words, they can identify the enemy and take the decision to eliminate them. Therefore, the fear of a Terminator type of creature is haunting experts in Artificial Intelligence. The robot, it is feared, can be tricked into making judgment errors and shoot innocent civilians. An emotive example is of a robot shooting down a little girl pointing at it with an ice cream cone, mistaking her to be a gun-pointing enemy.
The robot cannot, it is argued, be allowed to judge a target and destroy it, because it could mistake a school bus full of children as one full of soldiers and eliminate them.
In previous posts, I have talked about my interactions with Rick Satava, who has been at the forefront of futuristic medical research at DARPA. Robots are now trained in evacuating injured soldiers from the battlefront. An automatised vehicle runs up to the injured soldier, its door opens up and a bed rolls under him and pulls him into the vehicle. In the vehicle, the patient is identified, IV started, while his records come up on the computer at the base hospital, and his surgeon gets ready for him by the time he is wheeled in.
The main design of the future warfront technology seems to be aimed at eliminating the loss of human life. Robots, therefore, are going to play an increasingly large role to play in the coming days, whether The Guardian likes it or not. And, lest we forget, the political aim of a war is to suffer the least casualties, so robotic soldiers are a way for a country to reduce mortality.
(Recommended: for insights on robotics in medical science, read this post of mine.)