Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Robots to hunt "uncooperative" humans?

The Pentagon is trying to find people to build robots capable of sensing humans and tracking them down in an indoor environment. Some people are concerned that this is just one more stage on the path to eventual robot domination of the world. Or that, at least, it will allow the military/police to further kill innocent people.

On this, I'm with Lewis Page at the Register. Increasing the safety of our own troops, by having one troop control a pack of robots from outside the building, makes it less likely for them to commit mistakes, not more. When the troops life is not at stake, more time can be devoted to making sure that the item being pulled from a small pocket is a cigarette case (or cell phone!), not a gun.

Oh, yeah, that's another big point--these are not "autonomous robot packs" like an initial review would make you think. We are still light-years from computers having anything resembling sentience; a human being still has to operate the robots. (Although I'm not entirely concerned about the day that computers do achieve sentience; "Home is the Hangman" by Roger Zelazny is a great examination of this from science fiction.)

And, what are our alternatives? The current way of dealing with uncooperative humans all too often ends up with us either 1) shooting them or 2) dropping bombs on them. We've talked in class about how terrorist leaders like to use the equivalent of "baby armor" to protect themselves, by surrounding themselves with innocents. Instead of bombing them, taking out the whole compound/apartment building/whatever, this would allow us to send in a squad of robots to fetch just the terrorists. (This is provided this all works AND they are armored well enough to survive a firefight, which is apparently doubtful at the moment.)

My only real concern at this point is how much this will cost. This is a low priority, compared to the Future Combat Systems, apparently, meaning that it could end up being really expensive, funded for a bit, and then dropped. I'm curious to see how this will play out.

No comments: