July 10, 2016

Gar Smith - Robots, Nature and the Singularity

An excerpt from, "Police used a robot to kill -- The key questions" By Peter W. Singer, CNN, July 10, 2016:
While there are links to the discussion on the future of killer robots, known as LAWS (lethal autonomous weapons systems), there are also three important differences to keep in mind. First, this was not an autonomous robot; both the robot and the explosive were remotely operated. Second, this was not a designed weapons system. There are many ground robots under development that are armed with weapons like machine guns and missile launchers, from the prototypes of the US MAARS to the Chinese Sharp Claw. But this was the case of using an older robot designed for something else. And, third, the concerns driving the "killer robots" debate center on whether we can prevent the unleashing of self-operating robots on the battlefield, for which militaries around the world are beginning to establish plans and doctrines. The debate is driven by a concern that such a future might cause both greater civilian harm and a lack of accountability.

By contrast, this was an ad hoc use, just like the case in Iraq. There is no doctrine that planned this out, no training manuals that police were following, nor development programs for this use. It also doesn't appear to have risked civilian harm or raised accountability concerns of the kind that motivate the killer robots debate. There are links to that debate but they are more about the many different directions robot use might go to next.
"We've got scientists who've built robots that use a microbial fuel cell to power themselves when they're released into the wild. And how do they power themselves? By using these microbial fuel cells to feed on the bodies of living creatures. Robots that eat, released in the wild. Now, Fox News recently reported that the Pentagon's Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, mark the acronym, it spells EDER, powers itself by gobbling up whatever organic matter it can find: grass, wood, even dead bodies. Now, the Pentagon's Maryland based contractor had to rush out with a press release saying that really, our EDER machine is a strict vegetarian, not to worry. But not before the National Post noted, headline: "Artificially Intelligent, Self-Fueling Killer Machines: What Can Go Wrong?" . . . The first robot was fielded in World War II. It's called the Goliath. It was a crawling remote-controlled bomb tethered to an electric leash, it was four foot squared, . . and you can ride up and into an enemy bunker and blow it up. In 2007, DARPA, our Defense Research Agency, introduced a Goliath of their own in Iraq. The Special Weapon Observation Remote Direct Action System, aka Swords, was a ground-based  killer droid with video eyeballs and light machine gun on its top. During its first deployment in Iraq, however, the Swords droid reportedly turned their weapons on US forces and the experiment was abruptly cancelled. The Pentagon continues to deny this happened." - Gar Smith. (8:30 - 10:45 in the video below). 

"A U.S. Joint Forces Command study predicts the deployment of fully autonomous battlefield robots by the year 2025. And, sure, like humans, these super-strong, super-smart robots will occasionally make mistakes and kill innocent civilians, but unlike humans, they won't experience guilt or suffer from PTSD. On November 21, 2012, the Pentagon issued a fifteen page directive calling for an autonomous weapons system that once activated can select and engage targets without human supervision. But the Pentagon had already taken steps in 2005 to build a $130 billion dollar robot army. The Future Combat Systems program, the largest military contract on record at that time, was designed to replace human robots with mechanical terminators at one-tenth the cost. Eliminating humans from combat would save billions in combat pay and veterans benefits. The Navy, meanwhile, has already developed prototype missiles and ships that can seek out and engage the enemy without human oversight. But there is resistance." - Gar Smith (15:05 - 16:18 in the video below).

Video Title: Gar Smith - Robots, Nature and the Singularity. Source: IntlForum. Date Published: March 20, 2015. Description: 
Gar Smith is co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and Editor Emeritus of Earth Island Journal. He is the author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (Chelsea Green).