Institute for Personal Robots in Education Blog

Robots killing people

In a recent article in GOOD magazine, Chris Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "cheek-sent-me-hi") noted:

Among the many changes in U.S. policy after 9/11 was one that went unnoticed by everyone except a few geeks: The military quietly reversed its longstanding position on the role of robots in battlefields, and now embraces the idea of autonomous killing machines. There was no outcry from the academics who study robotics—indeed, with few exceptions they lined up to help, developing new technologies for intelligent navigation, locomotion, and coordination. At my own institute, an enormous space is being out-fitted to coordinate robotic flying, swimming, and marching units in preparation for some future Normandy.

This was the first that I had heard of this change in policy. That might be one reason that there aren't roboticists in the streets. One might try to suggest that these robots are really saving lives. I don't buy it.

So much for Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

Can the acceptance of robot conflict be rooted in a culture that is completely desensitized to mechanized violence? What can roboticists do to stop the killing?

I'm disappointed in you,

Thu, 2007-09-27 20:43
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm disappointed in you, Dr.Blank.

Anonymous, Could you

Fri, 2007-09-28 10:23


Could you elaborate a bit? Disappointed in me? Dad, is that you?

I would suggest the use of

Tue, 2007-10-02 20:02
Aaron (not verified)

I would suggest the use of autonomous weapon systems in combat is less a change in policy and more a reflection of the technology having developed to a point where this is now a marketable product. I looked for any statements of policy regarding the use of autonomous weapons systems and could not find them. The article in GOOD did not having any references to the documents outlining the proposed change in policy regarding the use of autonomous weapon systems.

I did find an interesting presentation which included a slide on what makes a weapon system legal for use.

Discussions on the possibilties of using autonomous weapon systems can be found prior to 9/11. Here is a link to a pdf from 1998 outlining how changes in technology used for sensors and communications, along with robotics, opens up a number of new development opportunities.

The fairly recent development of having such detailed information on the daily actions of our military half a world away is acting as a spotlight on the field of robotics. I think the article in GOOD is more a reflection of the author being caught by surprise in how far robotics has developed than an indication of a policy change in our government. When you are not impersed in an area of study it is easy to be caught unawares by twenty or thirty years of continual development.

These autonomous weapon systems are the obvious next steps in weapon development and, yes, there are some disturbing implications in our governments potential use of them but the indiviual robotic projects represent such a small porttion of the overall development in robotics I am not concerned about a wave of killer robots any time soon. Sensational articles like the one in GOOD are more likely to keep people from interacting with the different robotic products under development, even when they might do some good.

violence is dehumanizing

Fri, 2007-10-26 09:05
Kathy Maffei (not verified)

Violence, to begin with, is dehumanizing. To bypass empathy and aim violence at a person, you must consider your target more an object than a person.

Technology not only increases the amount and the range of violence we can inflict, but it improves our psychological ability to inflict violence. Consider road rage. Driving a car, even otherwise non-confrontational people become aggressive. The distance from the face-to-face interaction affords a person the room to let loose the inhibitions, ignore social rules, and indulge in one-upmanship.

While the benefit of tanks, unmanned aircraft, and combat robots is the reduction of casualties on one side, it increases the dehumanization of the enemy, which is already to blame for war crimes, for torture, for the killing of civilians. In the history of warfare, anything that removes the human face from the violent act only increases the amount and degree of violence. Airstrikes, even “strategic” ones, kill civilians. Of course, we call them “collateral damage,” not people. Wars staged with aircraft and few ground troops are easier to sell to the public because of the lower casualty rate (on “our” side), but do we really want to make warfare palatable?

Not a good use

Fri, 2008-05-02 13:18
Anonymous (not verified)

This is not a good use of robots, it also lets people think that it is the robot killing. Truly this is a horrid use of such great technolgy.

robot are good killing machines..

Mon, 2008-09-01 17:30
Danny Hoflow (not verified)

Check out the robots they just deployed in Iraq..

Fully Armed robots on patrol in Iraq

I agree. This is not a good

Sun, 2008-11-23 20:53
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree. This is not a good use of robots, it also lets people think that it is the robot killing. It will be a bad technolgy.

Randall, citzen at motorcycle girls

I totaly agree. This is not

Mon, 2009-02-16 04:53

I totaly agree. This is not a good use of robots. it can be dangerous for all human

This is not a good use of

Fri, 2009-03-06 05:40

This is not a good use of robots, it also lets people think that it is the robot killing. and are we going to I-Robot World?
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