Robotics In Warfare: Various Issues, Developments; Recent Approaches In UN

It is taking the world by the storm, giving rise to many controversies and criticisms, and also got recently discussed in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security). The world is concerned about the acceptability of autonomous weapons – the new technology of warfare. It would mean allowing machines or robots to decide life and death.

Cyborgs are the future!

If the recent research on humanoid robots in warfare continues successfully, soon there will be a “third revolution in warfare” as Elon Musk puts it. Today, there are around 116 renowned robotics experts who are petitioning against the inclusion of cyborgs or robots in warfare. They are asking for a ban on the use of robotics or AI in warfare and weaponry management.

Already the US military is researching extensively on the use and deployment of automated system in the battlefields. One of the most recently included automated systems is the IAI Pioneer & RQ-1 Predator. These are the unmanned aerial vehicles that could be remotely operated and can be armed with air-to-ground missiles. There are quite a few other weapon systems like Dragon Fire II and autonomous bombers and fighter jets that are being used in the warfare these days. However, the use of fully automated weapons has been prevented till now and all these require human interventions at certain points.

UN and Robotics in warfare

The letter sent to the UN by robotics experts from around the world has connoted the autonomous technology to be “lethal”. According to them it’s a “Pandora’s box” that is sure to cause havoc. The letter said, “Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend…These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.” The letter warns the UN officials against use of artificial intelligence in the arms race. The robots will be soldiers that never sleep and undefeatable autonomous fighter pilots. Considering all these, the experts are calling the technology of robotics in warfare, “morally wrong”.

Cyborgization is another possibility

In addition to fully autonomous robots in warfare, another approach could be implementing robotic weaponry systems in human bodies to enhance the power and possibilities. With this approach response time could be improved, precision and strength of the robots will add extra dimensions to human warfare techniques. Robots added with better cognitive abilities and control of the humans could be used in different manner to combat enemies in war.

There have been quite a few projects, which could be considered as the initial steps towards cyborgization of human soldiers. Projects like DARPA’s Land Warrior, Future Force Warrior, Warrior Web, and Objective Force Warrior equipped with night vision helmet visors, visors with head-up display, advanced communication gears, wearable computers, and robotic exoskeletons. However, constant improvisation and research are ongoing to improve the quality and performance of the gears and exoskeletons. The exoskeletons are being made lighter and the gears are getting precise and accurate. Robotics is also getting closely linked with neuroscience. Technologies are being developed to map and manipulate the human brain and to control it for doing various functions. The tDCS or transcranial direct current simulation is a technique that is used to enhance alertness and concentration in humans. EEGs are being embedded in helmets to enhance the power of the soldiers in war to control weapons with the power of their thoughts. Soon, implemented brain chips will control robotic arms.

The main goal of the scientists involved in engaging robots in warfare is to develop “Super soldiers” who would be undefeatable in the battle field. Research is on for creating robotic soldiers for fighting, drones for supplying fuels to the soldiers, and also robotic dogs. The future of warfare seems like living in the world of some sci-fi movie!

Will it really be a good idea?

There are many organizations in the world that are questioning the ethical aspects of involving autonomous robots in warfare. Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Christof Heyns – UN Special Rapporteur have condemned the idea vehemently. Not just US, the willingness of different developed nations of the world, like China and Russia, to welcome robotics in warfare, is increasing at a fast pace. The technological development in warfare is increasing fast. Autonomous robots and cyborgs are the definite future of warfare of the world. Only peace, harmony, and tolerance could save this world from perishing, because, robots’ artificial intelligence is definitely inferior to the potential of humans.


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