Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Robots Morph into Warriors

"More than 50 years after author Isaac Asimov argued in his classic novel "I, Robot" that a robot should never be allowed to do harm to people, the development of automated killers has become unstoppable," according to an article in Der Spiegel today.

Already deployed by the U.S. in Iraq and Israel in the Gaza, robotic enforcers, warriors, drones and airborne vehicles are everywhere. All the big guys; Honeywell, Northrup, Boeing and their ilk, are getting into the act. And then, there are the military nano-bots waiting in the wings. I've read stories about swarms of robotic bees and cockroaches capable of disabling jet engines, swarming into tunnels and operating as an integrated part of a multi-vehicle, robotic battle force. Now that's an image.

I'm conflicted about these developments. It certainly makes sense to sacrifice intelligent machinery rather than to spill human blood, but there's a nagging worry that the manufacturers and purchasers of these new killing machines will need an excuse to use them. Or that they could be turned on domestic opponents of a particular political regime. One newly deployed robotic enforcer is specially designed for "crowd control," which raises some hackles as well.

Once we're over the novelty and ultra-coolness of sleek and capable programmable machines, we need to consider the implications of these devices on things like the ease of establishing a police state. And that's just not my paranoia talking. Former Reagan advisor Paul C. Roberts is actually sounding the alarm about Bush's intentions in that regard.

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