Friday, August 17, 2007

Killer Robots and More

From Der Spiegal, an interesting report on all the new "killer robots" that the US military and the military industrial complex is looking to deploy in the near future:

Robot warriors have already seen action in Iraq, and the US Army plans to replace one-third of its armored vehicles and weapons with robots by 2015. These killing machines may one day come equipped with an artificial conscience -- even to the extent of disobeying immoral orders[ opposed to humans who don't?].

It should come as no surprise as the military moves forward with unmanned jet fighters that are much larger than the latest predator drones and can carry nearly twice the amount of ammunition and fuel that a conventional, manned fighter can carry. Once you get past some of the "I.Robot" hysterics, there are other fascinating developments:

The US Army's latest recruits are 1 meter (about 3 feet) tall, wear desert camouflage and are armed with black M249 machine guns. They also move on caterpillar tracks and -- thanks to five camera eyes -- can even see in the dark.

The fearless fighters are three robot soldiers who, unnoticed by the general public, were deployed in Iraq in mid-June, charged with hunting down insurgents.[snip]

Because the three robots, dubbed "Swords," are being used in a secret mission, their creators have no idea whether the devices have already killed enemy fighters in combat.

The military is probably not going to release that information for a long time. Right now there is speculation on it and future uses that are already sparking discussions about humanity, morality and the use of robots to harm humans straight out of Isaac Asimov's book. When or if that is announced, a much bigger and broader discussion will ensue. Obviously, unmanned drones have already used hellfire missiles to take out buildings and known enemies. Because it is an aerial platform that many have been used to thinking of as a "spy plane" or other model planes that are relatively frequent in our society and likely because people have always associated aerial bombings as somewhat "surgical" and "cold", unlike shooting a human with a gun up close and personal, there has been much less concern. With ground robots who may or may not act autonomously, it is like a machine looking into the face of its victim.

A more important issue is noted here:

From a military standpoint, there are many reasons to support the growing use of steel soldiers. For one, fear and fatigue are non-issues. Robots kill without hesitating and, unlike flesh-and-blood soldiers, losing them is merely a financial loss. A new Swords goes for about $150,000. Besides, politicians and generals no longer need to worry about a public outcry over excessive fatalities: Who mourns a fallen tin soldier?

Yet, one issue that is not addressed here is what happens when a large portion of our forces are inanimate robots? What happens if you pay little cost for war? How important does it become to win? Will we actually see war as a defense and necessary for our survival? And, will the population be even less inclined to support that war or fight to win it when they have little, if anything, to lose? Further, if we have nothing to lose besides money, how much more inviting is it to use force?

Beyond the development of robots that may or may not have a "conscience", what about our "conscience"?

Other robots coming up quickly:

An even more impressive device on display at Webster Field was a seven-meter (23-foot) helicopter called Fire Scout. Instead of a cockpit, the unmanned helicopter has a windowless face that covers a Cyclops-like eye: a laser device that enables Fire Scout to land on its own, even on the tight deck space available on smaller warships.[snip]

Northrop Grumman is also developing an unarmed stealth fighter, the X-47, which the company expects to perform its first fully automated landing on a moving aircraft carrier in 2011. "By removing the pilots, we enable the device to remain airborne for an additional 10 hours or more," says Tighe Parmenter of Northrop Grumman. "To program an enemy mission, all you need is a keyboard and a mouse."


20 Kilowatt laser blows up mortar(video)

It's been one of the big mysteries of the ray gun world: How exactly did Raytheon manage to blow up a set of mortars -- while using a laser that's only a fraction of what's considered battlefield strength? A company executive revealed the surprising answer in an interview with DANGER ROOM.

Pentagon Paid $999,798 to Ship Two 19-Cent Washers to Texas

Aug. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A small South Carolina parts supplier collected about $20.5 million over six years from the Pentagon for fraudulent shipping costs, including $998,798 for sending two 19-cent washers to a Texas base, U.S. officials said.

The company also billed and was paid $455,009 to ship three machine screws costing $1.31 each to Marines in Habbaniyah, Iraq, and $293,451 to ship an 89-cent split washer to Patrick Air Force Base in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Pentagon records show.

The owners of C&D Distributors in Lexington, South Carolina -- twin sisters -- exploited a flaw in an automated Defense Department purchasing system: bills for shipping to combat areas or U.S. bases that were labeled ``priority'' were usually paid automatically, said Cynthia Stroot, a Pentagon investigator.


Robert said...

What is "an unarmed stealth fighter?" Seems to be a contradiction.

Kat said...

Basically, it is "unarmed" because it is still in testing by the company. It won't get officially "armed" until the military owns it.

So, today, it simply runs around and shows its flying, automaton, targeting, durability, etc capabilities.