Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, June 19, 2009

Let slip the dogs... - Plan to teach military robots the rules of war

NewScientist - June 18, 2009 by Tom Simonite

Can military machines be programmed with a conscience? (Image: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty)

Technology has always distanced the soldiers who use weapons from the people who get hit. But robotics engineer Ron Arkin at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, is working to imagine wars in which weapons make their own decisions about wielding lethal force.

He is particularly interested in how such machines might be programmed to act ethically, obeying the rules of engagement.

Simulations are a powerful way to imagine one possible version of the future of combat, says Illah Nourbakhsh, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, US. But they gloss over the complexities of getting robots to understand the world well enough to make such judgements, he says; something unlikely to be possible for decades.

Arkin has developed an "ethical governor", which aims to ensure that robot attack aircraft behave ethically in combat, and is demonstrating the system in simulations based on recent campaigns by US troops, using real maps from the Middle East.

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