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Armed, Autonomous Robots "A Threat to Humanity"

Saturday, August 16, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: robots, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) An artificial intelligence professor has warned that the trend toward creating autonomous killer robots for battlefield use poses "a threat to humanity."

Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield said that military leaders in several countries "are quite clear that they want autonomous robots as soon as possible, because they are more cost-effective and give a risk-free war."

Unmanned surveillance aircraft have been used for years and are currently deployed by the U.S. military in Iraq, along with 4,000 military robots on the ground. Some of these robots are armed with large-caliber machine guns. Armed robot border guards are also used by South Korea and Israel, and other robots are in use by China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom.

To date, none of these machines are able to fire without a human pushing a button or pulling the trigger in some other deliberate way. But such robots are already under development, with the U.S. planning to invest $4 billion in research by 2010 and $24 billion by 2032.

"I have worked in artificial intelligence for decades, and the idea of a robot making decisions about human termination terrifies me," Sharkey said.

Even non-autonomous robots would be easy for terrorists or other unauthorized personnel to capture, reverse engineer and then use for their own purposes, Sharkey warned. Such robots could provide an attractive alternative to suicide bombers.

"I don't know why that has not happened already," he said.

Technical obstacles to the development of autonomous killer robots include imbuing a machine with the ability to properly distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate targets, especially in a changing battle situation. This does not even take into account the ethical questions posed by abdicating decisions about life and death to a machine.

According to Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology, the U.S. Department of Defense's $230 billion Future Combat Systems Program calls for three classes of aerial and land-based robots, "but nowhere is there any consideration of the ethical implications of the weaponization of these systems."

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