Sent to you by Sean McBride via Google Reader: Packs of robots will
hunt down uncooperative humans via Short Sharp Science by Tom Simonite
on 10/22/08 The latest request from the Pentagon jars the senses. At
least, it did mine. They are looking for contractors to provide
a "Multi-Robot Pursuit System" that will let packs of robots "search
for and detect a non-cooperative human".

One thing that really bugs defence chiefs is having their troops
diverted from other duties to control robots. So having a pack of them
controlled by one person makes logistical sense. But I'm concerned
about where this technology will end up.

Given that iRobot last year struck a deal with Taser International to
mount stun weapons on its military robots, how long before we see packs
of droids hunting down pesky demonstrators with paralysing weapons? Or
could the packs even be lethally armed? I asked two experts on
automated weapons what they thought - click the continue reading link
to read what they said. Both were concerned that packs of robots would
be entrusted with tasks - and weapons - they were not up to handling
without making wrong decisions.

Steve Wright of Leeds Metropolitan University is an expert on police
and military technologies, and last year correctly predicted this
pack-hunting mode of operation would happen. "The giveaway here is the
phrase 'a non-cooperative human subject'," he told me:

"What we have here are the beginnings of something designed to enable
robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once the software is
perfected we can reasonably anticipate that they will become autonomous
and become armed.

We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection and
tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath and the
radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These are technologies
already developed."
Another commentator often in the news for his views on military robot
autonomy is Noel Sharkey, an AI and robotics engineer at the University
of Sheffield. He says he can understand why the military want such
technology, but also worries it will be used irresponsibly.

"This is a clear step towards one of the main goals of the US Army's
Future Combat Systems project, which aims to make a single soldier the
nexus for a large scale robot attack. Independently, ground and aerial
robots have been tested together and once the bits are joined, there
will be a robot force under command of a single soldier with
potentially dire consequences for innocents around the corner."What do
you make of this? Are we letting our militaries run technologically
amok with our tax dollars? Or can robot soldiers be programmed to be
even more ethical than human ones, as some researchers claim?

Paul Marks, technology correspondent
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