Ethics of Military Robots

Automation can free human beings from dangerous, tedious jobs. Workers may have mixed feelings about some of those jobs, but there’s one field in which you’d expect everyone to be in favor of automation: military work.

The Pentagon’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (darpa) has been testing a six-drone swarm that can work collaboratively in a combat setting. The Department of Defense has budgeted billions to bring Artificial Intelligence to the battlefield. They’re betting the robots will soon be smart enough to survive military settings.

The problem is the same thing that has limited robots’ usefulness in the laundry room: robots are fantastic at carrying out a simple task in a predictable environment. That’s not a good description of war.

But AI is bringing military automation closer. Military robots can already collect and analyze data usefully. Decision making will be next, and can robot soldiers be far behind?

Ethics questions

Military AI could advise decision making in ways that won’t be clear to human beings. Robot soldiers could make and act on decisions with no ethical component at all. What’s the solution?

The new field of roboethics isn’t offering much help yet. Some in that field believe that automated military decisions will be less biased, less affected by emotion, and generally more ethical. Others believe that robots don’t have the capacity for ethical decision making and, without human capacity for thought and feeling, will be intrinsically dangerous compared with human beings. “An unintelligent gun-toting robot is a war crime waiting to happen,” said The Economist.

We’ve seen that programmers unwittingly carry their own biases into the actions of the robots they create. Will lethal robots carry the compassion of a human being… or the kinds if biases that could lead to inhumane actions in wartime?

One fear is that war machines could speed up wartime decision making to the point where human beings may be left behind.

Motion control

One thing is sure: however ethical questions are handled, battle bots will need motion control. Rexroth creates the best motion control systems on the planet. When you need factory repair or reman, or replacement of faulty Rexroth drive and control system components, we should be your go-to outfit. We specialize in Rexroth electric industrial automation, from legacy systems to the most cutting-edge designs.

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