WASHINGTON- Robot soldiers, once a thing of science fiction, are advancing toward the battlefield. Countries around the world, including the United States, Israel, Russia, and China, are deploying autonomous weapons in military operations, experts told a prestigious think tank Monday
As cyberbots are being developed around the world to supplement human capabilities, the questions surrounding using robots for combat become more complicated.
“Autonomy is going to be huge,” David Brumley, director of the Cylab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “It’s absolutely critical we’re going to be right. The stakes are going to be huge.”
The U.S. is crafting a strategy in which artificial intelligence takes center stage. The Department of Defense calls it the third offset strategy, which defense officials say would give the U.S. a competitive technological advantage. Former offset strategies have included nuclear capabilities and precision-guided weapons.
Advocates say military robots would have faster decision-making capabilities, better precision, and lower casualty rates among soldiers backed by the robots. But It is unclear, whether robotic systems would create a safer or worse situation for civilian populations.
At a Carnegie panel Monday, Lt. Gen. Dr. R.S. Panwar, the former colonel commandant of the Indian Army Corps of Signals, said the more precise and sophisticated technologies would lower risk of civilian casualties.
“Bringing in artificial intelligence in the military is going to bring a cleaner form of warfare with with less noncombatant loss and loss of property,” Panwar said during a discussion at the Carnegie Mellon Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
The Defense Department, in a 2012 policy directive, promised that humans would always be behind the decision for a robot to kill.
The U.S. military already relies on automated machines such as drones and unmanned ground vehicles, but there has always been a human in the loop when engaging a target.
Under instructions from Defense Secretary Ash Carter, there would be a human in that decision chain since the Pentagon recognizes there is too much of a chance of civilian casualties with automated machines, according to defense officials.
The increasing pace of technology on various international fronts raises questions of whether countries will all employ policies keeping human decision-makers in the loop, Brumley said.
Other concerns include the unanticipated consequences that could emerge from robot to robot combat. And could automation make it easier to go to war since e countries could send machines to the front rather than human soldiers?
Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch arms division, opposed the use of fully automated weapons. Even so, she said she understands the positive uses of a robotic systems in warfare. Her concern is that countries should first clearly define the ethics before employing autonomous weapons.
Wareham said she feared the advent of “stupid systems that are going to be weaponized before we have the smart ones with empathy and judgment.”