November 1, 2007  

Robots on the battlefield

In Afghanistan and Iraq, “battle bots” are spying, patrolling, securing and even “dying” in combat. Soldiers give their scout robots names, honorary “promotions” and “Purple Hearts.”

IRobot president Joe Dyer rightly points to the significant contributions robots are making on the 21st-century battlefield: saving lives, speeding missions and improving situational awareness.

Majors David Bigelow and Danny Davis take longer views of where this increased dependence on robot warriors might lead. In his thought-provoking study, Bigelow describes two future scenarios. In one, a robot autonomously kills a human in an urban warfare scrap; in the other, robots replace soldiers. Fiction, of course. But robots in the form of UAVs are already delivering the bomb that kills. The next ethical minefield is where the intelligent machine, not the man, makes the kill decision.