Britain is developing its own autonomous robotic systems for war: alongside another forty-six countries. Two unmanned aerial vehicles are utilised: the Mantis for surveillance and the Predator for missile attacks. In development are unmanned ground vehicles: Pointer (a tracked single robot), Raider (a reconfigurable vehicle) and Wraith (a stealth tank). The MOD Developments, Doctrines and Concepts Centre is examining the ethics of robots in warfare though the pressures of competition will no doubt overcome their squeamishness.
More detail is provided by an article in The Engineer. The focus on controls, leaving humans in the loop, remains operationally an ethically key. Moving from a single controlled vehicle to swarms of UAVs or UGVs means that the machines are operating with far more autonomy and the debate centres upon rules of engagement, target identification and, presumably, an 'off switch'. There isn't one.
When it comes to more complex missions, however, the concept of a robot running an artificial-intelligence system is,[Professor of robotics at the University of Sheffield, Noel] Sharkey thinks, unlikely. ’You need human reasoning behind it. You can’t put the Geneva Convention into a computer; it isn’t specified for a computer and it contains ambiguity and apparent contradictions that need human reasoning to make sense of. We have no idea how reasoning works or even where it comes from.’
Perhaps Sharkey is right and there is a role for human engagement due to the shortcomings of artificial intelligence. Yet, it was not so long ago, that the fantasies of Terminator remained on celluloid, not in the dreams of engineers. Yet, as defence budgets shrink, robots are cheaper than humans and never sleep.Their role will only increase.
Now this is the type of problem that I would like to see robots undertaking.
All snark aside, this is actually an incredibly difficult problem in robotics, and the progress that students have made is incredibly impressive. Here’s hoping it won’t be too long before we finally get the robot maids that The Jetsons promised us.
Laundry, ironing, cleaning: all intensive chores that a robot maid could usefully do in my house. This could also lead to minimum rage, as my anger at cleaning four toilets would abate.
A recent unmanned rotorcraft was successfully tested late last year: The Northrop Grumman/Bell Helicoptor Fire-x. Most impressive for this demonstration was the length of time taken from concept to initial success: less than a year.
Key to this success was the use of the existing Bell 407 platform and a "de-manning" of the vehicle so pilot could be replaced by computer. The UAV was not designed from scratch; the vehicle was enhanced by adding this capability.
A key trend in UAV development will be the use of existing platforms to meet particular tenders such as cargo or intelligence gathering.
The New York Times had a not-so-recent article on how robots are beginning to supplement teachers in the classroom. These remain experimental models designed to impart simple tasks and knowledge at a primary level. Examples include language learning and using imitation to teach children with special needs.
Another clear example of how roboticians are speculating about how and where they can use robots within clear social settings. As most robots are bespoke design, they remain 'beyond design', a haphazard collection of parts that looks nothing like a boy, girl or their teacher.
We now evolve culturally and are as much as product of our culture as our biology.
This statement disguises complex processes and links natural selection to cultural change, a thesis that has not been proven. Nor is it clear whether culture and biology are equally powerful in their shaping, or if one dominates the other.
Assumptions about the convergence of 'theories of cultural selection' and progress shape the arguments of Singularitarians and their 'friendly sceptics'. I count myself as one, though its deterministic teleology can constrain debate.
Wallach's talk concerned how we craft an ethical framework for these changes and why our current, fragmented debate has not fully engaged with the potential autonomy of the machine and the enhanced responsibility of the human. His talk clearly kicks this off and attacks one potential myth: that the enhanced moral autonomy of the tool diminishes the need for moral responsibility on the part of the owner or operator.
The Singularity as concept may fail Wallach's test to think "comprehensively" about the shift in technology and humanity's place within it. As the most developed game in town, Kurzweil is the one to listen to and react against, if we are to achieve a more diverse understanding of what may come.
Avoiding all of the hype over the new Singularity game on Google news, the concept of the Singularity continues to find new permutations. Iran likes to wrap itself in the flag. Reminiscent of other countries that felt behind the curve, Iran celebrated the 'development' of a sub-Asimo robot.
How many nuclear centrifuges does Iran have? That's academic. Always
showing off its tech might, the Islamic
republic now has a bipedal robot that can walk around like a person,
albeit at sub-human speeds. It's the latest volley in the humanoid arms
race pushing us all toward the Singularity.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showed off the terrifying humanoid at an
event over the weekend marking Iranian industrial prowess. A state-run
newspaper report said the automaton is designed for work in "sensitive
jobs" but did not elaborate.
The robot has no capabilities in sound or vision. Yet, it is presented as a working, useful model which can provide help in "sensitive" jobs, whatever they are. Mobile statues perhaps....
The desire to emulate and surpass the West pervades this faux morality tale. Catching up with native resources is not sufficient for the Iranian authorities. Ahmadinejad requires a symbol of success: one that is intrinsically useful, a hallmark of oppressive regimes that prize utility above research.
Howe and Howe is a company located in southern Maine that is currently developing an unmanned ground vehicle for the US military. This is the Ripsaw, a tele-operated armoured vehicle with a top speed of 60mph, designed for rugged terrain. The vehicle is currently undergoing trials.
The article's description of the firm's business gives a snapshot of the current demand for UGVs: entertainment and resource extraction. Expect other niches to appear and demand to grow as models become more versatile and robust.
The United Kingdom is not left out. Northrop Grumman are expanding their Remotec facility in Coventry to manufacture the Wheelbarrow and Cutlass models. Their role is a specific niche:
The security company said many of its vehicles at Coventry are configured for ordnance disposal and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear missions.
The US is looking at UGVs as they could be, the UK (running out of money) deploys existing equipment, as it should be, for now.
Another new acronym (to me!) has begun to creep into the lexicon: the unmanned ground vehicle or UGV. The variants are either tele-operated or truely autonomous and examples of both types exist. Unmanned maritime vehicles (UMVs) Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) Unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) Unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) Unmanned ground combat vehicles (UGCVs)
Britain was a pioneer in tele-operated robot vehicles with early iterations used for bomb disposal, exploring environments before the bomb disposal squad was sent in. So, as robotics integrates with the defence marketplace, we can expect a flourish of new acronyms:
Unmanned maritime vehicles (UMVs)
Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs)
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs)
Unmanned surface vehicles (USVs)
Unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs)Small unmanned ground vehicles (SUGVs)
Unmanned ground combat vehicles (UGCVs)Remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs)
In practical terms, companies are beginning to integrate the platforms into a seamless interoperable whole:
BAE Systems this week has unveiled a new version of its Talisman UUV, while a new company funded UGV development programme is being planned by BAE Systems Australia.
Generic autonomous systems capabilities developed for the UAV segment have resulted in the creation of multiple technology cores that can be applied across different environments says Andy Tonge, Talisman project manager at BAE Systems Underwater Systems
"This is part of an overall strategy across BAE Systems to build up an integrated approach to unmanned vehicles and autonomous systems, leading to the development of Intelligent Autonomy, which can be applied across land, sea and air."
No doubt we will see new vehicles and new shorthand in years to come.
Years ago, the ABC (Atomic, Bacterial, Chemical) warriors were a staple of 2000AD, anthropomorphised traits within robot bodies fighting a strange alternative to the Soviet Union, before Terminator ever came along. Not that these robots will be introduced into the fray by any government soon: instead, we have an increasing number of drones that can be used to recon, assess, communicate and destroy from a distance:
These UAVs are just the tip of the drone iceberg. Besides specialized anti-munitions drones, defense turrets, and surveillance drones already in use, the U.S. military is developing rolling ground vehicles, water surface vehicles, and remote bombers that could all see action in the next few years. There are several competing models for each category, but the Crusher (ground), X-45 (air), and USV (water) are advanced enough to have videos available on the web. Each of these drones would be piloted by controllers many miles away from the field (eventually even from the other side of the world).
As war becomes an increasingly automated and electronic landscape, we could again see a widening tachnological gap between the sophisticates and the primitives.
The weakness within the battlefield is not at the level of the drone but at the level of the controller, where it is calculated that the human brain has reached its bandwidth limit.
Dr Small, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, splits humankind into two categories: digital natives (children who were born post-Apple Macintosh) and digital immigrants (oldsters who still suspect that their computers harbour incubi). Youngsters are better at snap decisions and juggling lots of sensory input; their seniors are great at reading facial expressions. “The typical immigrant’s brain was trained in completely different ways of socialising and learning, taking things step by step and addressing one task at a time,” he says.
In post-Mac children, searching the internet “appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading”. But even Small admits that this comes at a price: these digital natives devote markedly less time to old-fashioned fundamental social skills such as talking face-to-face with the person next door.
Professor Jeste, meanwhile, thinks that the difference in how we cope with info-deluge may come down to genes, luck and experience: “Some people may be overwhelmed by stress while others who are more resilient would respond to it with growth and development,” he says.
As social skills, wisdom and compassion are less developed than attentiveness, we are said to be more focused, less wise. Yet the Times article forgets that it is not how much information we look at, but the way we look at it. Information overload is merely a business opportunity for the digerati. We need to develop better filters, better AI. If not, then those less wise often go to war, with their guns and their drones and their bombs.