Saturday, April 14, 2007

Let the machines target machines - not people?

Not to be outdone by her allies, the US military has decided to draft some proposals regarding the proper use of robots and other autonomous systems in combat. The basic idea of the guidelines suggested by the Naval Surface Warfare Center is that machines should be allowed to freely engage other unmanned systems and weapons, but must require human interaction for permission to fire on enemy personnel manned systems. The researchers point to precedence of this concept in the automatic engaging protocols of the Patriot Missile Battery, Aegis Auto Special "hands-off" mode, and the Phalanx ship defense system.

An interesting suggestion, but it puts an awful lot of reliance on the autonomous systems' abilities to discriminate and positively identify the enemy, leaving allies unharmed. Many video game developers can't even get simple collision detection working. So while this may be an easier pill to swallow for those who criticize the "de-humanization" of warfare (giving lethal decision authority to a machine), those folks will be the loudest to complain as soon as the first error leads to a friendly fire incident. And, of course, all bets are off as soon as we face a symmetric adversary who's systems are not bound by these same guidelines. Overly-restrictive rules of engagement created by lawyers and politicians in the "ivory tower" can be quite the disadvantage for soldiers at the front lines in a shooting war.

(via Slashdot)

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