Pargol Hashemnia

November 2, 2009

The Summary of “Robots at War: The New Battlefield” by P. W. Singer

Filed under: Uncategorized — pargol444 @ 6:36 am

Currently, new technology is changing the face of war. In contemporary times robots are being introduced as an alternative to human soldiers in America. Also, robots are presently being used against the American enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus far, the machines that exist in today’s battlefields (such as Reapers, Predators, and Ravens) are somewhat basic, however, the era of more advanced “war-bots” will arguably alter people’s perspectives, possibly numbing them to the horrific realities of war.

In battlefields today a new unmanned system, “PackBot,” is being introduced. This 42-pound piece of machinery has enormous capabilities such as multiple cameras and sensors for surveillance, and tank-like flippers to enable movement. This model of robot is able to rotate, climb stairs, swim underwater, and even roll over rocks. In addition to all these functions, some people speculate that PackBots and other robots will be able to change the world’s future by making life and death decisions.      

In 2008, an estimated 12,000 robots were utilized by Americas’ military. It took a mere five years for the technology of robotic units to expand to its current level in the American armed service. So far, “unmanned weapons” and “exotic technologies” are in their prototype stages, however, Pentagon planners are exploring how they can adapt to the “largely robotic” battlefields of the future.

The development of unmanned systems in the current era is similar to that in World War I, where new technologies were rapidly introduced, and used in many battlefields. Interestingly, science-fiction literature, such as “Land Ironclads” by H. G. Wells, or “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne played an important role on this matter, inspiring governments to use higher technologies in their attempts to defeat the enemy. The introduction of these technologies changed the face of war forever, and raised questions on how to make the best use of technology and on how to deal with the emerging political, legal, and ethical issues that they introduced.

Furthermore, the traditional experience of war is rapidly changing as robots gradually replace soldiers in the battlefields. Concern is growing amongst the first generation of soldiers cooperating with robots. There is a rising anxiety with regards to what the future holds, and some predict that the role of humans during times of war could one day be limited to simply using a remote control. More than a century ago, General Robert E. Lee argued that it is ultimately advantageous for people to find war horrific and frightening, lest they would enjoy and crave it. Additionally, there is the issue of how humans will remain the masters of unmanned systems that have superior speed and intelligence.

The unmanned systems that are currently operating in Iraq come in various forms with alternative abilities. In general, there are two kinds of robots: ground robots and air robots. The TALON, made by Foster Miller, is a ground robot that allows users to exploit different weapons, including a machine gun, a grenade or a rocket launcher. On the other hand, there are air robots, essentially planes that fly without the presence of a human pilot. The most famous of these robots is the Predator, which is a significantly economical alternative to manned aircrafts. The Predator is an aerial vehicle that has the ability to spend up to 24-hours in the air at heights up to 26,000 feet. Predators are flown by “reach-back” or “remote-split” operations, whereby human pilots play a part by flying the planes via satellites from up to 7,500 miles away.

Today, the United States Army is using Predators as missiles, diverging from the original function as surveillance technology. Even so, the use of other surveillance robots has increased with no mission being held without using these unmanned systems. Also, individual soldiers use small UAVs, such as Wasp and Raven, which carry a tiny camera inside. Basically, a soldier is required to toss the machinery into the air to gather news by recording video images from the other side of the road or hill.

Moreover, robots are especially useful for performing dangerous, dirty, and dull tasks in place of soldiers. In general, soldiers are less capable of performing these missions due to numerous physical and psychological weaknesses. For example, a robot will not be psychologically disturbed when watching an injured soldier bleed to death during a mission. Additionally, robots with both superior and sharable intelligence have been created. This is of upmost importance as sharable intelligence can help robots and other technological systems be more prepared for any unexpected events.

Each branch of America’s armed services has ambitious plans for the future in utilizing robotic military technology. However, there are concerns about whether the United States Army is prematurely placing too much trust in the robots and their navigation systems. For instance, in July 1988 a passenger aircraft was shot down near the Persian Gulf by an American ship using the Aegis radar system. The unmanned radar system mistakenly recognized the plane as an Iranian Fighter plane and proceeded to attack. In spite of substantial evidence to the contrary, the ships crew failed to override the computers decision. This fatal event highlights the necessity for human involvement, and the need to impose a limit on the use of robots in the battlefields.

In addition, some scholars have conducted reports on the future of robots and speculate terminal outcomes that could result from a human reliance on them. These reports attempt to encourage the government to limit the amount of power that they grant the robots.

As stated earlier, one of the most controversial aspects of using robots in the battlefield is their replacement of human soldiers. By replacing humans, robots will allow both citizens and governments to view wars from a very different perspective, possibly permitting them to grow increasingly detached from the casualties of war. A high usage of robots may nullify the need for governments to seek citizen approval regarding wars, and the option of going to war may seem like an increasingly easy solution for settling issues. Also, it has been predicted that people would become so neutral to the subject of war, and the events on the battlefield that they would watch the war live from television at home, just as they watch their favorite sport game.

In conclusion, in the not so distant future, winning and losing in the battlefield will largely depend on the robotic military technology available to the fighting country. Hence, the country that can afford the technology to build and utilize superior robots will be the winner of the battle and get to play God, by having a massive impact on the world from far away.


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