Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Does the U.S. Really “Lag” on Military Robots?

In response to our post “U.S. Policy on Robots in Warfare,” Mark Gubrud has passed along to us a comment:

It was odd that on the Monday morning after the Friday afternoon when my Bulletin article appeared, John Markoff of the New York Times posted an article whose message many took as contradictory to mine. Where I had characterized U.S. policy as “full speed ahead,” Markoff reported that the military “lags” in development of unmanned ground vehicles, which, as you know, go by the great acronym of UGVs.

There isn't really any contradiction between the facts as reported by Markoff and the history and analysis I gave, as I explained on my personal blog, but anybody who read the two casually, or only looked at the headlines, could be forgiven for thinking that Markoff had rebutted me, perhaps upholding the myth that there is some kind of a moratorium in effect.

In that blog post he mentions, Gubrud expands on the strangeness of the NYT article, or at least its headline. The headline in both the print and the online edition of Markoff's article says that

the U.S. military “lags” in its pursuit of robotic ground vehicles. Lags... behind whom? China? North Korea? No, Markoff warns that the Pentagon is falling behind another aspiring superpower: Google.

Well worth reading the whole thing.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

U.S. Policy on Robots in Warfare

"Atlas," a humanoid robot built by Boston Dynamics and unveiled in 2013 as part of the "Robotics Challenge" sponsored by the U.S. military-research agency DARPA. [Source: DARPA on YouTube]
Our friend Mark Gubrud has a new article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists examining the U.S. Department of Defense’s policy regarding “autonomous or semiautonomous weapon systems.” Gubrud, who wrote our most controversial Futurisms post a few years ago, brings together a wealth of links and resources that will be of interest to anyone who wants to start learning about the U.S. military’s real-life plans for killer robots.

Gubrud argues that a DOD directive put in place last year sends a signal to military vendors that the Pentagon is interested in and supports the development of autonomous weapons. He writes that, while the directive is vague in some important respects, it pushes us further down the road to autonomous killer robots. But, he says, it isn’t exactly clear why we should be on that road at all: the arguments in favor of autonomous weapons are weak, and both professional soldiers and the public at large object to them.

Gubrud is now a postdoc research associate at Princeton, as well as a member of something called the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, an organization that has Noel Sharkey, a prominent AI and robotics researcher and commentator, as its chairman.