Saturday, April 09, 2011

How Much Technology is Too Much?

While doing some more research on robots, the military, and warfare, I stumbled upon Adam Rawnsley’s article on a modern C-3PO. The concept of a robot with intense translation capabilities does not seem farfetched or out of the realm of possibility. After all, this is something the government has been exploring for a while, and other translation devices have already been developed. Rawnsley also suggests that training troops in languages like Arabic can prove to be “difficult, time-consuming and not entirely practical on a large scale,” so it’s not really surprising that millions of dollars are being poured into such projects.

Yet, Darpa’s new BOLT initiative would go beyond just translation. In fact, “BOLT would use language as well as visual and tactile inputs so that it can “hypothesize and perform automated reasoning in the acquired language.” As the article suggests, it would be a real version of C-P3O.

With such technology in mind, one starts to wonder when it becomes too much. At what point does technology move from being a help to a burden? As we discussed in class, robots can be extremely beneficial in combating threats like IEDs and taking troops out of harm’s way.

However, it seems that there is a distinct possibility that advanced technology like that proposed in the BOLT initiative could actually do more damage than good. Consider COIN operations. If counterinsurgency theory places an emphasis on relationships and winning the hearts and minds of the host nation’s people, how can we expect robots to act as our communicators? Trust and understanding are built through personal interaction, and will grow and flourish through communication. Even a robot that has the ability to reason cannot effectively complete these tasks. Perhaps the millions upon millions of dollars that the US pours into technology would occasionally be better spent on equipping soldiers with greater language instruction. Yes, such instruction is time consuming and difficult, but it seems to me that too often we rely on advanced technology because we can. Does that really mean it’s the best way? Maybe it’s time to get back to basics.

1 comment: