Thursday, March 08, 2018

Rise of the Robot Army

Robot soldiers, the appeal is strong within military planners and personnel. They could replace soldiers in dangerous missions, preventing loss of life. They would make less errors, because they do not get hungry, tired, angry, or scared. Robots act as a force multiplier, throwing bodies at the opponent to force submission. They are faster at making decisions and are better at following commands. Plus, they are just plain cool to have.

Robot soldiers would remove the human element of war. World War II casualty rates would never be repeated! What could the downside be??

Well, will these robot soldiers be able to recognize enemy troops and friendly troops on the battlefield? If they are trained to target threats, what would stop them from targeting one of our own in the heat of battle? Down this same path of thought, would they target civilians? I doubt even developers of robot soldiers would know the answer to these problems until the introduction of robots into actual wars. Learning these lessons with boots on the ground would be terrifying. 

Additionally, even if the AI is programmed to correctly identify the differences between friendly troops, enemy troops, and civilians, would programmers be able to imagine every battlefield scenario they would be put in? Even if they successfully program a robot to become a soldier, the robot would only be able to be used in scenarios they were programmed for. The closest comparison I could make would be like sending WWII trained American troops into Vietnam and trying to fight the same war there despite condition and tactical changes. Again, even on the ground, if a robot encounters a situation in which they were not programmed for, they may handle it poorly or just shutdown, proving a major concern during war. 

With cyberattacks on the rise from nation-state-threat-actors, robots could be hacked into during battle. In that way, soldiers could be removed from battle without a single casualty from the enemy. Or, if they were not removed, hackers could simply use data from the robots as key intelligence. GPS location, sensors, cyber-espionage are all potential issues a robot army could face. 

Finally, the potentially biggest issue with robots I see: they would cost a lot of money. Would the creation of a robot army just incite a robot arms race until economies collapse? Would wars be likelier with less tech savvy states? All of these issues seem highly likely and for that reason, the world is no where near the point in which a robot army is feasible for war purposes. 

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