Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Robot murders ahead?

At a cocktail party yesterday, I was introduced to one of the world's top scientists in the field of robotics. Discussing all that he was involved in, I was duly impressed. Then I asked him who in his country is looking at the ethical, social and political implications of robotics. From his reaction, he had clearly never been asked that question earlier. And he could think of no one at all who was doing so.

This is the typical result of the sort of educational and employment system which a minority within the global elite has foisted upon the world – we have highly intelligent people working night and day, and using all their creativity and ability to produce "newer, faster, better" technologies with no thought for how those technologies are going to be actually used, or what might be the effect of deploying those technologies.

Over dinner later in the evening, I was with people from other countries, who I asked the same question. One of the guests could think of one person in her country who had organised a conference on the subject about two years ago. So all is not lost, and there are people thinking about these things – though probably far fewer than should be thinking about them.

My point is best illustrated by drawing attention to a press release a short while ago from Cyberhand Technologies International, Inc. The company's military defense division, Cylogic Aerospace has begun constructing its first "anti-personnel fighting robot prototype". In plain English, this is a machine or set of machines to kill people in a more targeted way than was possible through the use of mines and other such devices.

The prototype is the first in a series of Mobile Miniature Anti-Personnel (MMAP) devices. Designed as a sort of "Smart Mine" programmed for specific targets, is a hard-wired, six-legged scale model of an anti-personnel fighting robot. It is hard controlled via a three wire switching system that only allows movement and speed control. The prototypes that will result in a fully automated, all weather, miniature walking land mine and anti-personnel weapon system. The mobile field control distributor (MFCD) can at present theoretically coordinate up to 1000 MMAP units simultaneously in real time hostile conditions.

According to Mr. Michael Burke, CEO of Cyberhand Technologies, "This unit will be able to track targets in a given area for hours, days and even weeks before responding to a command to acquire and neutralize any individual target." Cyberhand Technologies International claims to provide the world's fastest controllers and most accurate target acquisition, generating the best field results, as well as innovative wireless ergonomic products for private and military purposes. Presumably, therefore the 3-wire system will be replaced by wireless systems as soon as the prototypes have been tested and developed to a suitable level.

The question is: *which" people will these machines kill? In the days of pitched battles between armies, it would have been a relatively simple matter of pointing the machines in the right direction. These days, most military encounters are long-distance or in small mobile groups, often relatively anonymous groups. So who are these robots meant to attack? How will they know who to attack and who to avoid?

You may or may not trust the US Army, but do you trust the rest of the world?

Why do I raise that apparently irrelevant question? Because I see that our wonderful Korean friends promise to begin marketing soon, the creepily attractive robot named Jupiter. The aim of the launch is to get every single household (initially in Korea, but then of course in the rest of the world) to buy one of these hugely capable robots. As with many such robots now, Jupiter is able to plug itself in to recharge without help. Jupiter can reportedly emulate emotions and respond to body language, and even recite stories to children. It also comes equipped with a handy flip out LCD display, so it can double as an entertainment unit -- and boasts pointy appendages whose purpose is not clear: are they sensory devices? are they for defensive/ offensive purposes? Jupiter will get its orders wirelessly over the net and, as it can respond to voice commands, the question is: will it also respond to pleas for mercy? With what result?

Perhaps you now understand the question I raised above. If you don't trust the US Army's intentions or its ability to keep its networks secure, do you trust the ability of these robots or the intentions of everybody in the world who can hack into the Korean wireless broadband system in Korea? The Korean government also plans to roll out robocops that can pursue suspects, and multi-legged or wheeled combat bots within the next five years. The bots will receive most of their commands via a wireless Internet connection, keeping costs down to as little as $1,000, and "allowing a malevolent AI or evil scientist to completely take over the nation's network of robots at will", as one website put it.

In any case, if my dear pet Jupiter is hacked into by my worst enemy and kills my best friend visiting me in my house, will it be I who am up for murder for not having my robot in my control, or will it be the company operating the Wired Broadband system, or perhaps the Korean government for having financed and sponsored the development of these new civilian killing machines?

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Sphere: Related Content

No comments: