You are on page 1of 6

On drone wars and robot soldiers

April 6th , 2013, 07:00 AM By Ricardo Murer B.S. in Computer Science (USP) and Master's Degree in Communications and Arts (USP). Expert in digital strategy and new technologies. Follow@rdmurer

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. [1st Law of Robotics] Isaac Asimov (Writer and American biochemist - 1920 - 1992)

In 1942, in his science fiction short story called Runaround, Isaac Asimov described the three laws of robotics. Laws that, once encoded in the memory of robots, would ensure that these machines would not take any action capable of injuring or killing a human being. However reality unfortunately does not always travel the same pathways advocated in sci-fi stories. It may seem strange at first to imagine a war without soldiers, but many countries have significantly increased their investments in technologies promoting ranged combat. According to Peter W. Singer: "The U.S. Air Force trained more unmanned systems operators than fighter and bomber pilots combined" [SINGER, 2013]. Moreover, according to Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, the drones industry may reach U$ 30 billion in 2015. A rapidly evolving field, no doubt. But how long will drones fly only in conflict areas? And who exactly can control the reach of a digital virus, manipulated by governments and people without ethical and moral principles? At a time when computer technologies open out the scope and autonomy of the Military Forces, At a time when computer technologies expand the scope and autonomy of the armed forces, I consider essential to rescue the fundamental values that weave and keeps human society in balance. Every technological advancement entails environmental and social consequences and affects our way of living. And those consequences are often unpredictable. The Good This new chapter of our History has already begun, more exactly inside our homes, in our children's bedroom. It has been a long time since digital entertainment companies have been improving their war-themed video games to such a degree that we may considered, without a doubt, an excellent way of military training. The most popular and holders of the greatest psychological effect are those through which the teenager plays as if he were the soldier, in first person (First Person Shooter - FPS), in virtual settings which are closer to reality. In this case, the screen displays and

represents the users view, while he holds the gun with his own virtual hands. The aim is to give the feeling of being "inside" the action, increasing the engagement and the psychological commitment of the user. From some mere searches on YouTube, we can find real footage shot by American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq. When comparing the scenes with current digital creations, the resemblance is startling. And this is not restricted to setting and artillery, but includes even the characters (I recommend a visit to Activision's website for an update). Virtualization of war starts not only with the training of young people in a subliminal way, but with the quest for the creation of digital, artificial universes; of perfect simulations of reality. In a word, the Grail of virtual reality. "Virtual reality promises to expand the experience of sound and images beyond the limits of the mass media, beyond even the confines of the computer or the television screens" [DOWNES, 2005]. So, we should not be surprised when Prince Harry of England, while he was in military service in Afghanistan, revealed, during an interview to a journalist, that he credited his skills as a shooter boarding an Apache helicopter to the fact that he had himself played video games. He said: "It is a pleasure for me, because I am one of those people who like to play PlayStation and Xbox; so, by using my fingers, I like to think I am probably very helpful." The Bad It was during World War II that the computational science began its relationship with the Armed Forces. Motivated by a noble cause, the total annihilation of Nazi Germany and its totalitarian regime, scientists and mathematicians worked for the Allies in order to develop weapons and computers. Among them, Alan Turing, one of the fathers of the computing sciences, and Gordon Welchman, both responsible for the invention of Bombe, a machine which broke the encrypted codes of the Germans, created by Enigma machine. Since then, from rockets to nuclear submarines, from radars to invisible airplanes, all the military armaments have high technology onboard. But, while in the past soldiers were considered essential to winning war battles, this scenario has begun to change dramatically as a result of the development of robotics and digital communication technologies. Today, soldiers and pilots are leaving the battlefield and migrating to control rooms, which keep some resemblance to their teenagers bedrooms. There they rediscover their computers, screens, and joysticks. More than flying planes in video games and virtual missions, why shouldnt they do the same in an area of real conflict in Afghanistan or Iraq? Robotics has also been used in Iraq a few years ago. The U.S. Army has a special unit operating in Iraq, a team called the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, comprised of a soldier who controls a small robot from a distance. This robot, a PackBot type, weighs just over one pound, has multiple cameras and sensors, a hasty arm with four joints, and moves along mats. According to the U.S. Army, these units have already saved thousands of lives in Iraq. If today robotic military units operating by land and air have been saving lives, why should we be against its use? What is its drawback?

The Ugly According to Moore's Law, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years, so we may expect more sophistication and technological development ahead. In the case of robotics, surveys indicate "autonomy" or robots ability to make their own decisions. According to Hans Moravec: "By 2050 the brains of computer-based robots will perform 100 trillion instructions per second and begin to rival human intelligence." [Moravec, 2009]. To imagine robots that can think and act like us is not science fiction, but a fast developing field, better known as Artificial Intelligence, or AI. So, in the near future, autonomous and intelligent robots will be in operation, fighting alongside soldiers or other robots, killing and being killed (or "deactivated"). The logic of fair war divides the principles of reasoning concerning the morality of war into two categories: the jus ad bellum, or the criterion for starting war, and the jus in bello, which is related to the requirements for conducting a war. In the conduct of war, there are two fundamental humanitarian principles: the principle of discrimination and the principle of proportionality. The principle of discrimination demands that combatants do not directly attack non-combatants and that they make reasonable arrangements to avoid casualties among non-combatants. Hence, how to ensure that this principle be respected by robots, especially in today's conflicts, many of which occurred in urban environments, where civilians and undercover soldiers coexist? In turn, the principle of proportionality entails determining the maximum use of force that may be employed, rationally considering the goals of a fair war. When considering a conflict in which, on the one side, we have humans, humans that might be injured and die, and, on the other side, machines, which are mass-produced and can be repaired after any damage, promptly returning to the battlefield, wars will always be uneven. Conclusion We live in a period of our History in which decisions as regards technological development follow the market rules, i. e., economic concerns. On one side, there are the clients, represented by the Armed Forces; on the other side, there are the other suppliers, represented by war industry. There is not, obviously, an ethical and moral concern guiding the technological development of war weapons. Despite the efforts of Max Weber, Hans Jonas and Norbert Wiener, computer ethics continues to be nothing more than a nice theoretical subject taught in universities. Perhaps we will have to hear from a robot-soldier of the future, with its brain capable of processing 100 trillion instructions per second, that the way to overcome our political and religious differences is dialogue and peaceful negotiation, not war.

References Activision Asimo - ASIMOV, I. I, Robot. New York: Spectra, 2004. Computer and Information Ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. First published Tue Aug 14, 2001; substantive revision Thu Oct 23, 2008. Available at: CURRIER, C. Everything We Know So Far About Drone Strikes. ProPublica - Journalism in the Public Interest. Feb. 5, 2013. Available at: DOWNES, D. Interactive Realism: the poetics of cyberspace. Canada: McGill-Queens University Press, 2005. HALLS, J. S. Beyond AI : creating the conscience of the machine. New York: Prometheus Books, 2007. JONAS, H., Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics. Social Research, 40:1, Spring, p.31. 1973. Available at: %20Technology%20&%20Responsibility.pdf KELLY, K. What technology wants: Technology is a living force that can expand our individual potential if we listen to what it wants. New York: Penguin Group, 2010. KREPS, S.E. and Kaag, J. The Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Contemporary Conflict: A Legal and Ethical Analysis. March 15, 2012. Available at SSRN: or KURZWEIL, R. The Singularity is Near. New York: Viking Books, 2005. LANIER, J. You are not a Gadget A Manifesto. New York: Penguin Group, 2010. LEMOS, A. Cibercultura: Tecnologia e Vida Social na Cultura Contempornea. Porto Alegre: Editora Sulina, 2010. LVY, P. O que virtual? So Paulo: Editora 34, 1996. MORAVEC, H. Rise of the Robots--The Future of Artificial Intelligence. Scientific America. March, 23, 2009. Available at:

OBENHAUS, S. R. A Estrada para Basra e a tica da Perseguio. Military Review. 2002. PARENTE, A. (Org.). Imagem mquina: a era das tecnologias do virtual. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 34, 1993. RAYNER, A. Are video games just propaganda and training tools for the military? The Guardian, Sunday 18 March 2012. Available at: military SINGER, P. W. The Predator Comes Home: A Primer on Domestic Drones, their Huge Business Opportunities, and their Deep Political, Moral, and Legal Challenges. Brookings. March 8, 2013. Available at: SMITH, G. Pentagon Cyber Force Turns To Hackers To Meet Growing Demand. Huff Post Tech, January, 2013. Available at: Notes Drones Generically are called UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or RPVs (Remotely Piloted Vehicles - remotely piloted vehicles) Prince Harry returns from Afghanistan as he reveals he killed Taliban insurgents confirms-he-killed-Taliban-as-he-returns-from-Afghanistan-saying-Take-a-life-to-save- a-life.html Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Ricardo Murer graduado em Cincias da Computao (USP) e mestre em Comunicao (USP). Especialista em estratgia digital e novas tecnologias. Follow: @rdmurer