A pair of intriguing-and-potentially-linked robot stories made the news this week, with the first being a United Nations report calling on a moratorium for automated killing machines. The report for the UN Human Rights Commission suggests a worldwide ban on the production, assembly, testing and deployment of fully or semi-autonomous weapons until rules can be developed to govern their use.
With United States, Britain, Israel, South Korea and Japan already having such killer robots, the clock is ticking. Removing humans from the decision to institute killing, the report says, could lead to an increase of it.
“Decisions over life and death in armed conflict may require compassion and intuition. Humans — while they are fallible — at least might possess these qualities, whereas robots definitely do not,” it says.
“Lethal autonomous robotics (LARs), if added to the arsenals of States, would add a new dimension to this distancing, in that targeting decisions could be taken by the robots themselves. In addition to being physically removed from the kinetic action, humans would also become more detached from decisions to kill – and their execution.”
The second bit of news is not quite so frightening in its basic context, but it could be when combined with the above. Scientists at Harvard University have developed a robotic fly that can mimic the flight and agility of the insect. About the size of a penny, the robo-fly can “evade even the swiftest of human efforts to swat them” thanks to its precise wing movements, according to the BBC.
The robo-fly currently has a tether but it should be fully wireless in a few years, whereupon it will be able to do such things as search and rescue in collapsed buildings, environmental monitoring or even plant pollination. Or at least that’s what its developers would like to see.
There is, of course, the military application, where such robots could easily be used as weapons, either by acting as distractions, carrying explosives or delivering poisons. It may sound paranoid, but if anti-killer robot laws are indeed enacted, what better way around them than by using robots so small that they can’t be seen?