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'governor' Would Teach Military Robots the Rules of War

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robotic military aircraft

Can military robots be programmed to act ethically?

Credit: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty

Georgia Institute of Technology robotics engineer Ron Arkin is researching how military robots could be programmed to act ethically and obey the rules of engagement and has developed an "ethical governor" intended to guarantee that robotic aircraft follow a set of ethical guidelines in combat. He is demonstrating the system in simulations based on recent campaigns by U.S. troops in the Middle East. The simulations show that the system is able to identify a group of enemy soldiers but does not fire because they are inside a cemetery, and firing would violate international law, or that the system can limit a robot's fire to weapons that would only damage an enemy vehicle but not any surrounding vehicles or buildings.

To develop the software, Arkin used studies of military ethics and conversations with military personnel, with the objective of reducing non-combatant casualties. Arkin emphasizes that his research, which is funded by the U.S. Army, is not intended to develop prototype battle robots. "The most important outcome of my research is not the architecture, but the discussion that it stimulates," Arkin says.

Arkin believes that the development of machines capable of determining when to use lethal force is inevitable, which means it is critical that when such robots are developed that they are capable of being trusted.

From New Scientist
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