As robots are increasingly used in warfare, civilian lives will be put at greater and greater risk, according to University of Sheffield professor Noel Sharkey, who says an international debate is needed on the use of autonomous military robots. Sharkey says the technology needed to reliably distinguish friend from foe is at least 50 years away, but that U.S. military forces have mentioned resolving ethical concerns over this concept. Sharkey has been working to bring more attention to the psychological distance from the horrors of war that operators of unmanned military aerial vehicles experience. The physical distance from the theater of war has lead to a greater push toward unmanned planes and ground robots capable of making decisions without the help of human operators. However, Sharkey says the problem is that robots are unable to fulfill two of the basic tenets of warfare: discriminating friend from foe, and proportionality, which is determining a reasonable amount of force to gain a given military advantage. In July, the U.S. Air Force published its "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047," in which it predicts the deployment of fully autonomous attack planes and suggests that humans will play more of a supervisory role "monitoring the execution of decisions," instead of making the decisions. However, the report does acknowledge that authorizing a machine to make lethal combat decisions relies on political and military leaders solving legal and ethical questions.
From "Call for Debate on Killer Robots"
BBC News (08/03/09) Palmer, Jason
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