Entries Tagged "drones"

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Ethics of Autonomous Military Robots

Ronald C. Arkin, “Governing Lethal Behavior: Embedding Ethics in a Hybrid Deliberative/Reactive Robot Architecture,” Technical Report GIT-GVU-07011. Fascinating (and long: 117-page) paper on ethical implications of robots in war.

Summary, Conclusions, and Future Work

This report has provided the motivation, philosophy, formalisms, representational requirements, architectural design criteria, recommendations, and test scenarios to design and construct an autonomous robotic system architecture capable of the ethical use of lethal force. These first steps toward that goal are very preliminary and subject to major revision, but at the very least they can be viewed as the beginnings of an ethical robotic warfighter. The primary goal remains to enforce the International Laws of War in the battlefield in a manner that is believed achievable, by creating a class of robots that not only conform to International Law but outperform human soldiers in their ethical capacity.

It is too early to tell whether this venture will be successful. There are daunting problems

  • The transformation of International Protocols and battlefield ethics into machine usable representations and real-time reasoning capabilities for bounded morality using modal logics.
  • Mechanisms to ensure that the design of intelligent behaviors only provide responses within rigorously defined ethical boundaries.
  • The creation of techniques to permit the adaptation of an ethical constraint set and underlying behavioral control parameters that will ensure moral performance, should those norms be violated in any way, involving reflective and affective processing.
  • A means to make responsibility assignment clear and explicit for all concerned parties regarding the deployment of a machine with a lethal potential on its mission.

Over the next two years, this architecture will be slowly fleshed out in the context of the specific test scenarios outlined in this article. Hopefully the goals of this effort, will fuel other scientists’ interest to assist in ensuring that the machines that we as roboticists create fit within international and societal expectations and requirements.

My personal hope would be that they will never be needed in the present or the future. But mankind’s tendency toward war seems overwhelming and inevitable. At the very least, if we can reduce civilian casualties according to what the Geneva Conventions have promoted and the Just War tradition subscribes to, the result will have been a humanitarian effort, even while staring directly at the face of war.

Posted on January 28, 2008 at 7:12 AMView Comments

The Technology of Homeland Security

Reuters has an article on future security technologies. I’ve already talked about automatic license-plate-capture cameras and aerial surveillance (drones and satellites), but there’s some new stuff:

Resembling the seed of a silver maple tree, the single-winged device would pack a tiny two-stage rocket thruster along with telemetry, communications, navigation, imaging sensors and a power source.

The nano air vehicle, or NAV, is designed to carry interchangeable payload modules—the size of an aspirin tablet. It could be used for chemical and biological detection or finding a “needle in a haystack,” according to Ned Allen, chief scientist at Lockheed’s fabled Skunk Works research arm.

Released in organized swarms to fly low over a disaster area, the NAV sensors could detect human body heat and signs of breathing, Allen said.

And this:

Airport screening is another area that could be transformed within 10 years, using scanning wizardry to pinpoint a suspected security threat through biometrics—based on one or more physical or behavioral traits.

“We can read fingerprints from about five meters…all 10 prints,” said Bruce Walker, vice president of homeland security for Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N). “We can also do an iris scan at the same distance.”

For a while I’ve been saying that this whole national ID debate will be irrelevant soon. In the future you won’t have to show ID; they’ll already know who you are.

Posted on September 26, 2007 at 6:13 AMView Comments

Robotic Guns

Scary, but philosophically no different than land mines:

Developed by state-owned Rafael, See-Shoot consists of a series of remotely controlled weapon stations which receive fire-control information from ground sensors and manned and unmanned aircraft. Once a target is verified and authorized for destruction, operators sitting safely behind command center computers push a button to fire the weapon.

Posted on July 2, 2007 at 8:42 AMView Comments

A Robotic Bill of Rights

Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics are a security device, protecting humans from robots:

1) A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2) A robot must obey the orders given to 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.

In an interesting blog post, Greg London wonders if we also need explicit limitations on those laws: a Robotic Bill of Rights. Here are his suggestions:

First amendment: A robot will act as an agent representing its owner’s best interests.

Second amendment: A robot will not hide the execution of any order from its owner.

Third amendment: A robot will not perform any order that would be against its owner’s standing orders.

Fourth amendment: The robot’s standing orders can only be overridden by the robot’s owner.

Fifth amendment: A robot’s execution of any of its orders can be halted by the robot’s owner.

Sixth amendment: Any standing orders in a robot can be overridden by the robot’s owner.

Seventh amendment: A robot will not perform any order issued by anyone other than its owner without explicitely informing its owner of the order, the effects the order would have, and who issued the order, and then getting the owner’s permission to execute the order.

I haven’t thought enough about this to know if these seven amendments are both necessary and sufficient, but it’s a fascinating topic of discussion.

Posted on May 26, 2006 at 12:17 PMView Comments

The Ultimate Terrorist Threat: Flying Robot Drones

This one really pegs the movie-plot threat hype-meter:

The technology for remote-controlled light aircraft is now highly advanced, widely available—and, experts say, virtually unstoppable.

Models with a wingspan of five metres (16 feet), capable of carrying up to 50 kilograms (110 pounds), remain undetectable by radar.

And thanks to satellite positioning systems, they can now be programmed to hit targets some distance away with just a few metres (yards) short of pinpoint accuracy.

Security services the world over have been considering the problem for several years, but no one has yet come up with a solution.


Armed militant groups have already tried to use unmanned aircraft, according to a number of studies by institutions including the Center for Nonproliferation studies in Monterey, California, and the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies in Moscow.

In August 2002, for example, the Colombian military reported finding nine small remote-controlled planes at a base it had taken from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

On April 11, 2005 the Lebanese Shiite militia group, Hezbollah, flew a pilotless drone over Israeli territory, on what it called a “surveillance” mission. The Israeli military confirmed this and responded by flying warplanes over southern Lebanon.

Remote-control planes are not hard to get hold of, according to Jean-Christian Delessert, who runs a specialist model airplane shop near Geneva.

“Putting together a large-scale model is not difficult—all you need is a few materials and a decent electronics technician,” says Delessert.

In his view, “if terrorists get hold of that, it will be impossible to do anything about it. We did some tests with a friend who works at a military radar base: they never detected us… if the radar picks anything up, it thinks it is a flock of birds and automatically wipes it.”

Posted on May 9, 2006 at 7:36 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.