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Free-thinking killer robots are no way to wage war

Putting Arnold Schwarzenegger aside, killer robots have long been the go-to for science fiction junkies when it comes to fearing new technology.

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Image: Wikimedia commons

By Anthony Biondi (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 4, 2014

Image:  Wikimedia commons

Take a tip from Hollywood — the killer robots always turn on their human masters.

Putting Arnold Schwarzenegger aside, killer robots have long been the go-to for science fiction junkies when it comes to fearing new technology. It is so prevalent that, according to the Vancouver Sun, when a UN meeting was held discussing the real possibility of autonomous killer robots the speaker had to appeal to the audience, cautioning them away from these pre-conceived notions.

But how can we? We’ve all seen The Terminator, I Robot, maybe we’ve watched Stargate SG1 or played Mass Effect. It seems impossible to think of the possibilities of a free-thinking robot that is designed to kill.

That being said, they aren’t a reality yet. The UN meeting was meant to pre-empt the discussion on these robots, since human-controlled ones with some automatic features have already risen, according to the Globe and Mail. We live in an age that is dangerously close to such a reality.

Not that I’ve ever been against science fiction becoming a reality. Nay, I have always been in favour of progressing technology. I’ve long been awaiting the beginning of the space age. Still, autonomous robots built for war scares me a little. Movies and science fiction aside, I think the UN was fully justified in calling a meeting to pre-emptively create rules around this rising tech. War is a man-made act, and should therefore be carried out by men, not by an out-of-control arms race.

To bring in Jim Gordon’s escalation theory from Batman Begins: if such robots were created, when will technological advancements be too much, how big will these robots get, and whom will they be programmed to target? With the creation of autonomous robots on one side of a battlefield, and men on the other, we will likely see an arms race that could parallel the atrocities of WWII. Thousands of innocent people were killed with Nagasaki and Hiroshima; who will be be next in using robots to justify doing the same thing?

One argument favouring the use of robots in war, according to the Globe and Mail, was that this technology could lead to battles being fought without humans all together. I ask why? If this were the case, then why not settle a war with chess pieces on a chess board? That would save money, time, and lives. Battles are meant to be fought with men. It’s how they are designed. If robots are introduced into the mix, it removes the basic principle of battle.

To accompany this argument, if robots are the sole fighting force: sure they may save men’s lives, but suddenly we are in a battle of money. Yes, war is already somewhat like that. The side with more money has bigger toys (illegal money is not exempt from this). However, with robots fielding the battle, we are looking at an arms race in both technology and economy. That leaves any smaller country, any one that doesn’t have the technology or the income to defend itself, helpless.

I hear talk of autonomous weaponized robots, and I cringe. There are very few advantages to a technology that is being developed for the sake of being developed. This is a road humanity should steer clear of. Why focus on weaponization when there are far more useful and helpful tasks for which we can design robots. I’d sure love a robot housecleaner. Screw strapping a gun on its shoulder give it a duster and a mop.

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