AI News, The Rise of Robot Warriors

The Rise of Robot Warriors

Advertisement The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen the unprecedented rise in the use of robots by the United States both on and above the battlefield.

You just have these amazing changes happening, and yet we don’t talk about them—sometimes because it’s too complex, sometimes because it’s almost too daunting, sometimes because, you know, we’re humans and we would rather just talk about ”American Idol.” There is also the problem of our ignorance, almost willfully so.

I gave a talk and one of the people in attendance was a very senior Pentagon adviser—very senior, big name—who afterward was telling me about how really remarkable this was, he never imagined we had so many robots that we’re already using today, wow, he just didn’t know all this.

He then went on to say, ”You know, this technology is coming so quickly that I bet that one day the Internet will be like in a video game with three dimensions and you’ll be able to walk around in it.” I

it is the way we talk about ”one day we will live on Mars.” In his mind something like Second Life or virtual worlds is something way off in the fantasy world of one day, whereas it’s already five years old.

For iRobot, with the PackBot [a ground-based military robot], it happens when they finally get the prototypes into the hands of soldiers in Afghanistan and when the soldiers in Afghanistan won’t give them back at the end of what was supposed to be a couple of weeks of experiments.

[Editor’s note: The entire FCS program was officially terminated on 24 June 2009] Foster Miller [a high-tech company in Waltham, Mass.] talked about their ”ski-ski” moment in Iraq, where basically they had been able to get the robot systems out to the EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] teams, but the teams weren’t using them.

The ”ski-ski” moment is this tragic incident that happens over the course of a couple of days where two EOD techs are killed in Iraq, and both of them are of Eastern European heritage with last names ending in ski.

We really do have to start using them.” There are other similar experiences for all sorts of unmanned systems, such as with the [General Atomics MQ-1] Predator UAV drone, where you go from no one wants them to the top general in CENTCOM [United States Central Command] describing them as ”my most valuable weapon”—not ”my most valuable unmanned weapon” but ”my most valuable weapon overall.” Spectrum: In the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap, the Department of Defense said it hoped—and I think most people thought then it was a fantasy—to have around a total of 350 unmanned aerial vehicles in the military inventory by 2010.

If the idea of Moore’s Law continues to hold true, then 25 years from now these systems will be as much as 1 billion times as powerful as today’s in terms of their computing power.

That leads to the second thing, which is that technologies are revolutionary not only because of the incredible new capabilities they offer you but because of the incredible new questions they force you to ask—questions about what’s possible that was never possible before and also new questions about what’s proper, what’s right or wrong that you didn’t have to think about before.

It is about going around meeting all these people, from the robot scientist who wonders if he is equivalent to the nuclear physicist back in the 1940s, to the science fiction author who is now actually having a major impact on what’s being made and done in the real world, to the 19-year-old drone pilot sitting in Nevada who is now flying a system over Pakistan.


Last year, Locus unveiled its own warehouse robotics solution called the LocusBot—first using it for its own business, then selling them to companies that ship everything from housewares to auto parts.

For decades, operators were focused on the task of loading pallets and shipping them to retailers, who broke up the shipments and routed them to retail locations.

Fulfilling online orders, on the other hand, requires shippers to pack boxes with a diverse set of individual items and route them on to customers’ homes.

That shift has given way to what people in the business call collaborative robotics, in which a human warehouse worker toils alongside an autonomous machine.

At the Quiet Logistics warehouse, the robots shorten the distance a warehouse worker travels on a typical day from 14 miles to less than 5 miles, Faulk said.

The robots, meanwhile, park themselves directly in front of the shelf that the worker is supposed to pick from, decreasing the risk the human will pick the wrong item.

Seattle-based Inc.’s rapid shipping times have taught customers to expect goods on their doorstep in two days or less, fueling a warehouse boom as retailers scramble to amass distribution hubs closer to their shoppers.

Across the economy, almost 25 million jobs will be lost to automation in the next 10 years, while the new technology will create 15 million jobs, according to research firm Forrester.

Robots at War

TECHNOLOGY Robots at War Popular Science talks to the author of Wired for War: the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century By Val Wang April 7, 2009 SOLDIER WITH PACKBOT courtesy iRobot PackBots roam the streets of Iraq defusing bombs.

Powered By The military is driving the cutting edge of the robotics industry, so forget about Isaac Asimov's Three Laws as laid out in his seminal science fiction book I, Robot: a robot may not injure a human being, a robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, a robot must protect its own existence.

Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, has written Wired for War, in which he's interviewed a motley crew of people involved with the robotics industry: CEOs of robotics companies, 19-year-old drone pilots, four-star generals, refusenik roboticists who won't build for the military, people in the Middle East on the other end of the bullets and missiles, and science fiction authors who consult for the Pentagon.

could claim I knew a lot in that I grew up playing with Star Wars action figures and sleeping in Battlestar Galactica bedsheets, but the reality is that I'm not an engineer, I'm a social scientist, so the chapter 'Robotics for Dummies' was about how I was a dummy, learning everything I could about robotics so I could explain them to a layman, where the field is and where it's headed.

The Marine colonel talking about, 'Oh, yeah, I got the idea for building that system from The Empire Strikes Back with my kids.' The people at the Air Force research lab talking about how, 'Oh yes, we decided to call it the Phaser because we knew it was more likely to get funding if it had a sci-fi sounding name.'

went to Human Rights Watch and was asking them about accountability coming out of drone strikes in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan and two of the senior leaders there get in an argument in front of me as to which legal system we should turn to to get the answers, to who do we hold accountable when the drone kills the wrong person, and one says, 'the Geneva Convention,' and the other says, 'No, no, no, it's the Star Trek Prime Directive.'

You have now the experience of, for example, that Predator drone pilot who appears in the book, who says, 'you're 'going to war' for twelve hours, you're putting missiles on enemy targets, you're killing enemy combatants, and then you get back in your car and drive home and 20 minutes after being 'at war' you're sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework.'

The leading news editor of Lebanon [Rami Khouri], who was actually saying this [to me] while a drone was flying above him at the time, and he says, 'It's just another sign of the cold-hearted, cruel Israelis and Americans who are also cowards because they send out machines to fight us.

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War Robots

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'Walking War Robots brings its explosive online mecha battles to Android at last'.

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'Pixonic globally releases Walking War Robots onto Google Play'.

Unmanned drone attacks and shape-shifting robots: War's remote-control future

Like an ice sculpture or the liquid metal assassin in 'Terminator 2,' the device changes shape, slips through the opening, then reassumes its original form to look around.

Soldiers hoping to eavesdrop on an enemy release a series of tiny, unmanned aircraft the size and shape of houseflies to hover in a room unnoticed, relaying invaluable video footage.

fleet of drones roams a mountain pass, spraying a fine mist along a known terrorist transit route – the US military's version of 'CSI: Al Qaeda.'

Days later, when troops capture suspects hundreds of miles away, they test them for traces of the 'taggant' to discover whether they have traversed the trail and may, in fact, be prosecuted as insurgents.

But the Pentagon, in its perpetual quest to find the next weapon or soldier-saving device – and with scientific assurances that it's possible – is already investing millions to develop it.

'We're not about 20 years, or 10 years, or even five years away – a lot of this could be out in the field in under two years,' says Mitchell Zatkin, former director of programmable matter at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the Pentagon's premier research office.

The development of a new generation of military robots, including armed drones, may eventually mark one of the biggest revolutions in warfare in generations.

Throughout history, from the crossbow to the cannon to the aircraft carrier, one weapon has supplanted another as nations have strived to create increasingly lethal means of allowing armies to project power from afar.

While few are suggesting armies made up exclusively of automated machines (yet), the increased use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan has already reinforced the view among many policymakers and Pentagon planners that the United States can carry out effective military operations by relying largely on UAVs, targeted cruise missile strikes, and a relatively small number of special operations forces.

Already, when lawmakers on Capitol Hill accused the Obama administration of circumventing their authority in waging war in Libya, White House lawyers argued in essence that an operation can't be considered war if there are no troops on the ground – and, as a result, does not require the permission of Congress.

He then returns to a nearby trailer, sits down at a console with joysticks and monitors, and guides the snub-nosed plane down the runway and into the night air – unmanned and fully armed.

The takeoffs of Predators with metronome regularity here at Kandahar Air Field, in southern Afghanistan, has helped turn this strip of asphalt into what the Pentagon calls the single busiest runway in the world.

Today, armed Predators and their larger offspring, Reapers, fly over America's battlefields, equipped with both missiles and powerful cameras, becoming the most widely used and, arguably, most important tools in the US arsenal.

Today, the amount of money being spent on research for military robotics surpasses the budget of the National Science Foundation, which, at $6.9 billion a year, funds nearly one-quarter of all federally supported scientific research at the nation's universities.

Yet the biggest allure of the new high-tech armaments may be something as old as conflict itself: the desire to reduce the number of casualties on the battlefield and gain a strategic advantage over the enemy.

Richard Lynch, a commander in Iraq, observed at a conference on military robotics in Washington earlier this year: 'When I look at the 153 soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice [under my command], I know that 80 percent of them were put in a situation where we could have placed an unmanned system in the same job.'

'We want to minimize the [human] footprint as much as possible,' says the 451st Operations Group commander at the Kandahar airfield, where the effects of being close to the war are clearly visible: The plywood walls of the tactical operations center are lined with framed bits of jagged metal from mortars that have fallen on the airfield over the years.

It probably doesn't reassure critics that the flight controls for drones over the years have come to resemble video-game contollers, which the military has done to make them more intuitive for a generation of young soldiers raised on games like Gears of War and Killzone.

As the US increasingly uses drones in its secret campaigns, questions arise about how much to inform America's allies about UAV attacks and whether they alienate local populations more than they help subdue the enemy, which the US has starkly, and almost weekly, confronted with its drone campaign in Pakistan.

From the US military's viewpoint, the drone war has been fantastically successful, helping to kill key Al Qaeda operatives and Taliban insurgents with a minimum of civilian casualties and almost no US troops put at risk.

Some even believe that the ethical oversight of drones is far more rigorous than that of manned aircraft, since at least 150 people – ground crews, engineers, pilots, intelligence analyzers – are typically involved in each UAV mission.

Others ask a more simple but practical question: What about the troops who conduct the UAV strikes from the Nevada desert – could they become legitimate targets of America's enemies at, say, a local mall, bringing the war on terror to the suburbs?

Despite warnings that 'video-game warfare' might make them callous to killing, new studies suggest that the stress levels drone operators face are higher than those for infantry forces on the ground.

While the use of robots that can detect and defuse explosives is growing exponentially, the next big frontier for America's military R2-D2s may parallel what happened to drones: They may be fitted with weapons – offering new fighting capabilities as well as raising new concerns.

Though US military officials tend to emphasize that troops must remain 'in the loop' as robots or drones are weaponized, there remains a strong push for automation coming from the Pentagon.

With Pentagon funding, Dr. Arkin is looking at whether it is possible to build robots that behave more ethically than humans – to not be tempted to shoot someone, for instance, out of fear or revenge.

The key, he says, is that the robot should 'first do no harm, rather than 'shoot first, ask questions later.' ' Such technology requires what Arkin calls an 'ethical adaptor,' which involves following orders.

In the not-too-distant future, military officials envision soldiers and robots teaming up in the field, with the troops able to communicate with machines the way they would with a human squad team member.

An automated 'sentry robot' now stands guard in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, equipped with heat, voice, and motion sensors, as well as a 5 mm machine gun.

In the end, the emerging era of remote-control warfare – like evolutions in warfare throughout history – will likely create profound new capabilities as well as profound new problems for the US.