Scientists debate a robot war

By | February 14, 2009

Book Review Wired For War…some 40 countries are making military robots. The motive: reduced casualties. “When a robot dies, you don’t have to write a letter to its mother,” Singer quotes one unit commander as saying.

Military robots are already being built with greater endurance, firepower, precision and — for the moment, submissiveness — than human soldiers. The trend is to make them more autonomous, able to take decisions according to built-in commands, unmoved by fear, pity, revenge or other human emotion.

Whether they can or should be endowed with a system of ethics is controversial. How to tell a ragged soldier from a ragged civilian?

Scientists foresee the day when robots will develop what is called “strong AI” — high level artificial intelligence — and use it to reproduce themselves without human intervention. Singer quotes Vernon Vinge, mathematician, computer scientist and science fiction writer, as predicting more than 15 years ago: “Within the next 30 years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly thereafter, the human era will be ended.”

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