In a brief update to those robot soldiers of the future, I noted that the US Army announced yesterday that it had reached a milestone of one million hours of unmanned flight. At present, to my limited knowledge, all the UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) flown by the US have a human controller, but I’m willing to bet that autonomous robotic systems to make data analysis and response quicker (thus avoiding delays in analysis and decisions or through lost telemetry) are in the works. As the US DOD piece says, “the Army continues focusing on the future, improving capabilities and fielding new systems”. Vague, yes. Of interest to military ethicists, certainly.

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  1. Mike:
    Just finished P.W. Singer's 'Wired for War' on robotics and autonomous systems. Fascinating reading, and, no, we're not ready. There are a host of ethical issues connected to where on the 'autonomous' range we expect a robot to be (for instance, can it return fire autonomously?). Autonomous systems already exist, starting with my seatbelt and airbags that don't wait for input, and my spam checker that uses rules to sort my email.
    Other issues, of course, include the ethics of killing without assuming risk (what about the soldier's code then?). Is the guy who mans the UAV from Nevada, drops a few bombs on his shift, and then goes home to wife and kids and BBQ a legitimate military target for a Taliban or Libyan UAV? I'd have to say 'yes …'