Robotic Revolution Opens New Front for Homeland Security

Robotic Revolution Opens New Front for Homeland Security
A soldier places simulated explosives in the hand of a Talon explosive ordinance disposal robot, Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Feb. 20, 2013 (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Joshua Edwards).

The U.S. military faces shrinking budgets, but its global commitments remain expansive. One response to this ends-means gap has been a growing interest in robotics, with the hope that this technology can be a force multiplier that allows military units to perform missions with fewer humans. And the United States is not alone: At least 43 countries have active programs to explore military robotics.

Military robots are already performing repetitive tasks like moving supplies and loading cargo, as well as particularly dangerous missions like evacuating casualties under fire, disabling explosive devices and collecting information in hostile environments. All experts agree that their utility will continue to expand at an increased pace. Someday soon the U.S. military may use robots to provide 24-hour, long-term security with a limited troop presence following a conflict or natural disaster. Robots might also be used to provide early warning and help deter aggression that falls below the threshold of a conventional military response.

But the drive for military robots also has potential dangers and risks. The greatest concern of activists and experts at this point is that militaries might someday develop “killer robots” that are used against humans. Like the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the Terminator movies, killer robots might make life-or-death decisions guided only by algorithms written by their programmers. Eventually they may even learn to make lethal decisions totally on their own.

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