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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rise of the Machines

We humans have never had much trouble coming up with easier, more convenient ways to kill each other. In 1991, for example, when the U.S. launched Operation Desert Storm against Saddam Hussein, we witnessed a conflict that was fought like a child's video game. The average person was able to maintain a safe and impersonal distance from the horrors of war.

That was nearly two decades ago, and modern warfare has since seen a growing reliance on "smart" killer technology. But some people think that because of this technology, we may not be able to escape the horrors of war after all. From the AFP:
    Increasingly autonomous, gun-toting robots developed for warfare could easily fall into the hands of terrorists and may one day unleash a robot arms race, a top expert on artificial intelligence told AFP.

    "They pose a threat to humanity," said University of Sheffield professor Noel Sharkey ahead of a keynote address Wednesday before Britain's Royal United Services Institute.

    Intelligent machines deployed on battlefields around the world -- from mobile grenade launchers to rocket-firing drones -- can already identify and lock onto targets without human help.

    There are more than 4,000 US military robots on the ground in Iraq, as well as unmanned aircraft that have clocked hundreds of thousands of flight hours.

    The first three armed combat robots fitted with large-caliber machine guns deployed to Iraq last summer, manufactured by US arms maker Foster-Miller, proved so successful that 80 more are on order, said Sharkey.

    But up to now, a human hand has always been required to push the button or pull the trigger.

    If we are not careful, he said, that could change.
Suddenly, movies like The Terminator and The Matrix have newfound relevance. Is it possible this technology could be turned against us, or is this much ado about nothing?

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