Above is the thrilling and scary documentary Remote Control War, first broadcast in February 2011.
- The predator drones in Afghanistan are remote-controlled from Nevada. Operators give them directions like fly there and bomb that.
- America has more than 7,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, and more than 12,000 unmanned ground vehicles, in operation.
- Forty-three other countries are building or buying military robots.
- Congress has declared that by 2025, a third of America’s ground systems must be unmanned (robotic).
- Currently, there is one operator per robot. Many robots are autonomous in movement – the predator drones fly themselves in changing weather conditions – but no robot today makes lethal decisions on its own.
- That won’t be the case for long. Having humans in the loop slows things down, and it’s expensive. Soon, robots will be making lethal decision on their own. Contrary to experts’ predictions, the U.S. military claims there will “always be a human in the loop.” But they also paid Ronald Arkin for several years to figure out how to make fully autonomous robots follow the Laws of War and the Rules of Engagement. Arkin published his report, Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots, in 2009.
- By 2030, the U.S. Air Force plans to have swarms of bird-sized flying robots that operating semi-autonomously for weeks at a time.
Here’s the point:
Semi-autonomous battlefield robots are already in use. Fully autonomous battlefield robots are at most a few decades away.
When fully autonomous warbots are deployed, they will need to be programmed with a machine ethics: a program to ensure ethical behavior. So we need to start figuring this stuff out now. As Colin Allen said, we don’t want to get to the point where we say, “Oops, we should have started thinking this through 20 years ago.”
All my talk about machine ethics for superintelligent machines has alienated some readers, because superintelligence is perhaps a century away, and some readers think it will never come. But the above points should persuade anyone that while machine ethics is the future, we also need machine ethics today.