Rise of Military Robots
Stories of robots have been around for centuries. In 1590, Edmund Spenser wrote in his epic poem, “The Fairie Queene”, of a man made of metal that did not eat or sleep but could unceasingly, mindlessly battle foes with its mighty flail. The sight of such a heartless death machine would have been a terrifying prospect in the 1500’s. How do you feel about the fact the future is now? The U.S. military, and likely other armies around the world, now have a vast array of remote controlled, and even semi-autonomous unmanned, armored and weaponized combat vehicles. What was once the sole purview of science fiction writers is now becoming a regular feature on Pentagon and Kremlin generals’ shopping lists.
The types of murderous machinery available to the militaries of the world run the gamut from ground-based vehicles to drones that deal death from the sky. Some of the robots run on tracks like a small tank; built to endure a respectable amount of firepower while shooting back, leaving a payload of explosives or providing vital reconnaissance information to their human masters. One such device, shown on Google images under the search “military robots”, shows a lethal-looking model with four cameras, a microphone a “TRAP” gun and a machine gun. They can go where no responsible commander would send his live, human troops, to root out the enemy from a safe position. They, ostensibly, make combat safe for the good guys, assuming it is only the good guys that will own these new and even more desensitizing forms of war tools.
Not all the machines are slow, lumbering tank-like vehicles. The U.S. Army has just revealed their new “Wildcat” robotic attack machine. It looks like something out of Star Wars’ battle for Hoth and is manufactured by Boston Dynamic. It looks somewhat like a mechanical pack mule with a solid torso and four nimble legs. It has a top speed of 25 KPH and can take a blast to the side without being knocked off its feet. It is completely remotely controlled, unlike its much faster predecessor, the “Cheetah” which could carry a payload and still go almost twice the speed of the Wildcat, but had to be tethered.
If these ground-based robotic vehicles put fear into your heart, let’s look at the machines that strike their enemies from above; the drones. Drone warfare has become serious business under Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama. Some might argue raining death from above on suspected al Qaida targets is a more peaceful approach than all out war. Others claim, however, that drone strikes create more anti-American terrorists than they exterminate. No one questions that the threat of the drones does disrupt and delay terrorist operations. The leadership of insurgent groups tend to be a bit paranoid about being blown up at any second. As a result, they must expend much time and resources hiding from the drones and moving from safe house to safe house, than planning attacks on people.
The drones vary in shape from glider-looking affairs to ones that appear suspiciously like UFOs. There’s an X-wing model, some helicopter-like types and one that looks like a miniature stealth bomber. All can apparently carry enough firepower to create a good-sized crater where your house used to be. It is likely that piloting a drone would be very much like playing a video game. This, too, would help with the desensitization process one needs to make a decent human being kill another.
There is another type of military vehicle the army is developing, which also deserves mention but isn’t actually a robot. It is called an exoskeleton and is kind of like a robot you wear. It gives the wearer almost super-human strength, abilities and durability. Again, there is an amazing panorama of styles and designs; some which, somewhat ironically, resemble the “Iron Man” suit from the comics and movies. Again we are reminded we are living in a future that was warned of from our past.
The robots of war aren’t a big deal for many. Once you accept that war is a necessary evil, it only makes sense to be prepared to wage it as well as you can. If one side is decidedly stronger and doesn’t need to endanger any of its own troops, it could possibly make war less of a possibility if the weak side is smart enough to back down and negotiate. However, it is having troops in harm’s way that sometimes stays the hand of a military aggressor. If an army of robots is being controlled from afar, the attackers literally have no skin in the game. They may be less likely to seek a diplomatic solution to a political disagreement than a military one.
Another concern of robotic weaponry is the effect it will have on the human soldiers. How will they feel if they are sent in to do a robot’s work since robots are much more expensive than replacement troops? Will the desensitizing nature of remote warfare make the human controllers of these machines less compassionate? Is there room for compassion in war, anyway?
The scariest part of it all will be when these robots are “improved” even further. When they become totally autonomous and capable of rudimentary decision making, who will stop them when their programming goes awry? Has a computer been made yet that doesn’t have glitches?
These, and other questions will remain unanswered as the military goes about arming itself with the latest and greatest destructive toys ever seen in the history of warfare. The future for these killing machines seems rosy but the same can’t be said for the humans that must face them.
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