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Robots at War: Scholars Debate the Ethical Issues

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Ronald Arkin

Ronald Arkin, a robotics expert and ethicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has proposed that warrior robots with an "ethical governor" function could preserve more civilian lives than human soldiers can.

Credit: Pouya Dianat for The Chronicle

Lethal autonomous systems are gradually penetrating battlefield operations, and Georgia Tech professor Ronald C. Arkin predicts the advent of robots that are ethically superior to human soldiers. "I'm taking about ... very specific machines for certain tasks that will work alongside human war fighters to carry out particular types of operations that humans don't do particularly well at, such as building-clearing operations," he says.

Arkin has created algorithms for an ethical governor to direct such machines to either shoot or hold their fire in accordance with international rules of law. The algorithms came out of a project funded by a three-year grant from the U.S. Army Research Office to produce an artificial conscience to guide robots in the battlefield independent of human control. Arkin says the decision-making architecture could potentially support the creation of ethically superior robotic fighters in as little as one to two decades.

The independence of autonomous robots also could be an asset in situations where the enemy severs the communications link between controller and drone. University of Sheffield professor Noel Sharkey counters that a robot-sensing system cannot attain a level of sophistication to discriminate between combatants and civilians within Arkin's proposed timeline.

From Chronicle of Higher Education
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