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As Military Robots Increase, So Does the Complexity of Their Relationship With Soldiers


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A military robot in the field.

The emotional bond between soldiers and the machines they serve with is getting complicated.

Credit: Ralph Orlowski/Getty

U.S. military personnel are forming complex emotional ties with robots, in a growing trend that might foreshadow the future of human-robot interactions.

University of Washington Ph.D. and human-robot interaction expert Julie Carpenter has studied the relationships between soldiers and robots and found the soldiers often conduct funerals for robots and identify with them as an extension of their own personality.

As the military funds the development of new autonomous robotic systems, such human-machine relationships are likely to become more commonplace. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and private contractors are advancing toward providing the military with functional humanoid robots and vehicle drones that could launch autonomous attacks.

However, robot deployments on the battlefield are hindered by the military's slow technology acquisition process, a lack of experimentation, and a generation gap between soldiers and officers. For example, people currently sometimes introduce procedural errors when working with robots.

The military should strive for a collaborative relationship between soldiers and technology, says the Center for International Maritime Security's David Blair. "Human beings are good at heuristics, computers are good at algorithms," Blair says. "With increased automation in the battle space..what we're seeing now is a renegotiation of the boundary between the two."

From Newsweek
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