Ever since the first caveman fashioned a spear of hardened wood, or thought of a wheel and said, “Hmmm,” man has been driven to invent for an improved or safer existence.
Humans have traveled a long way since their earliest ancestors but two inherent characteristics remain, fear and greed. Fear of his neighbor and lust for his possessions. And of course neighbors can now be miles away for man’s reach is vastly extended … and so are his wars in far off places.
We might have been expecting it for some time but the military robot is truly here. So the pilot can remain in a ground ‘cockpit’ and control his fighter jet just as he did sitting in it before. Pilots are expensive to train and their experience even costlier to acquire. So your top gun is safely ensconced on terra firma while his plane wreaks havoc in the sky.
Robotic pilots also have numerous advantages over humans for they can tolerate g-forces that would crush a human’s ribs and kill him. Against human pilots he can be a fiend of the sky, a devil incarnate although his quick assessment of targets in dog fights may as yet not be perfected. So, time will tell.
On the ground, military robots are already here, being used to ferry supplies to frontline troops in realistic exercises. Moreover, numerous ground robots are being used by different countries including Israel and Iran, and China’s military has deployed them to police its borders with India.
Proponents point out the advantages: They don’t get tired, don’t seek shelter under trees when it rains, don’t chat with friends, don’t get bored on guard duty, with a documented deterioration in attention to detail after a half-hour or so. Moreover, unlike a natural reaction to danger for humans, robots have no fear.
It may sound far-fetched but researchers are working on robots that could be energy independent simply by foraging for plant matter, without being too fussy about what they eat or affected by illness inducing bacteria.
While not at present used for killing autonomously, there is the possibility of developing ethical robots programmed to follow the ‘laws of war’ and its ancillary ‘rules of engagement’. More importantly, devoid of emotion, a robot is not going to get so angry at the death of a friend, for example, that it charges out of a safe foxhole towards the enemy and gets killed.
All true, yet soldiers who have served with robots have been known to name them, get attached to them, hold funerals when they are destroyed, and suffer a sense of loss.
Man’s propensity for war is only exceeded by his proclivity for violence and for the most (relatively) trivial of reasons. Whether it is Homer’s epicrecitingthe story of the Trojan war nearer its end, caused to start with by Paris abducting Helen, or in more recent history Archduke Ferdinand getting himself assassinated in Serbia, setting off a chain of war declarations leading to the First World War and the death of millions, man’s obduracy is matched only by his extreme stupidity.
Perhaps military robots are the logical answer — honor and obligations can be satisfied and the innocent young spared.