Ground Drones – Be Afraid

13 09 2012


Well OK, maybe this isn’t as scary as it seems. But, we think that the implications are potentially scary.  How long until one of these things is designed and programmed to hurt people?

In the 1940s and ’50s, some people would have laughed at the thought of a permanently manned orbiting space station, crewed with people who could whip out a camera and take your picture from 215 miles above your town.

(They really would have laughed when you told them that the station would include both American and Russians, and both men and women.  At least some progress is good!)

But that thought would have terrified some people, the more imaginative types who would envision orbiting outposts as platforms for bombardment, using either conventional or nuclear stores.  Fortunately that didn’t come to pass …

Fast forward to today’s reality, and meet DARPA’s new “ground drone” – a mechanized, automated pack mule robot that automatically follows its human leader around through all kinds of terrain and elevations, carrying up to 400 lbs.

A company called Boston Dynamics came up with this thing.

You have to see the video to believe it – make sure to watch to the end, where you see the thing on its side, then it rights itself.

There’s also a clip at the very end with two of the robots, and they have these sensors of some sort kind of rocking back and forth – kind of terrifying, if you ask us.



Waging War by Machine

27 01 2012

Yesterday the L.A. Times ran a piece regarding the development of another unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV), Northrop Grumman’s X-47B.  Unlike other UAVs currently in operation, this one will fly and operate completely autonomously, including identifying amd attacking enemies on its own.

The Times article takes a different tact on it, rather than the usual “ain’t it cool?” angle; they ask, who is accountable for kills (intentional and otherwise) and mistakes with an autonomous weapons system?


I have a problem with this concept, morally speaking. It is disconcerting to me that militaries around the world are heading in the direction of pilot-less aircraft for warfighting.

There are times and places where it just makes sense to employ  unmanned robotic vehicles – for long-duration reconnaissance over hostile territory, to name but one example.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t want American soldiers, airmen, sailors or Marines unnecessarily put in harm’s way. Quite the contrary; I love my country and I love my countrymen. I don’t want to see the United States decline.  I love my countrymen so much, that I feel we should never put them in harm’s way unless armed conflict is absolutely unavoidable – which it was (it was avoidable I mean) in the case of the Iraq war – and many would argue Afghanistan as well.

However I feel strongly than one of the major deterrents against waging war is the prospect of your soldiers dying in the prosecution of those hostilities.  This leads to an erosion of popular support for war, which can lead to political backlash.

When coupled with other modern military innovations and trends, such as a reliance upon air strikes employing precision munitions and a non-conscripted army, and the general American apathy for the invasion of other counties and waging war in general, we see a potential for widespread and continuous warfare in the coming decades.

When the robots take all of the risk out of warfighting, and the human aspect is removed (unilaterally I would add – it won’t be robots and other lifeless objects that get destroyed and killed on the other side), this disconnect between the general public and the reality of being bombed by robotic aircraft grows wider and wider.

This is bad, people.

The United States must live up to its rightful position in the international community of nations, by being an example to be emulated, and by being a force for good in the world.

We must reverse our tendency to spend more and more money on the national defense budget, which now almost exceeds the spending of all other nations’ COMBINED, including China and Russia.

Think about that for a moment.

Research the statistics if you don’t believe me.

If we spent more of that money on foreign policy, diplomacy and economic development, we would be much safer from foreign threats.

This is my country as much as it is any Senator’s, Congressman’s, wealthly partisan hack’s, millionaire’s, or anyone else’s, and dammit my opinion is as important (if not more so) because mine has a higher probability of a globally stable and sustainable future outcome.

The hawks – in government, in industry, and in think tanks and academia around the country – must be countered and checked. We must not become lax and careless with our nation’s security, but at the same time we can’t afford to police every conflict in the world or seek to impose American economic policy everywhere where it would be financially beneficial for us to do so.

Be wary of the robots entrusted to go bomb our fellow humans abroad. Someday, such weapons may be used against us.

UPDATE Jan. 30, 2012:

The NY Times is reporting that the newly independent Iraqis are pissed about the drones being flown over Baghdad to protect the U.S. embassy staff.

UPDATE JUNE 4, 2012:

The Atlantic weighs in.