Rise of the Machines (Guest Post)

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A troubling technological development is the growing interest of our military and law enforcement agencies in drones and robots.

‘Patrol-bots’ eyed as surveillance answer:

“Knightscope’s autonomous technology platform is a fusion of robotics, predictive analytics and collaborative social engagement utilized to predict and prevent crime,” the company states on its website. That means that in addition to sophisticated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, the K5 is equipped with analytics enabling it to detect threats to people or property and summon police.

According to a recent report in USA today, the Sunnyvale-based company made its first K5 public in December. The prototype, it said, was able to scan an area in 270-degree sweeps to photographically map it. Four mid-mounted cameras can scan up to 1,500 license plates per minute, according to the report.

Some have likened the 5-foot high, 300-lb, dome-topped K5 to the mascot-like R2D2 android of Star Wars, but with a little up-armoring the “patrol-bot” would more resemble your much less warm and fuzzy Dalek of Doctor Who fame. The Predator started out as a purely ISR platform, as well.

“Exterminate! Exterminate!” ( – all Daleks) Robocop not withstanding, what about the battlefields?

US Army considers replacing thousands of troops with robots:

The US Army is considering replacing thousands of soldiers with robots as it deals with sweeping troop cuts.

A senior American officer has said he is considering shrinking the size of the Army’s brigade combat teams by a quarter and replacing the lost troops with robots and remote-controlled vehicles.

The American military is still far from fielding armies of Terminator-type robotic killers though.

Ideas under discussion instead include proposals to see manned lorries and transporters replaced by supply trains of robots vehicles.

Generals are studying proposals as the US Army is to slim down from 540,000 to about 490,000 soldiers by the end of next year. Some reports suggest it could dip below 450,000 by the end of the decade.

In response, Gen Robert Cone, head of the army’s training and doctrine command, is considering shrinking the army’s brigade combat teams from about 4,000 soldiers to 3,000 and using more robots, according to Defense News, a US military magazine.

He told a military symposium: “I’ve got clear guidance to think about what if you could robotically perform some of the tasks in terms of manoeuvrability, in terms of the future of the force.”

Look, I am anything but a technophobe, but what concerns me is the lack of the human elements of common sense and compassion. There is also to be considered the possibility of future leaders using technology to intimidate, harass, subjugate and even kill.

Former US commander General Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw Nato forces in Afghanistan, warned yesterday that America’s drones programme created “a tremendous amount of resentment” in the areas it targeted.

Asked by the BBC’s Today programme what the future was for drone warfare, he said: “There’s a danger that something that feels easy to do and without risk to yourself, almost antiseptic to the person shooting, doesn’t feel that way at the point of impact. And so if it lowers the threshold for taking operations because it feels easy, there’s danger in that.”

I’m less concerned about advanced AIs becoming sentient killing machines. We do however have an administration (with an enemies list) who has no compulsion about sending in the drones to kill indiscriminately with high amounts of collateral damage. What happens with this technology in the hands of a growing militarized law enforcement (many of which already have an adversarial, untrusting view of the general public,) and politically aggressive agenda driven state and local politicians?

One Response to “Rise of the Machines (Guest Post)”

  1. 1

    Scott in Oklahoma

    I share your concern Ditto. I’ll use the Patriot Act as a perfect example; I didn’t like some of it when it was first introduced, one of my objections was what would happen if we got a government who didn’t have our best interests in mind… never in a million years did I imagine it would come along so soon. Neither, I am sure, did Pres. Bush. Yet here we are…

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