As old soldiers fade away, here come robots that ‘perform more ethically’

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The Office of Naval Research will award $7.5 million in grant money over five years to university researchers from Tufts, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Brown, Yale and Georgetown to explore how to build a sense of right and wrong and moral consequence into autonomous robotic systems.

EthicalSoldier“Even though today’s unmanned systems are ‘dumb’ in comparison to a human counterpart, strides are being made quickly to incorporate more automation at a faster pace than we’ve seen before,” [said] Paul Bello, director of the cognitive science program at the Office of Naval Research. …The United States military prohibits lethal fully autonomous robots. And semi-autonomous robots can’t “select and engage individual targets or specific target groups that have not been previously selected by an authorized human operator,” even in the event that contact with the operator is cut off, according to a 2012 Department of Defense policy directive. …

Ronald Arkin, an AI expert from Georgia Tech and author of the book Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots, is a proponent of giving machines a moral compass. “It is not my belief that an unmanned system will be able to be perfectly ethical in the battlefield, but I am convinced that they can perform more ethically than human soldiers are capable of,” Arkin wrote in a 2007 research paper (PDF). Part of the reason for that, he said, is that robots are capable of following rules of engagement to the letter, whereas humans are more inconsistent.

AI robotics expert Noel Sharkey is a detractor. …”The robot may be installed with some rules of ethics but it won’t really care. It will follow a human designer’s idea of ethics.”

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