Military Robots

An interesting report has just been published by the Royal Academy of Engineering about the social legal and ethical implications surrounding autonomous machines.

I have yet to read the report, being far to busy finishing my thesis, looking after my daughter, and trying to find something to do post thesis – hence the lack of activity on my blog.

The topic is interesting though. As devices get more autonomy, get better at learning for themselves, how will people come to regard them. Will we start to see machines as having agency in the sense of being responsible for the things that they do. If fact we often have a tendency to regard inanimate objects as having agency, particularly when the won’t do the things you want them to! How much easier will it be to blame the machine when it appears to be operating under its own volition?

I suspect that many people will vary in their opinions of autonomous machines. When they do things we don’t like it will be the machines fault for acting like that but when they do things that are strangely human like we might want to dismiss it as just part of their programming.

I imagine that the advances in machine autonomy might also bring some fresh perspectives on how we perceive our own apparent autonomy and our ability (or not) to make responsible decisions.


Arguably some of the most sophisticated ‘robots’ around today (and certainly the most expensive) are the US military Global Hawk Unmanned Ariel Vehicles.

It seems that Northrop Grumman who make them have teamed up with NASA to turn their robot air warrior into an environmental monitoring system.

From their press release:

The NASA Global Hawk’s initial Earth science mission will be Global Hawk Pacific 2009, or GLOPAC. This campaign will consist of six long-duration missions over the Pacific and Arctic regions in the late spring and early summer of 2009. Twelve NASA and NOAA scientific instruments integrated into one of the NASA Global Hawk aircraft will collect atmospheric data while flying through the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.

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