Monday, 30 July 2012

Robotics Replacing Soldiers

Pilots and drivers are clearly on the wane in modern armies. How long will human infantry last? The Pentagon is pouring resources into robotic advancement. Like the way many industrial enterprises are going, the wars of the future will involve a network of integrated robots supported by a few highly-specialized human operators and technicians.

Check out the exoskeleton concept (YouTube):
'Ironman' Exoskeleton
High Power Robotic Exoskeleton
For a while, the technology doesn't threaten the soldier's position, and will enable him to do more. But technology that can leverage a human's capabilities usually ends up replacing the human worker. At the end of the second video we see prospective models for humanoid battle suits that could become autonomous someday: 'if you step out of it, it becomes a humanoid robot' we're told.

For the next decade or so, human infantry will be training the robots by machine learning how to fight and move in battlefield environments just by inhabiting them. Sooner or later, there will be a benefit to ejecting as many wobbly, vulnerable human internals as possible and allowing the robots to do the rampaging by themselves.

The future robots of war will have more accuracy, reaction speed and stamina than humans are capable of. 
They will also have less fear, indecision and remorse. Mobility is currently holding back their application,  which is why there is such a drive at the moment to overcome this problem. What they lack in general mobility, they currently make up for with incredible niche capabilities -- some robots now are good for leaping 30 foot fences, others can navigate small tubes. They are immune to radiation sickness, smoke inhalation and bio-toxins.

The army is an option of last resort for many poor people. Recruits are usually unskilled, and a career in the army is often one of the few means for upward mobility for many families. A dramatic reduction of infantry soldiers would disproportionately impact black and Hispanic segments of the U.S., demographics that are already hurting badly with the decimation in manufacturing jobs.

Also, these videos are interesting. They give you an idea of the breadth of recent experimentation going on unmanned surveillance and killing machines:
Two Decades of Unmanned Ground Vehicles Compilation

Unmannned Air Vehicles Compilation


  1. I've got mixed feelings about removing humans from the battlefield. It sounds good on the surface to get our troops off the ground and out of the skies...but what happens when all the decisions are being made from behind computer monitors in windowless rooms instead of by people on-scene who can actually use their judgement? Of course, troops on the ground don't always use the best judgement either.... In a perfect world, we'll just get rid of war! Unfortunately, I don't see that happening any time soon.

    1. I'd echo Becky's sentiments on this. "The future robots of war will have more accuracy, reaction speed and stamina than humans are capable of.
      They will also have less fear, indecision and remorse. "

      Less fear is a good thing, but fear is also something which helps a soldier make rational decisions. Without fear, it's easy to do things that aren't rational. Less remorse? Maybe that's a good thing in battle, but sometimes knowing when NOT to shoot is pretty important.

      I think automation has a place in war, but I'm not sure we've quite figured out how to best use it yet.

  2. Very cool 2nd video of the unmanned aerial vehicles. Something most people don't know is that UAV's have actually been around for a very long time - since before World War II actually! In the early days though, they were little more than remote controlled aircraft with a limited range. The US really got into using UAV technology in Vietnam & this came to light after some of the aircraft were shot down.