Reality Check: Robots With Guns

Henry Neiberlien/News Editor

Many of us grew up watching “Terminator” or “Stealth” and developed a great fear that one day civilization may be destroyed by machines we built. Fortunately, the world has not come to an end by the hands of robotics and artificial intelligence. So, as we march forward through the twenty–first century what is the status of the robotic killers we feared as kids? Where do we draw the line between modern warfare technology and science fiction scenarios? After much research, it turns out reality is much scarier than fiction; robot killers already exist, in fact, they have existed for decades and claimed thousands of lives.

The most famous of the unmanned weapons is the UAV, also known as the drone. The United States has widely deployed unmanned aerial vehicles like the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper since the early 1990s, and uncontrolled drone warfare was a heated topic of the Obama administration, as it seemed there was another drone strike every day. The Predator may be robotic, but it does not think for itself. UAV are remotely piloted from the ground, and a human being still makes the decision whether to pull the trigger and let a Hellfire missile free itself from its rail and fly towards an unsuspecting target that had no idea he was being watched for hours from above.

While man may still make the decisions for the robots in the sky, they may soon be eliminated from the robots on the ground. The United States’ military and police forces use remotely operated robots, both armed and unarmed, to secure buildings and disarm bombs, saving lives. They also are currently experimenting with robotic ground vehicles to carry cargo to keep our soldiers supplied in the field. While western defense manufacturers try and stay away from autonomous ground vehicles, Russia has been hard at work building them anyway. Russia and China are quickly becoming a leader in Unmanned Ground Vehicle development. Russia has a wide range of fully armed war robots. This assortment ranges from very small vehicles armed with infantry weapons to fully operational battle tanks with a computer in place of a crew. Russia even recently tested a humanoid robot that can dual wield handguns and accurately fire them at targets downrange.

Humanoid robots are not feasible at the moment as their bipedal walking systems are slow, unresponsive and often lead to the robot to fall over as seen during the DARPA Atlas robot competition. While “Terminator-style” robots may still be over the horizon, combat robots are here right now, and their influence over the battlefield will only increase. UGV will include some level of autonomy due to the fast-paced nature of modern combat, and Russia and China will not hesitate to export these weapons on the defense market. Unmanned armored vehicles like the Russian Uran-9 will most likely find their way onto battlefields across the globe in the next few years. A future we hoped to avoid is already a reality, and it is only a matter of time before machines fight wars, not man. An unimaginable danger will emerge if we continue or drive to remove human bloodshed from warfare, yes we are saving soldiers’ lives, but at what cost. Without death, war will become a more acceptable outcome for international arguments, and the destruction these weapons are capable of is unimaginable. However, there is still hope, as we can pass new legislations making these weapons illegal. It is bad enough our fellow man chooses to end the life of another, but what happens when a machine comes to the same conclusion?