The New York Times has a great read today on Dr. Ron Arkin’s research for the US Army. Dr. Arkin recognizes that armed vehicles, including aircraft, are only a few years away from the ability to autonomously kill people on the battlefield. I’ve written about his research before here: “On the ethics of killing with robots“.
The NYT article says:
For example, in one situation playing out in Dr. Arkin’s computers,a robot pilot flies past a small cemetery. The pilot spots a tank atthe cemetery entrance, a potential target. But a group of civilians hasgathered at the cemetery, too. So the pilot decides to keep moving, andsoon spots another tank, standing by itself in a field. The pilotfires; the target is destroyed.
In Dr. Arkin’s robotic system,the robot pilot would have what he calls a “governor.” Just as thegovernor on a steam engine shuts it down when it runs too hot, theethical governor would quash actions in the lethal/unethical space.
Some of you also might remember the US Navy brief I’ve posted here before, which proposes a possible solution to this problem. Program the robots to aim and fire only at weapons, not people. Under the laws of armed conflict, anyone who dies would be considered “collateral damage”. (I’m not recommending this solution, but I know it has been proposed in the Pentagon.)