Ro­bot­ics in con­flict

His­tor­i­cally, mil­i­taries makes use of ev­ery in­no­va­tion that has the po­ten­tial to sup­port mil­i­tary work and the mil­i­tary ro­bot is an in­no­va­tion that has ap­pli­ca­tion in war as well as life-threat­en­ing tasks that the mil­i­tary un­der­takes other­wise too.


Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe has de­cided to host a “Ro­bot Olympic” in Ja­pan in 2020. Then is a re­cent re­port Cor­nell Univer­sity, New York, is teach­ing a ro­bot to un­der­stand in­struc­tions in its lan­guage from var­i­ous speak­ers, ac­count for miss­ing in­for­ma­tion and adapt to the en­vi­ron­ment led by an In­dian sci­en­tist; As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Com­puter Sci­ence, Ashutosh Sax­ena. A defin­ing fea­ture of our time is the con­tin­u­ous ad­vances in com­put­ing. Mod­ern com­put­ing tech­niques and ap­pli­ca­tions in­flu­ence many ar­eas of ev­ery­day hu­man life and hu­man en­deav­our on in­creas­ingly more com­plex, more so­phis­ti­cated, and in­tel­lec­tu­ally in­creas­ingly chal­leng­ing lev­els. Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence en­com­passes rea­son­ing, knowl­edge, plan­ning, learn­ing, com­mu­ni­ca­tion or lan­guage pro­cess­ing, and fi­nally gen­eral in­tel­li­gence that can ac­tu­ally sub­sti­tute the hu­man brain. How­ever, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that ri­vals or ex­ceeds hu­man in­tel­li­gence raises dif­fi­cult eth­i­cal is­sues, and the po­ten­tial power of the tech­nol­ogy in­spires both hopes and fears. Al­ready fears have been ex­pressed in the US that ad­vances in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence could lead to mass un­em­ploy­ment with half of US jobs au­to­mated within the next decade plus with Google pur­chas­ing the Lon­don-based start-up Deep­Mind for 400 mil­lion ded­i­cated to de­vel­op­ing this tech­nol­ogy. Dr Stu­art Arm­strong from the Fu­ture of Hu­man­ity In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford warns of the risk that com­put­ers could take over hu­man jobs at a faster rate than new jobs could be gen­er­ated, es­pe­cially in the fields of lo­gis­tics, ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­sur­ance un­der­writ­ing, in­dus­try, man­u­fac­tur­ing etc. While Google has cre­ated an ethics board to look at how to de­ploy ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence safely and re­duce such risks, the ef­fect would be felt world­wide, what with in­tro­duc­tion of Google Glass that al­lows users to per­form searches and ask for help in nat­u­ral lan­guage. In­ter­est­ingly, Deep­Mind has been op­er­at­ing largely un­no­ticed by the wider UK tech­nol­ogy scene, al­though its ad­vances in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence have ob­vi­ously been of in­ter­est to the ex­perts—founded in just 2012, Deep­Mind is Google’s largest Euro­pean ac­qui­si­tion to date. Re­gard­less of how Deep­Mind’s ex­per­tise will be used, Google’s pur­chase of the com­pany un­der­scores in­creas­ing fears over the im­pact of tech­nol­ogy on em­ploy­ment. Sci­en­tists also warn that hu­mans should not as­sume ma­chines or ro­bots would treat us favourably, be­cause there is no rea­son to be­lieve that they would be sym­pa­thetic to hu­man sys­tem of moral­ity that evolves syn­chro­nous to hu­man bi­ol­ogy.

Ro­bots are a re­al­ity to­day, per­form­ing du­ties from pro­vid­ing ease and com­fort of hu­man be­ings to mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions for de­fence and at­tack. While on one hand pro­hib­i­tive costs in terms of hu­man lives and fi­nan­cial costs have forced pow­er­ful na­tions re­place ‘boots on ground’ with ‘proxy boots on ground’, si­mul­ta­ne­ously ro­bot ar­mies are in the mak­ing. Re­search be­ing un­der­taken for turn­ing hu­man be­ings into ro­bots, or rather zom­bies do­ing the bid­ding of the at­tacker. Mil­i­tary ro­bots are au­ton­o­mous or re­mote­con­trolled de­vices de­signed for mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions, dif­fer­ent from ro­bots used for in­dus­trial pro­duc­tion in that they do not pro­duce things, but in­ter­act in war­fare like con­trol of mis­siles and ve­hi­cles in or­der to have un­manned de­vices that are ei­ther tele-op­er­ated or find their way, au­to­mat­i­cally guided by laser beams or GPS satel­lites. World War II first saw the mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tion of ro­bots in the form of use of the Go­liath mo­bile land­mine by Ger­mans mark­ing a turn­ing point in the his­tory of mil­i­tary ro­bots, as did the Soviet Tele­tanks that were wire­less re­motely con­trolled un­manned tanks. Later, the US MQ-1 Preda­tor drone en­abled the Cen­tral In­tel­lignce Agency (CIA) to col­lect in­tel­li­gence. Ex­ist­ing mil­i­tary ro­bots in­clude guided mis­siles, mil­i­tary space­craft, UAVs, un­manned ground ve­hi­cles (UGVs), re­motely op­er­ated ve­hi­cles (ROVs), au­ton­o­mous un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cles (AUVs), smart am­mu­ni­tion, sur­veil­lance and nav­i­ga­tion (GPS) satel­lites etc. The ICBM it­self is a very large type of rocket with guid­ance sys­tems. Then mis­siles are of mul­ti­ple types and are de­ployed depend­ing on the type of tar­gets. Armed UAVs are in pro­lific use.

In 2012, a re­port in UK’s Mail On­line quoted Ana­toly Serdyukov, Rus­sian De­fence Min­is­ter, re­veal­ing that Rus­sian arms pro­cure­ment pro­gramme 2011-20 would en­com­pass in­tro­duc­tion of su­per weaponry in­clud­ing weapon de­vel­op­ment based on new physics prin­ci­ples; di­rected en­ergy weapons (DEWs), geo­phys­i­cal weapons, wave-en­ergy weapons, ge­netic weapons, psy­chotropic/psy­chophys­i­cal weapons and the like. The ‘Zom­bie Gun’ based on psy­chotropic prin­ci­ple of ‘mind con­trol’ evoked most frenzy. The in­sid­i­ous de­sign of the Zom­bie Gun aims to at­tack the brain cells and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem to ei­ther make the re­cip­i­ent per­form ac­cord­ing to the at­tack­ers will

or al­ter­na­tively turn the vic­tim into a sense­less mov­ing ob­ject, per­haps be­hav­ing like a mad an­i­mal. With such a weapon, it would be pos­si­ble to trans­mit sug­ges­tions and a com­mand di­rectly into the vic­tim’s thought process. These guns will use elec­tro­mag­netic ra­di­a­tion like that found in microwave ovens. Putin re­port­edly said that such high-tech weapons sys­tems will be com­pa­ra­ble in ef­fect to nu­clear weapons, but will be more ac­cept­able in terms of po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary ide­ol­ogy. It can be safely as­sumed that sim­i­lar weapons would be planned to be pro­duc­tionised in mod­ern ar­mies in­clud­ing China.

Re­search into elec­tro­mag­netic weapons has ac­tu­ally been se­cretly on in the US and Rus­sia since the 1950s. In 2011, western me­dia had an­nounced Rus­sia pos­sessed plasma weapons. Log­i­cally, the US was run­ning par­al­lel in the race, if not ahead. At the same time, the over­all con­cept of at­tack­ing the ner­vous sys­tem or at­tack­ing in­ter­nal or­gans is hardly new and has been worked upon con­tin­u­ously. Af­ter all that is that not what the nerve gasses did decades back? Nerve gases have been used in con­flict sit­u­a­tion in the past, as is presently hap­pen­ing in Syria. In­ci­dents have also been hinted in me­dia of low dose microwave weapons hav­ing been used for in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing re­cip­i­ents tem­po­rar­ily. A high dose microwave weapon on the other hand can kill the eye­sight or heart of the vic­tim. In­ter­est­ingly, some clubs in the US are al­ready of­fer­ing Zom­bie Sur­vival Cour­ses where in­struc­tors teach how to cope with zom­bie at­tacks. Such cour­ses are de­signed to teach par­tic­i­pants real-world sur­vival tech­niques nec­es­sary to sur­vive a zom­bie apoca­lypse. This in­cludes choos­ing and set­ting up sur­vival gear, first aid, equip­ment, firearms se­lec­tion and group or­gan­i­sa­tion for de­fence. Go­ing a step fur­ther, Kansas has been wit­ness to the first ever Zom­bie-Proof Con­dos that have been all been sold out like hot cakes at $2 mil­lion per floor. Con­se­quences of ap­pli­ca­tion of psy­chotropic/psy­chophys­i­cal weapons can range from mass psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­eases with both lethal and in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing out­comes, cre­ation of an obe­di­ent mass of hu­man­ity through la­tent vi­o­lent ma­nip­u­la­tion of be­hav­iour and con­scious­ness, and even mass eco­log­i­cal ac­ci­dent be­cause of ir­re­versible ge­netic mu­ta­tions if in­fringe­ment at gene level is re­sorted to.

In 2006, it was an­nounced that In­dia will be pur­su­ing tech­nolo­gies for de­vel­op­ing a ro­botic army. The im­pe­tus ob­vi­ously was the re­al­i­sa­tion that transna­tional ac­tors and un­con­ven­tional forces pose a grow­ing threat when com­pared to the risk of a tra­di­tional in­ter-state con­flict, plus ro­botic plans an­nounced by other na­tions like the Kill­bots Army planned by the Repub­lic of Korea. Mil­i­taries will con­tinue de­vel­op­ing ro­bots for their own pur­poses. Tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances en­able the de­vel­op­ers to build new sys­tems for more tasks. UGVs will con­tinue to be pro­gressed. In the US, an un­manned con­vered Humvee has been driven around at a speed of 56 kmph with­out de­vi­at­ing from its planned route. Such ca­pa­bil­ity would have mul­ti­ple ap­pli­ca­tions, sav­ing hu­man costs and lives. Ob­vi­ously such fu­ture plat­forms would be fit­ted with cam­eras and weapons as well. Such smaller ro­bots of the size of a golf cart (Glad­i­a­tor – car­ry­ing a ma­chine gun, rock­ets and non-lethal weapons) have al­ready been de­vel­oped that can be con­trolled by PlayS­ta­tion video game con­troller or soft­ware plug-ins, al­low­ing semi-au­to­matic and fully au­ton­o­mous modes. Then is the me­dial ro­bot ‘Blood­hound’ (im­proved ver­sion of the ‘pack­bot’) which can lo­cate wounded soldiers, check­ing vi­tal func­tions and ad­min­is­ter mor­phine. US has al­ready pro­duced a work­ing au­to­mated sen­try gun and is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing it fur­ther for commercial and mil­i­tary use. The US Army has also been de­vel­op­ing an Au­ton­o­mous Ro­tor­craft Sniper Sys­tem con­sist­ing of a re­motely op­er­ated sniper ri­fle at­tached to an un­manned au­ton­o­mous he­li­copter in­tended for use in ur­ban com­bat or other mis­sions re­quir­ing de­ploy­ment of snipers. In all prob­a­bil­ity this sys­tem is al­ready de­ployed. Sim­i­larly to ground ro­bots, USVs and UAVs are also be­ing re­searched fur­ther in­cor­po­rat­ing weapons and sur­veil­lance de­vices.

The Chi­nese mil­i­tary en­vi­sions its drone swarms scout­ing bat­tle­fields, guid­ing mis­sile strikes and overwhelming the en­emy de­fences through sheer num­bers. China’s mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex has es­tab­lished vide ar­ray of indige­nous drones to ac­com­plish these goals. One aim of such large drone fleets would be to ex­pand China’s mil­i­tary reach into the Pa­cific and swarm­ing US car­rier groups in the event of con­flict. China could pos­si­bly be hav­ing the largest drone fleets af­ter the US. As per 2012 fig­ures re­ported in the Gu­ra­dian quot­ing the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Strate­gic Stud­ies, the US was then op­er­at­ing 6,709 drones com­pared to 280 by China PLA but that dif­fer­ence in num­bers could have nar­rowed con­sid­er­ing the mod­erni­sa­tion pace of the PLA and her fever­ish pitch to bridge asym­me­try vis-à-vis the US. In­ter­est­ingly, the Chi­nese ‘Wing Loong’ drone re­port­edly costs around $1 mil­lion, com­pared to the US ‘Reaper’ drone that is in the $30 mil­lion range. Ad­mit­tedly, tech­nolo­gies and ca­pa­bil­i­ties may vary but the point to note is that you can per­haps buy 25-30 Wing Loong drones for the price of one Reaper but more sig­nif­i­cantly, the Wing Loong has the same en­durance as the Reaper (20 hours), has a range of 4,000 km and packs four hard points for mount­ing va­ri­ety of lasers, pre­ci­sion guided bombs.

China al­ready re­port­edly has 24 x 7 satel­lite sur­veil­lance along the Sino-In­dian bor­der. Ad­di­tion­ally, In­dia needs to also take into con­sid­er­a­tion the drone swarms of PLA in the event of con­flict. It should also be noted that China suc­cess­fully flight tested a hy­per­sonic ve­hi­cle in Jan­uary 2014 trav­el­ling at a speed five times the speed of sound and aims to at­tack tar­gets at the speed of Mach 10.

No mat­ter what ro­botic de­vel­op­ments take place, the goal will re­main to min­imise hu­man losses and in­crease ef­fi­ciency. His­tor­i­cally, mil­i­taries makes use of ev­ery in­no­va­tion that has the po­ten­tial to sup­port mil­i­tary work and the mil­i­tary ro­bot is an in­no­va­tion that has ap­pli­ca­tion in war as well as life threat­en­ing tasks that the mil­i­tary un­der­takes other­wise too. We must op­ti­mise ro­bot­ics fo­cus­ing on R&D to win fu­ture con­flict sit­u­a­tions. Our sci­en­tists must call upon their cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tive­ness to achieve this goal. With govern­ment fo­cus and proper pub­lic-pri­vate in­dus­try part­ner­ship in the mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less. How far has In­dia pro­gressed in ro­bot­ics is not very clear but we need to be very fo­cused on the is­sue.

A US Navy Talon 3B ro­bot ap­proaches a clay­more land mine on a sand dune dur­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise

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