Magazine article National Defense

Expert Advice to Pentagon: Do Not Fear the Robots

Magazine article National Defense

Expert Advice to Pentagon: Do Not Fear the Robots

Article excerpt

When it comes to robots, the Defense Department is letting timidity and misconceptions get in the way of technological progress, says a Pentagon advisory panel.

"Unfortunately, the word 'autonomy' often conjures images in the press and the minds of some military leaders of computers making independent decisions and taking uncontrolled action," says a report by the Defense Science Board task force on the role of autonomy in defense systems.

The DSB provides independent advice to the secretary of defense. The study was published in July.

"The true value of these systems is not to provide a direct human replacement, but rather to extend and complement human capability," the study says. "With proper design of bounded autonomous capabilities, unmanned systems can also reduce the high cognitive load currently placed on operators and supervisors."

There is broad consensus in the defense technology world that robots are useful, and are here to stay. But to take further advantage of technological advances that are moving at a rapid pace, the Pentagon needs to get the facts straight about what autonomous weapons can and cannot do, the panel says.

"While the potential of autonomy is great, there have been many obstacles to general broad acceptance of unmanned systems, and, specifically, the autonomous capabilities needed to realize the benefits of autonomy in military applications," says the report.

Pressing needs for aerial surveillance and bomb detection in war zones fueled the demand for robotic systems over the past decade.

The Air Force has a large fleet of remotely piloted aircraft, including 128 Predators, 30 Reapers and 13 Global Hawks that are deployed in combat operations. These aircraft generate more than 1,000 hours of full-motion video each day. The Air Force owns about 700 drones, and the Army nearly 500. …

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