You are here

Military Robots

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • April 17, 2009
    Fellows' Seminar
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chair: Vinod Patney
    Discussants: R. K. Pruthi and Rahul K Bhonsle

    The paper argued that the futuristic battlefield is going to depend substantially on deployment of standoff weapons and virtual technology. Robotic technology is likely to play a major role. Presently, military robots are essentially used as UAVs or for landmine and explosive search. A few developed armies are using them for counter terrorism purposes. However, robots are not autonomous entities with positron brains. Their performance still depends on human control.

    Robotic animals could be of use to states like India which depend on mules for supporting their mountain divisions. The mules with the Indian army have significant utility for carrying logistic supplies to higher mountain ridges. Robots could help in this regard and over a period of time if found useful could replace animals.

    Robots have a great future because militaries are interested in utilizing them beyond their existing role as aerial drones or explosive identification/disposal devices. The growth of technology in this arena also shows promise for future development. The juxtaposition of Artificial Intelligence and robotic technology makes the future more exciting from a military point of view. By incorporating new synchronization and control methods and increasing levels of automation, military robots are expected to reduce the burden and risk for future warriors. Developments in cognitive technologies which essentially deal with man machine interaction are likely to develop the science of robotics further.

    Increasing militarization of robotics technology is expected to be a reality tomorrow. Naturally, the Defence Industry is expected to invest much more in this field in the coming years. As it happens with any other form of military technology, counter technologies are expected to be developed. Few forward looking thinkers/businessmen are already toying with the idea of finding ways to defend against enemy robots. According to a few unconfirmed reports efforts are underway to develop weaponry against robotic creatures. It is premature to comment on these developments with conviction but it may be possible that states could develop high energy microwave device or jamming devices to block the march of robotic armies.

    In the years to come as robots are going to become more autonomous the issue of morality is likely to emerge in a big way. This is because questions may arise as to who should be held morally responsible for actions taken by an autonomous robot for actions such as killing a human. Logically, armies should restrain themselves from giving this authority to autonomous robots. Isaac Asimov’s view holds the key. He noted the philosophical relationship between human and robot and the limitations of machines should be clearly explored. Asimov’s laws of robotics should not be allowed to fail.

    Air Marshal (Retd.)Vinod Patney chaired the seminar. The external discussants were Brig. Rahul Bhosle and Mr. R.K. Pruthi. Col. Ali Ahmed was the internal discussant.

    The major points made in the ensuing discussion were:

    • Unmanned capability is exciting our imagination but there is a need do a progress audit of technology.
    • There are definite limitations to existing machines and technologies. And one also needs to remember that machines required for the task cost money. Resource constraint will always be an issue. However the increase in demand and usage of robots will reduce costs and they will become more affordable.
    • There is an urgent need to incorporate the technology and a debate in synergy is required.
    • There might be resurgence of Just War theory once Robots start fighting humans or among them.
    • Today the major challenge India faces is in using robots for training its soldiers to be more compatible with the machines.
    • Today UAVs are being used very successfully in a surveillance role and there is a need for greater investment in this technology.
    • One also needs to keep in mind that further development in the technology could trigger a war easily.
    • It might become more complicated once Robotics and Nanotics get more developed. One should remember that Robots are fine if they are used as slaves for humans. They should not be left to operate on their own.

    Prepared by Gunjan Singh, Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.