Robots are currently used by police for bomb disposal. Future versions will be much more sophisticated. Nigel Roddis/AAP
Military robots are not all bad.
Sure, there are risks and downsides of weaponised artifical intelligence (AI), but there are upsides too. Robots offer greater precision in attacks, reduced risk of collateral damage to civilians, and reduced risk of “friendly fire”.
AI weapons are not being developed as weapons of mass destruction. They are being developed as weapons of precise destruction. In the right hands, military AI facilitates ever greater precision and ever greater compliance with international humanitarian law.
There are at least three ways that robots can be useful in war zones.
Bomb disposal robots reduce risk to humans. Mostly remotely operated, they have little autonomy and are used to investigate and defuse or detonate improvised explosive devices.
The Dragon Runner is a radio controlled robot used by bomb disposal teams.
As robots become more dexterous and agile there will come a time when there is no need for a human to be next to a bomb to defuse it.
The robot in The Hurt Locker – a movie based around a bomb disposal unit in Baghdad – was portrayed as pretty useless. But future robots will be able to do everything the humans do in that film, better and quicker.
No one objects to robot bomb disposal.
Room by room clearing is one of the riskier infantry tasks.
In World War II, booby traps were sometimes triggered by pressure sensors under whisky bottles and packets of cigarettes. Human troops entering houses often succumbed to the allure of smokes and booze and were killed as a result.
Today ISIS fighters disguise booby traps as bricks and stones. These are specifically prohibited by international humanitarian law.
In theory, with smaller versions of sensors of the kind used to inspect luggage at airports, robots could perceive the wiring and pressure sensors associated with such booby traps.