Friday, February 25, 2005 - 08:36 PM
Copyright 2005 HT Media Ltd.
The Pentagon predicts that robots will become a major fighting force in the US military within a decade, a crucial part of the army's effort to rebuild itself as a 21st-century force, reports the New York Times. "They don't get hungry. They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes," said Gordon Johnson of the Joint Forces Command at the Pentagon. As part of a $127 billion project called Future Combat Systems, which is the biggest military contract in US history, the military is planning to invest in the automated armed forces - the new generation of soldiers - that will drive the defence budget up by almost 20 percent in 2010.
The annual cost of buying new weapons is scheduled to rise 52 percent, from $78 billion to $118.6 billion in 2010. Military planners say robot soldiers will think, see and react increasingly like humans. In the beginning, they will be remote-controlled, looking and acting like lethal toy trucks. But as the technology develops, they may take many shapes. And as their intelligence grows, so will their autonomy. By April, an armed version of the bomb-disposal robot will be in Baghdad, capable of firing 1,000 rounds a minute. Though controlled by a soldier with a laptop, the robot will be the first thinking machine of its kind to take up a front-line infantry position, ready to kill enemies. As envisioned by their builders, future robots in battle may look and move like humans or hummingbirds, tractors or tanks, cockroaches or crickets. With the development of nanotechnology - the science of very small structures - they may become swarms of "smart dust". The Pentagon intends for robots to haul munitions, gather intelligence and search buildings or blow them up. The robot soldier has been a dream at the Pentagon for 30 years.
Some involved in the work say it may take at least 30 more years to realise in full. But before that, they say, the military will have to answer tough questions if it intends to trust robots with the responsibility of distinguishing friend from foe, combatant from bystander. Even the strongest advocates of automaton say war will always be a human endeavour, with death and disaster. Says Robert Finkelstein, president of Robotic Technology in Potomac, who has been telling the Pentagon that it could take until 2035 to develop a robot that looks, thinks and fights like a soldier.T he Pentagon's "goal is there", he said. "But the path is not totally clear."