The Pentagon has put out a request to contractors to develop teams
of robots that can search for, detect and track "non-cooperative"
humans in "pursuit/evasion scenarios".
The request, which can be read on the Department
of Defense Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program website
calls for a "Multi-Robot Pursuit System" to be operated
by one person.
The proposal describes the need to
"...develop a software/hardware suit that
would enable a multi-robot team, together with a human operator,
to search for and detect a non-cooperative human subject.
The main research task will involve determining
the movements of the robot team through the environment to maximize
the opportunity to find the subject, while minimizing the chances
of missing the subject. If the operator is an active member
of the search team, the software should minimize the chance
that the operator may encounter the subject."
It is seemingly important to the Pentagon that the
operator should not have to come into contact with the person
being chased down by the machines.
The description continues:
"The software should maintain awareness of
line-of-sight, as well as communication and sensor limits. It
will be necessary to determine an appropriate sensor suite that
can reliably detect human presence and is suitable for implementation
on small robotic platforms."
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Paul Marks at The
New Scientist points out that given the propensity
to adapt this kind of military style technology for domestic purposes
such as crowd
control, the proposal is somewhat concerning.
"...how long before we see packs of droids
hunting down pesky demonstrators with paralysing weapons? Or could
the packs even be lethally armed?" Marks asks.
Marks interviewed Steve
Wright, an expert on police and military technologies,
from Leeds Metropolitan University, who commented:
"The giveaway here is the phrase 'a non-cooperative
What we have here are the beginnings of something designed
to enable robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once
the software is perfected we can reasonably anticipate that
they will become autonomous and become armed.
We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection
and tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath
and the radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These
are technologies already developed."
Indeed, noted as PHASE III on the Pentagon proposal
is the desire to have the robots developed to "intelligently
and autonomously search".
Earlier this year another top robotics expert, Noel
Sharkey, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at
the University of Sheffield, warned
listeners to the Alex Jones show that the world may
be sleepwalking into a potentially lethal technocracy and has
called for safeguards on such technology to be put into place.
Professor Sharkey stated:
"If you have an autonomous robot then it's
going to make decisions who to kill, when to kill and where
to kill them. The scary thing is that the reason this has to
happen is because of mission complexity and also so that when
there's a problem with communications you can send a robot in
with no communication and it will decide who to kill, and that
is really worrying to me."
The professor also warned that such autonomous
weapons could easily be used in the future by law enforcement
officials in cites, pointing out that South Korean authorities
are already planning to have a fully armed autonomous robot police
force in their cities.
Perhaps one candidate for the Pentagon's "Multi-Robot
Pursuit System" proposal is Boston Dynamics' rather frightening
BigDog (pictured above). The latest version of this hydraulic
quadruped robot can carry up to 340lb load and recovers its balance
even after sliding on ice and snow:
Are we looking at the future of policing in America?