Posts Tagged ‘Laws of Robotics’

Rules of killing need to be modified to cover drones and robots

May 27, 2014

Should a civilian operator of a killing drone be considered an armed or an unarmed combatant? Can such an operator be targeted in accordance with the Rules of War? Is the US targeting and killing of a US citizen by a drone attack lawful? Can a robot drone ethically be programmed to defend itself, automatically and without any human control, if such defence would require harm to other humans. Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics come to mind.

First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher order law.
Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with a higher order law.
Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher order law.

The ethics of killing now need to be revisited.

According to the New America Foundation:

  • The CIA drone campaign began in Yemen in 2002 and in Pakistan in 2004.
  • Drone strikes in Pakistan rose steadily under President Barack Obama in 2009, to their peak of 122 in 2010.
  • Starting in 2011, strikes in Pakistan began to decline, while they spiked in Yemen, particularly as the Obama administration began using drones to support the Yemeni government’s battles against al-Qaeda-linked militants in 2012.
  • The civilian and “unknown” casualty rate from drone strikes has fallen steadily over the life of the program.
  • The casualty rate in Pakistan for civilians and “unknowns” — those who are not identified in news reports definitively as either militants or civilians — was around 40% under President George W. Bush. It has come down to about 7% under President Obama.
  • Only 58 known militant leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, representing just 2% of the total deaths.
  • In 2012, 2% of the drones’ victims were characterized as civilians in news reports and 9% were described in a manner that made it ambiguous whether they were militants or civilians.
  • In 2013, civilian casualties are at their lowest ever. That is partly the result of a sharply reduced number of drone strikes in Pakistan — 26 so far in 2013, compared with a record 122 in 2010 — and also more precise targeting.
US Drone killings in Pakistan (New America Foundation)

US Drone killings in Pakistan (New America Foundation)

According to a UN survey, civilians have been killed in 33 separate drone attacks around the world. In Pakistan, an estimated 2,200 to 3,300 people have been killed by drone attacks since 2004, 400 of whom were civilians. According to the latest figures from the Pakistani Ministry of Defense, 67 civilians have been killed in drone attacks in the country since 2008.

Of course the Rules of War are notoriously flexible and tend to follow the actions of the strong. They are not much in evidence in Syria. They were largely ignored in the invasion of Iraq. We have heard today about air attacks by the Ukrainian government on armed “rebels” who wish to secede in Donetsk.

KTH Press ReleaseIn her recent thesis on the ethics of automation in war, Linda Johansson, a researcher in robot ethics at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, suggests that it is necessary to reconsider the international laws of war, and to begin examining whether advanced robots should be held accountable for their actions. ….

She also questions the ethics of assigning drone operators the task of tracking a targeted person from a safe distance for days, perhaps even a week, before striking. “This is different from ordinary combat soldiers who face their opponents directly,” she says. “The post-traumatic stress syndrome that affects an operator may be just as severe as for a regular soldier.”

Currently drones are still operated remotely by a human being, but technological advancement is so rapid that full automation is more than just a grim science fiction fantasy.

Johansson sketches out a scenario to show how reaching that point presents other ethical questions:

“Soon we may be facing a situation where an operator controls two drones instead of one, on account of cost reasons,” Johansson says. “Add to that the human tendency to rely on technology. Now imagine a situation where very quick decisions must be made. It becomes easy to step out of the decision loop and hand over control to the robot or computer.

“Man becomes the weakest link.”

It could also be argued that robots are not entitled to defend themselves, since under the rules of war they are not in danger of losing their lives. “Does it mean that they have lost the right to kill human soldiers?” she asks.

Robots, especially drones, can also facilitate the conduct of “secret war”, with low transparency and minimal involvement of troops.

Linda Johansson’s research has resulted in a compilation of seven articles. In addition to autonomous systems in the war, she studied other aspects of robots. One of the articles is about care-giver robots and the ethics around them. Two of her articles focus on the so-called “agent landscape” – or if and when advanced robots can be held responsible for their actions.

PR2 robot now on general sale

September 16, 2010

Asimov’s Laws of Robotics are not yet being put to the test but the PR2 robot’s two gripper-equipped arms, laser scanner and multiple cameras allow it to fold towelsfetch a beer and plug itself into the mains when it needs to recharge.

The New Scientist reports that Silicon Valley start-up Willow Garage has put its PR2 robot on general sale.

The price tag may be a bit daunting at $400,000.

But for individuals with a proven track record in contributions to the open source community, we are also introducing an award which amounts to a $120,000 discount on PR2 purchases. Details on the open source discount are here.


Video here

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