Daily Video

April 24, 2009

Will Robots Someday Fight Our Wars?

Battlefield robots are nothing new in Hollywood, but they aren’t just science fiction anymore. The military has deployed thousands of them for use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Robots, thus far, have been used mostly to inspect and dismantle roadside bombs.

The military has bought more than 6,000 of them since 2003 at an average cost of $100,000 to $200,000 each.

But now robot manufacturing companies and engineering schools are talking about “lethal” robots that carry guns, raising questions about military ethics and risks.

Engineering professor David Barrett says armed robots could save lives, but weapons developer Pierre Sprey says the soldiers counting on such tools are “not only wasting their time, but they’re going to endanger themselves and possibly their friends.


“Any time you can have a robot or something that brings more firepower to the fight for you is a great asset. And, again, not having to put a soldier in harm’s way, but still be able to accomplish the mission, is a great thing.” – Captain Patrick Callahan, National Guard/QinetiQ, North America

“If suddenly you make war easier and less of a burden on a people, it becomes more of a video game than it does simply going to war. And the atrocities of war and all of the ugliness of warfare goes away and becomes a video game.” – Bill Waddell, director of the Command and Control Group

“There are many countries working on autonomous robots, and there are many countries working on lethal robots. And it’s only a matter of time before they end up in operational theaters.” – David Barrett, Olin College of Engineering

“The whole thing about talking about autonomous robots at this point is just science fiction glitz…. Right now, they cannot do any simple combat tasks autonomously.” -Pierre Sprey, weapon system developer

Warm Up Questions

1. Can you think of some new technologies that make it easier to fight wars?

2. How might the military use robots?

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think spending money on developing armed robots is a smart idea? Why or why not?

2. What are some ethical concerns of armed, “lethal” robots?

3. What do you think of the argument that if other countries are developing armed robots, we better do it too?

4. How much should the public know about the military’s strategies and weapons?

5. When does it go against national security or endanger American soldiers to release certain information?

6. Do you feel confident that our military makes ethical decisions? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

Read this transcript

Forum: Ask Robotics Experts Your Questions

Slide Show: Military Robot Exhibition

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