Sunday, April 19, 2009

another perspective on military robotics

The Inkwell discussion mentioned below is now underway.

See Inkwell.vue topic #352 on The WELL.


I just finished reading P.W. Singer's "Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century", in preparation for his appearance in The WELL's Inkwell conference.

As far as military robotics goes, I guess I come down on the side of wanting to ban the combination of autonomy and lethal weaponry. If you want to mount nonlethal weapons on an autonomous drone, I'd say that's a step up from lethal weapons on one that's remotely piloted, and I have no more problem with it than I have with war in general.

Really though, I'm standing off to the side suppressing a scream, because I see the gathering storm of military robotics as a huge distraction from more mundane, constructive applications, even though there may be some eventual technological benefit to those other applications, and even though I can't state with confidence that any other application is actually being delayed because of it.

The application I've discussed elsewhere, at length, is the use of robotics to replace energy intensive traction-based agricultural practices with practices modeled on those of (attention intensive) horticulture, using robotic sensors, processors, and effectors to deal with seeds, plants, and small patches of ground on an individual basis, much as a gardener would, but on a sufficiently large scale to at least begin to displace the heavy, dumb equipment in current use.

Taking a moment to compose myself, I have to admit that the prospects for my pet project are somewhat improved by any real-world application of robotics, even a military one, but that only helps me suppress the scream.

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