The United States could field a force of real life terminators or killer robots in the near future. U.S Army generals are seriously considering replacing thousands of GIs with robots as the number of active duty troops and military budgets shrink.
“I’ve got clear guidance to think about what if you could robotically perform some of the tasks in terms of maneuverability, in terms of the future of the force,” General Robert Cone of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command said at the Army Aviation Symposium on Jan. 15.
Cone is part of a group of officers looking into the use of robots to replace soldiers, and he says one-fourth of the troops on the battlefield could be replaced by robots.
Generals see robots as solution to shrinking Army
The use of robots is being considered because the Army might decrease the size of an infantry brigade from 4,000 to 3,000 soldiers. The current plans call for the use of robots to perform tasks like moving supplies on the battlefield in order to free up troops to fight.
“When you see the success, frankly, that the Navy has had in terms of lowering the numbers of people on ships, are there functions in the brigade that we could automate — robots or manned/unmanned teaming — and lower the number of people that are involved given the fact that people are our major cost,” Cone said, according to The Telegraph. The idea is to replace soldiers who need to be paid, trained and fed with robots that don’t need a salary or a retirement plan.
Cone believes that utilizing robots could enable the Army to maintain its level of effectiveness with fewer men. Defense News noted that the number of soldiers in the Army could shrink from 540,000 today to 490,000 in 2015 and 420,000 by 2019.
Another advantage to robots is that they would require less protection in the warzone. Many of the army’s resources in Afghanistan and Iraq were devoted to “force protection” rather than fighting the enemy, Cone said.
Terminators not planned but DARPA and Google are working on them.
The robots General Cone was discussing would be not be equipped with weapons — yet. He mentioned robotic trucks to haul supplies and smaller robots that could carry ammunition and other supplies to infantry squads. Cone said he had also been ordered to look into reducing the size of infantry squads.
A company called Boston Dynamics has developed a number of robots for the Pentagon, including a walking supply carrier called Big Dog and a human shaped robot called Atlas. New reports have compared Atlas to the Terminator. Boston Dynamics is developing the robots for the Defense Advanced Projects Agency or DARPA which has been described as the Pentagon’s weird science agency.
Boston Dynamics claims it builds the most advanced robots on Earth. At least one commentator, Guardian writer John Naughton, claims Google’s expansion into robotics is being done in connection with the US military.
One of Boston Dynamics’ creations, Big Dog, is described as a mechanical mule and is almost ready to move onto the battlefield. Big Dog would carry supplies and it could be what General Cone was talking about when he said he was planning to “rethink infantry squads.”
Experts concerned about killer robots
Some experts are now so concerned about the possibility of real-life terminators that they want the United Nations to ban them. A Stop the Killer Robots Coalition is actually petitioning the UN to do just that, according to The Telegraph.
“People initially accused us of being in some kind of fantasy world,” Noel Sharkey, one of the Coalition’s founders, said. “But now they have realized that significant developments are already under way.”
Sharkey is a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University in England. He believes that the technology to build killer robots is already here. Around 272 scientists and engineers are promoting an effort to ban killer robots.
“What we are talking about, however, is fully-automated machines that can select targets and kill them without any human intervention,” Sharkey said. “And that is something we should all be very worried about.”
No nation currently admits to developing killer robots but many countries are researching the possibility. It may be only a matter of time before another classic science nightmare, killer robots, becomes a reality.