The use of a robot in Dallas (Dallas Robot|) to deliver an explosive device and kill the Dallas shooting suspect has intensified the debate over a future of “killer robots”.
While robots and unmanned systems have been used by the military before, this is the first time the police within the US have used such a technique with lethal intent
“Other options would have exposed our officers to greater danger,” the Dallas police chief said.
Robots are spreading fast. What might that mean?
Robots have also been deployed on the ground militarily.
South Korea pioneered using robots to guard the demilitarised zone with North Korea. These are equipped with heat and motion detectors as well as weapons.
The advantage, proponents say, is that the robots do not get tired or fall asleep, unlike human sentries.
When the Korean robot senses a potential threat, it notifies a command centre
Crucially though, it still requires a decision by a human to fire.
And this gets back to the crucial point about the Dallas robot. It was still under human control.
The real challenge for the future is not so much the remote-controlled nature of weapons but automation – two concepts often wrongly conflated.
Truly autonomous robotic systems would involve no person taking the decision to shoot a weapon or detonate an explosive.
The next step for the Korean robots may be to teach them to tell friend from foe and then fire themselves.
Futurologists imagine swarms of target-seeking nano-bots being unleashed pre-programmed with laws of warfare and rules of engagement.