Military Robots to Become More Humanoid

In a recent Wired article (April 2011) "The Trouble With Humanoid Droids," Brendan I. Koemer advocates the need to make military robots look less human, in order to facilitate the feeling of responsibility by their remote-control operators. Namely, the robot operators tend to dissociate themselves more from the task performed by a robot if the robot looks more like a human, while "utalitarian" robots make operators more responsible because they make them feel they use just sophisticated tools, not partners.

“The humanoid form is such a powerful social cue,” Groom says. “If you see this humanoid shape, you’re going to respond to it like it’s a person.”
That response is precisely what the military must discourage among the humans who will be directing tomorrow’s robot army. Those weapons operators will need to understand that they, not their robots, bear the ultimate responsibility for what goes down on the battlefield. Robot designers can help foster that mindset by resisting the urge to anthropomorphize droids destined for service in combat zones. Make them look like killing machines, not friends.

Respect for this moralistic effort, but it sounds quite naive and hollow. The history of military technology development consists of creating weapons which increasingly "liberate" those who wield them from precisely this kind of responsibility. The effect of killing another human being with one's hands or a pistol are the same - a dead body. However, physical and psychological effort invested by the killer in each of these cases significantly differ.

According to Macedonian folk tale, when mace and sword specialist King Marko was shown a firearm, he  said sorrowfully "Now the smallest child can kill the greatest hero."  And pushing a(n infamous red) button requires much less prowess than pulling the trigger.

Nazis used the gas chambers to lower the level of stress of their soldiers who previously used to kill the "undesirables" by machine guns. In the wars U.S.A./NATO have waged since the 1990s, use of video-game-like interface for bombers greatly facilitated the feeling that the "collateral" damage done in target countries is not so real (combined with counting only "our" casualties).

All in all, if making more humanoid robots would lead to increasing effectiveness through lowering levels of stress, post-traumatic disorder or pangs of conscience for the soldiers, the military would make it so. In retrospect, all bloodshed is needless. If the armies were more interested in the moral aspects than meeting the (unquestioned) goals set by their political masters, no war would start in the first place. Therefore, expect not only anthropomorphic military robots soon - expect gorgeous humanoid droids. On killing sprees.

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