Columbus Dispatch, SF Chronicle, New Scientist: Robot stories

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Two robot stories of a very different cast are in the hopper today. Both have to do about humane behavior in such machines, but from opposite poles.

The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Tom Abate mulls the topic of ethics and robotic soldiers or their mechanical equivalents. Much of his material comes from a meeting sponsored by the Computer Professional for Social Responsibility to address the ethical obligations of scientists and engineers caught up in high-tech warfare. He doesn’t have much room here, but leaves much to chew on. Automated, autonomous killing machines ought to have some kind of ethics programmed into them, it says here. And some say it’s already happening. One doesn’t want robo-Rambo landing in the wrong place and killing everything that moves – like in an orphanage, farming village, or zoo. Some say, however, robots may be more punctilious than human soldiers who get tired, confused, or enraged.

Grist for the Mill: A Georgia Inst. of Tech. report (117 pages!) on embedding ethics in a military “autonomous robotic system.”

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For an inherently humane slice of robotics, The Columbus Dispatch‘s Misti Crane provides a wide survey of robotic surgeons at work in area hospitals. They are not, she assures readers, like “R2-D2 rolling into the operating room” but are essentially tele-operated machines that do what the doctor orders, but don’t get cramps in the hands or drop a stitch. And they can reach places a surgeon cannot without cutting a bigger way in.

Maybe (faint hope) someday robot soldiers will only fight other robot soldiers. In the meantime, robot surgeons could be patching up the survivors of human-robot battles.

More robots: New Scientist’s Tom Simonite on work at Carnegie Mellon toward “shape shifting” robots, in which swarms of little ones might crawl around on each other until, claymation style, they form whatever shape is desired. New Scientist maintains a special archive of its robot stories, Here.

-CP