Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bastard Spawn of Floor-cleaning Automaton and Taser Threatens Human Race

These are the good old days. Carly Simon said so. Since we know that the present will someday become the Good Old Days, I sometimes conduct thought experiments to visualize what kind of abominable technological or social development would cause these to be remembered as the Good Old Days. In order to do this, imagine something that seems bad now, and then imagine what permutation of it would cause you to remember this badness with fond nostalgia 50 years from now.

For example, roadside bombs are a problem for troops in Iraq. "Why, I remember the good old days, when alls we had to worry about were them dumb roadside bombs! They usually had a wire or somethin' attached, and you could see 'em before they blew! Sometimes they were detonated by cellphone, but at least we usually had body armor, kevlar vests that the family would send from home. They waren't nuthin' like these damn smart heat-seeking mines now, the ones that sense you, follow you home, leap off the ground and bore up through any available orifice before applying a software patch to your central nervous system causing you to go on a killing rampage when in the presence of a large number of your comrades, before exploding. Those things are downright nefarious! And where the hell are they comin' from at a time like this when we ain't even at war?! Maybe they're left over from the last war, but I think the robot companies are just pumpin' 'em out to drum up business for their other products. Oh, what I wouldn't give to just hold a good old-fashioned improvised explosive device in my hands today!"

Reality has a way of racing ahead of the most fevered imagination at times. Perhaps when the last human supporter of George W. Bush has vanished, military robo-tasers could patrol the world to keep the wetware in line.

From the Los Angeles Times

Taser-armed robots are in the works
From the Associated Press

July 2, 2007

BOSTON — RoboCops and robot soldiers got a little closer to reality last week as a maker of floor-cleaning automatons teamed with a stun-gun manufacturer to arm track-wheeled robots for the police and the Pentagon.

By adding Tasers to robots it makes for the military, Burlington, Mass.-based IRobot Corp. says it hopes to give soldiers and law enforcement officers a defensive, nonlethal tool.

But some observers fear that such developments could ultimately lead to robots capable of deciding on their own when to shoot and kill.

"It's one more step in that direction," said John Pike, director of, an Alexandria, Va.-based military research organization.

"It is not the first step in that direction, but I think at some point toward the end of the next decade, you're going to start seeing RoboCops or a Terminator," Pike said, referring to a pair of 1980s robot-themed sci-fi films. "We may see autonomous robots capable of inflicting lethal force."

Jim Rymarcsuk, vice president for business development at IRobot, said notions of armed robots acting on their own were far beyond what the company envisioned for the partnership announced Thursday
with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International Inc.

"Right now, we have no plans to take any robot with a lethal-weapon approach to the market," Rymarcsuk said. "For this system, and all systems we have looked at, there is a human in the loop making the decisions. This in no way is giving the robot the capability to use force on its own."

Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed. The companies said they had developed a model that would be demonstrated at a Taser-hosted conference in Chicago on July 9 and 10. The model pairs IRobot's existing PackBot Explorer with the Taser X26 in what IRobot calls "the first robot of its kind with an on-board, integrated Taser payload."

There's no word when the system will be offered for sale, or for how much.
I wonder how the demonstration went. I haven't read or heard anything about it, but that doesn't necessarily mean all witnesses were killed.

The following article is from Softpedia.
If Armed Autonomous Robot Kills Humans, Who's Guilty of Murder?
- Armed autonomous robots cause real concern and raise interesting questions
By: Lucian Dorneanu, Science Editor

Last week, a company announced plans to produce autonomous robots equipped with Taser guns, which will be sold to law enforcement agencies in the US. They will be used for crown control and against civilians, a situation that raised concerns and gave birth to some interesting questions.

If such an armed autonomous robot accidentally kills a man, who will be charged with murder? Its makers, the police, no one?

The US military already uses PackBot, made by iRobot of Massachusetts, to carry lethal weapons and
there are already 5,000 robots used by the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from about 150 in 2004, most of them being used to search caves and buildings for insurgents, detect mines and ferret out roadside and car bombs.

But when it comes to US citizens, things get a little complicated. This move to arm police robots with stun guns has been condemned by weapon researchers and not only from the US.

These new robots are not designed to kill, they will only be equipped with Tasers, an electroshock weapon, an incapacitant used for subduing a person by administering electric shock that may disrupt superficial muscle functions.

While usually not lethal, Tasers can accidentally kill people. Thought to be reliable and non-lethal by most police agencies, between June 2001 and June 2007, there were at least 245 cases of deaths of subjects soon after having been shocked using Tasers.

7th of July 2007, 10:54 GMT
From New Scientist:
Armed autonomous robots cause concern
10:32 07 July 2007

A MOVE to arm police robots with stun guns has been condemned by weapons researchers.
On 28 June, Taser International of Arizona announced plans to equip robots with stun guns. The US military already uses PackBot, made by iRobot of Massachusetts, to carry lethal weapons, but the new stun-capable robots could be used against civilians.
"The victim would have to receive shocks for longer, or repeatedly, to give police time to reach the scene and restrain them, which carries greater risk to their health," warns non-lethal weapons researcher Neil Davison, of the University of Bradford, UK.
"If someone is severely punished by an autonomous robot, who are you going to take to a tribunal?" asks Steve Wright, a security expert at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK.
Even if not fully autonomous, Taser-bots remotely controlled by pranksters wouldn't be much fun either. It's easy to predict a spate of robot assassinations by humanists not wanting to take a chance that the floor-cleaner or lawn-mowing bot doesn't have a "stinger" on board. Corporations will have to take defensive measures to defend their bot-swarms, building in metal-detectors and behavioral analysis software to enable them to detect and self-defensively taser anti-bot humanists before they take the hardware offline.

Ah, I miss the good old twenny-ohs already.

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