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Why is the US Military Terrified of Robots?

Written by on Friday, September 14th, 2012

I’m a transhumanist. That name sounds a little bit fancy, but it’s actually pretty simple – in fact, you might even be a transhumanist without even realizing it. Basically, transhumanists are people who believe that technology can and should drastically improve the human condition by fighting poverty, disease, the aging process, and other common woes.

Some of the ideas of transhumanism are admittedly wacky sci-fi stuff, such as uploading a person’s brain into a machine or discovering the secret to immortality. I tend to be a bit more practical and down-to-earth about the whole thing – pacemakers and mechanical prosthetics help keep us alive longer, and the Internet has fundamentally altered how we share knowledge. Without question, technology has become a part of human life.

That’s especially true with the US military, which has become flooded with robots, super-smart machines, and other autonomous devices. But a study by the Defense Science Board (DSB) uncovered something rather surprising: military personnel actually hate and mistrust robots. How could that be? The average civilian can’t wait for the next iPhone to hit the market, but soldiers are harboring a secret hatred for drones. What’s the deal?

Man Versus Machine

Image source: Anguishedrepose.com

The DSB set out to solve the mystery and they found that the mistrust basically stems from two misconceptions:

-The robot is going to take the operator’s job.

-The robot is not going to work as intended.

The first misconception isn’t very surprising; after all, the Air Force ran into a similar problem when drones started hitting the skies. Pilots were afraid that the drones would replace their jobs – in a way they were correct, but only slightly. These drones still need pilots, and they also need a whole team of analysts to crunch the deluge of digital data. Jobs didn’t really get destroyed, but they did get shuffled around a bit.

The second misconception is a bit unexpected. We trust technology every second of every day — we trust cars not to explode, we trust how to buy antibiotics online buildings not to collapse, and we trust medicine to cure our ailments. Has the military gone too far with its technology? Have the military’s weapons become so advanced that they’ve gone beyond the realm of casual acceptance? That’s a mystery for now, but one thing for certain is that the military needs to figure out how to combat this widespread mistrust.

Quite possibly the best way to do that is to cut out the whole “that’s a robot and robots are different from me” mentality and stick with a mindset that soldiers are used to. A serviceman won’t think twice when he’s told, “This man is your brother and your ally – trust him with your life,” and he certainly won’t think that an influx of new recruits will threaten his job.

Robot and Soldier

Image source: Torkhan.blogspot.com

It’s essentially the same thing with robots. Robots don’t cut humans out of the equation – they help humans do their jobs. And in exactly the same way that a group of soldiers rely on each other to get the job done, humans and robots have to cooperate to compete in the 21st century. A lone human just can’t succeed without the help of machines, and machines are essentially useless hunks of metal without humans to do all the important work.

If we want technology to advance, we’re going to need to get past this skepticism that we’re harboring for machines and think of them as comrades-in-arms. Fortunately, we know that technological acceptance is possible. Remember all the complaints people used to have about cell phones a few decades ago? “I’ll have to endure strangers’ conversations!” “They’ll destroy privacy!” “They’ll cause brain cancer!” Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who doesn’t own one.

It may take a while, but hopefully the USAF will stop seeing drones as a threat to job security and starting seeing autonomous machines as valuable tools and allies in the US military’s arsenal.

If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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