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The Future of Autonomous Robots

Written by on Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

With 260 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) drone attacks over the past four years, is the U.S. ready for autonomous or semi-autonomous robot weapon systems? Drones with the authority to use lethal force without supervision? Sounds scary but that’s exactly what is being addressed by the Department of Defense (DOD). With the intent to drive technology by defining doctrine, the DOD is proactively providing policy that will shape future development efforts when it comes to machines armed with weapon systems.

Technology today is growing by leaps and bounds and the DOD is trying to harness the innovative thoughts of would-be weapon developers by providing clear guidance on how a machine, armed with a weapon system will be fielded. On November 27, the DOD released a doctrine that governs the technology being developed by stating that autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems “shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.” Today, UAVs are armed with sensors and the missiles to detect, generic antibiotics online track, identify and destroy targets of interest but are subject to a chain of command to determine whether to release a weapon. Similar to today’s chain of command requirements, as technology evolves the DOD would like to maintain this authority for all future developmental efforts.


In the same doctrine, policy dictates a rigorous process to include verification, validation and thorough operational test to insure that all future systems are free from anomalies that might cause a weapon system to act without human oversight. In addition, once the weapon system passes the test process, it must gain approval from the Defense Undersecretary for Policy, Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics as well as the Joint Chiefs Chairman prior to activation.


True, technology is advancing at a rapid pace and industry is searching for the next “Terminator” to field to the military but for now the U.S. is armed with a doctrine that should keep humans in the loop for the foreseeable future.


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