Chivalrous Robots?


A new meaning to the phrase “a knight in shining armor”? I don’t think so. In fact soldiers are now confronted with even greater challenges to remain chivalrous, when it is possible for them to gain a grotesquely unfair advantage through technology. This is welcome news from our truly honorable men in the armed services, relative to the almost inevitable advance of robotics.

“The Armed Robotic Vehicle-Assault (Light) is a robot that extends the reach of a soldier but is still controlled by him,” Schaill said. “It is important that soldier-leaders remain fully in control of our combat actions so that the commander’s intent is fully accomplished; the ARV-A(L) is not designed to go on missions independent of the soldier.”

Col. Lee Fetterman, training and doctrine capabilities man¬ager for FCS, said he sees potential for robots to significantly increase the Army’s ability to detect the enemy or target, deliv¬er the ordnance necessary to destroy the target and assess the effects of the attack. However, in the design of the systems that will employ robots, Fetterman said he believes an important potential capability should not be employed: the “decide” component.

“The function that robots cannot perform for us — that is, the function we should not allow them to perform for us — is the decide function. Men should decide to kill other men, not machines,” he said. “This is a moral imperative that we ignore at great peril to our humanity. We would be morally bereft if we abrogate our responsibility to make the life-and-death decisions required on a battlefield as leaders and sol¬diers with human compassion and understanding. This is not something we would do. It is not in concert with the American spirit.”

Fetterman has a unique perspective of the use and utility of robotic warfare — not as a product of his position within the FCS program, but because of his combat experience demon¬strating the utility and limitations of robots in war. The follow¬ing is his description of two combat actions, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, which graphically reveals the principles he described:

“I used a PackBot in Afghanistan. It was great. It allowed me to reduce soldier risk in caves, urban courtyards, and inside buildings. It reduced risk to civilians because I was able to observe the interior of human habitations before we entered. Thus, when there were women and children present, we did not enter in the dynamic fashion” — throw in a grenade and follow it after it explodes. “This was, needless to say, something we were keen to avoid doing whenever civil¬ians were present, and the PackBot helped us sort that out when we had it.

“In Iraq, I did not have PackBot attached to my unit. It was still in the experimental stage at that time. We were about to enter a courtyard one day after having had a fire¬fight in one dwelling. The area was totally enclosed, and we were on the outside of the walls. We had just shot two men who had engaged us with AK47s upon exiting this courtyard. In the momentary pause before entry, I could hear women and children wailing inside the courtyard. I could also see my lead squad leader preparing to take his men into that courtyard. He was an exceptional NCO, and I had no doubt that he and his men would perform the battle drills they had been trained to do flaw¬lessly. That is to say, they would enter and clear the area of all resistance in accordance with our rules of engage¬ment.

“I was, however, of the opinion at this point that we had no more combatants inside the courtyard. I had no evidence to support this belief, since I could not see inside the courtyard, but I was intu¬itively convinced there was risk to inno¬cent life if I did not do something. Therefore, I told him to wait. I took the interpreter and entered the courtyard. There was a woman, a toddler and a baby inside the area. I have never been so happy that I followed my human instincts.”

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