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Don’t Trust Robots? The Pentagon Doesn’t Either

Not everyone at the Pentagon is ready to embrace the new robot army

smithsonian.com

Image: DARPA

Robots are pretty much everywhere these days. They’re checking you out of the grocery store, helping you at the airport and diffusing your bombs.  And perhaps more so than anyone else, the Pentagon relies on them.

But not everyone at the Pentagon is ready to embrace the new robot army. A recent study by the Defence Science Board revealed that many people who interact with robots every day are wary of their electronic coworkers.

Wired‘s Danger Room explains:

There’s a “lack of trust among operators that a given unmanned system will operate as intended,” the Board found. One major reason: “Most deployments of unmanned systems were motivated by the pressing needs of conflict, so systems were rushed to theater with inadequate support, resources, training and concepts of operation.” War may spur innovation, but it’s not always the best place to beta-test.

The real issue here is that many people who work with these robots don’t understand them. They think that the robot is going to replace them, or that it simply won’t work. There is a divide, Wired says, between robot creators—the engineers and researchers who build the bots—and the generals and officers who use and demand functional machines.

That’s a problem when you consider just how much the military relies on robots. Wired writes that a third of the military’s air fleet is robotic. Robots fly advanced routes and missions, filter survey footage and analyze data. Those robots will be best used when the officers in the army start to understand just what they can and cannot do. Wired writes:

Primarily, the Board wants “some military leaders” to stop thinking of “computers making independent decisions and taking uncontrolled action” when they think of the word “autonomy.” Instead, they should think of autonomy as a partnership: “all autonomous systems are joint human-machine cognitive systems,” the Board writes. “It should be made clear that all autonomous systems are supervised by human operators at some level, and autonomous systems’ software embodies the designed limits on the actions and decisions delegated to the computer.”

Basically, it sounds like the humans and robots at the Pentagon need a good heart-to-heart. Change can be scary, and robots can be even scarier, but as long as officers understand what they’re up to, everyone can live in harmony.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Why You Should Stop Worrying About the Robot Apocalypse
In the Military, Inventiveness of All Kinds Is a Weapon

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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