Will Tomorrow’s Wars Be Fought by Robots?

Will Tomorrow’s Wars Be Fought by Robots?

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Dr Susan Carland: Welcome back to What Happens  Next?, the podcast that examines some of the   biggest challenges facing our world and asks the  experts, what will happen if we don't change?   And what can we do to create a better future? I'm Dr Susan Carland. Keep listening  to find out what happens next. Joe Biden:   This is a premeditated attack.   Vladimir Putin has been planning this for  months, as we've been saying all along. News reader: As we go to air tonight,  Ukraine is under full-scale Russian assault.   Explosions and air raid sirens  have been heard in several...

Dr Susan Carland: There's a popular quote  that's often shared especially during times   of international political tension that  says, “I do not know with what weapons   World War III will be fought, but World War  IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” The global military industrial complex is  constantly at work developing new technologies   and weapons, all designed to give one nation  or another an edge in the next conflict,   and the one after that, and the one after that. And it isn't just weaponry  that's evolving and adapting.   Soldiers themselves are changing, learning new  skills and tactics to succeed on emerging fronts.   As the nature of war and soldiers change,  our own ideas about them are changing, too.

On the next two episodes of What Happens  Next?, we'll examine the ways new   technologies such as AI and robotics affect  human soldiering. And we'll ask the experts,   can modern soldiers be both ethical and effective?  Keep listening to find out what happens next. Prof Rob Sparrow: Hi, I'm Professor Rob Sparrow  of the philosophy department at Monash University,   where I work on ethical issues  related to new technologies. Dr Susan Carland: Tell us about some of  the new technological advancements in   warfare at the moment.

Prof Rob Sparrow: So war is a  very technological activity,   and a lot of our technologies, sadly,  are developed for the purposes of war. Technologies that I've studied are new  material sciences and their implications   on the battlefield. So, for instance, people have  now… American soldiers have very sophisticated   combat armour; wound treatment systems that mean  that fewer people are being killed immediately,   but more people are coming home with  multiple amputations as a result of…   they can be cared for, prevented from dying,  but not necessarily come home healthy. I study the ethics of drone warfare, so these are  a whole range of systems that essentially allow   people to see from a distance and occasionally  fire weapons from a distance. So people might be   familiar with the video that shows up now in  computer games or films of pilots in America   seeing a battlefield in Iraq, or Syria, or  Afghanistan, and being able to drop bombs or   fire weapons from drones. But there are other  drones that are much more like the toys you see   at the local electronic store, and  they get used in battle as well.

There's a big impact of AI in warfare at  the moment in terms of making it possible   for weapons to carry out, or systems to carry  out, more and more operations autonomously. And I guess the other thing that people are very  interested in at the moment is various sorts   of performance enhancements, either better  amphetamines to keep soldiers up, awake and   combat alert for longer, to drugs to prevent  post-traumatic stress disorder. Perhaps even   brain machine interfaces to allow people to  pilot aircraft just by thinking about it. So there's lots of stuff happening  in the new technology space,   and actually lots of philosophers writing about  it because it tends to raise so many issues.

Dr Susan Carland: And I imagine warfare, of  course, has always had some of these overarching   ethical or moral quandaries. I imagine you'd  probably find any battle in history has had   an army that was more developed,  or more technologically savvy,   than its competitor. The first tribe  to have arrows probably destroyed the   group that they came against who'd  never seen anything like that. So I imagine these have always been  things that we've been struggling with,   but this introduction, particularly of AI,  artificial intelligence, that you refer to,   where I wonder if it means… Could we get to the  point where humans aren't needing to make the   decisions at all? Will the drone make the decision  about whether this is a legitimate target to bomb? Prof Rob Sparrow: Increasingly, that  looks likely. There are powerful dynamics   pushing towards the development of what  we call fully autonomous weapon systems,   or autonomous weapon systems. Some people  call them lethal autonomous weapon systems,  

or just killer robots. And the  reason why lots of critics think   that those systems will be developed, indeed  they are being developed, are twofold. One, the drones are remotely controlled via  satellite link or radio, and those systems are   vulnerable to enemy activity in a combat between  near-peers. Essentially, you wouldn't be able to   rely upon your satellites, you wouldn't be able  to rely upon your radio communications not being   blocked. So if you want your expensive weapon  systems to keep operating in that environment,  

you need to be able to detach, cut the  strings, and let the plane fly itself. It also looks as though, what's  called the “tempo of battle”,   essentially the speed of combat, the time in  which people have to make decisions, is now   becoming so small that human beings can't  do it as well as machines. So, for instance,   there are radar- and computer-controlled cannon  used on ships, including Australian ships, the   purpose of which is to shoot down incoming cruise  missiles. And human beings simply can't do that.   So in order to operate those systems, you have to  put them on full auto mode and then hope they can   distinguish between your planes coming home, or a  civilian aircraft, and an incoming cruise missile. I think that's very dangerous. I think there's a  real risk that in the future wars will be started  

by computers who have been granted on authority to  fire in certain circumstances, detect something,   or maybe just make a mistake, open fire  and that drags the rest of us into a war. Dr Susan Carland:   Paul Scharre is the Vice President and Director of  Studies at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank   Centre for a New American Security, author of Army  of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War,   and a former U.S. army ranger. He led the US  Department of Defence working group that drafted  

the directive establishing the department's  policies on autonomous weapons systems. Do you think there are things that we should  never outsource to machines in warfare? Paul Scharre: Well, that's the big  question where there's been a lot of debate   about where this technology's headed. One of  the things that's unique about warfare and the   military environment is it involves causing  harm and it involves killing, ultimately.   When militaries are operating lawfully, they're  killing lawful combatants of the enemy, but   it does involve causing harm. And so that is  a really profound question that people have   been asking, debating internationally, countries  coming together to discuss at the United Nations. Where's this technology taking us? And what  is it, you know… Where do we draw the line in   terms of how much autonomy or AI is acceptable  in military systems? What does it mean when a   predator drone has as much autonomy as a  self-driving car? And are we comfortable   allowing machines to make the ultimate decision  of life and death when it comes to human beings? Dr Susan Carland: Machines affect  our political decision making, too.  

Dr Kate Devitt is Chief Scientist of  Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence   CRC. She's paid close attention  to the way governments around the   world treat robotics, autonomous systems  and artificial intelligence, or RAS-AI. RAS-AI, or robotics, autonomous  systems and artificial intelligence,   it is a mouthful. What is that? Dr Kate Devitt: Yeah, what is that? What we've  seen in the last 10 years in particular has   been the rise of artificial intelligence as  a useful way – as a useful way to help robots   categorise the world, to perceive  the world, locomote around the world. And we can see that buzz in the development  of autonomous vehicles like Tesla   and the reduction in cost in some things like  LIDARs and cameras so that car manufacturers feel   like they can afford to experiment with some of  the perceptive systems, the systems that can see   the world and understand the environment, and then  bringing them together on platforms like a car   to enable them to manoeuvre more safely  or more intelligently than in the past.

So the term is used to bring  together the fact that we've got   more and more systems in the world  that can behave in a smarter way.   The question of whether we trust those  systems is, of course, the interesting one. So there was a really interesting war game  that was done by the Rand Corporation,   and what they found was that when you have a  global battlefield and you've got autonomous   assets like undersea submarines and ships and  things that are running around themselves,   they might have been weaponised or not. But as a  targeting value proposition, nobody really cares  

if a machine is destroyed, which is good, and  people do care when human lives are lost. So   the acts of war that are about robots destroying  other robots don't seem to have political impact. Dr Susan Carland: Here's Rob Sparrow again. It's interesting. I was told that the way  Parliament House in Canberra was set up was so  

that the government sitting there could look out  the window, straight down to the War Memorial,   to always remind them – that that would always  be in their eyesight – that if they were to   ever go to war, that there is a human cost  of the people that they're sending there.   I wonder what that means, then, if this human  cost is removed, at least of their own people. Prof Rob Sparrow: Yes. I think that's the danger.  I think it's very easy now for governments   to delude themselves that they can solve  political problems by killing the bad people. And I mean, it really is striking how  infantile the moral language that people use   is when they start talking  about drone strikes and they   fall into this dichotomous, “We're good, they're  evil, each and every one evil by nature”.   And this idea that you might solve a political  conflict, or change a government's mind,   or end a civil war just by killing  the bad people is hopelessly naive.

And indeed it's quite sobering to think about  the nations in which drones have been used,   because now drones have been used  by the US for about 20 years.   And to look around the world where  drone strikes have taken place,   almost none of those places are better off  today, or more friendly to the United States,   or pose less of a risk to US interests, than  they were at the start of those drone strikes. So the weapons just don't work at a strategic  level. They're tactically quite effective,  

but in terms of achieving political goals, this  idea that you don't put boots on the ground,   that you can fight a war without risk,   doesn't seem to be borne out in terms of,  you don't win through that kind of campaign. And yet it's so tempting for governments:  “We've got to do something, because bad   things are happening overseas. What can we  do?” Cruise missile strikes, drone strikes,   ticks that box, no political risk at home,   but just kicks the can further down the road  in terms of the actual political issues. Dr Kate Devitt: War is a very human activity  and one of the… the analysis of drone strikes   over the past 20 years by the United States has  revealed that some of the uses of robotic systems   may have taken humanity too far  away from the acts of war itself.

Obama utilised drones more  than almost any US president.   And most people I know think, “Well, Barack Obama,  one of the smartest US presidents we've ever   seen. Incredibly thoughtful, so smart, so  considered. Whatever he has chosen to do   when it comes to war is probably very well  considered.” But unfortunately for Obama, those   drone strikes, which take humans so far away from  the battlefield – and the people, the communities. I mean a huge issue in some of these Middle  Eastern places is that even media wasn't on   the ground. There was no media. There was no  conversation with the victims of illegal strikes  

where innocent citizens were targeted and killed.  And there was no good process in the United States   to review those civilian deaths, and there were  no consequences on any of the targeteers and those   others in the decision loop when civilians were  harmed against international humanitarian law. If you had more what we call boots on the  ground, so physical human beings amongst   other physical human beings, then  you get the full gamut of human   interaction. You get the humanitarian component  part, the soldiers who help women save babies,   the soldiers who try to find food  for people in villages and in towns,   who might help repair water supplies. They may  also have weapons, and perhaps they also use them. But when you have humans with other  humans, it's a human endeavour.   And when you take humans away from other  humans and then put robots between them,   then there's a loss of a connection  from a human perspective.

So those long-range drone strikes may not be  morally defensible, both from the perspective of   those who are targeted, but also  from the perspective of operators   who have been shown to have suffered terrible  moral injury from being, for example, in   little sort of caves in the United States  where they sit down and they do targeting,   long targeting, and then they are asked to  fire, and then they go home to their family   at the end of the day, and they have an  incredible amount of trauma from that process. Dr Susan Carland: Ben Pronk, co-author of  The Resilience Shield, is a former commanding   officer of the Special Air Services Regiment,  a special forces unit of the Australian Army. I asked him if he thought the  introduction of artificial intelligence   would change the nature of warfare  and therefore its effect on soldiers. I wonder if the introduction of  artificial intelligence in warfare   will negate that need for physical  courage and will it all be about,   perhaps, moral courage for  our soldiers going forward? Ben Pronk: It's interesting to look back at  history. And every technological advance,   there's been these thoughts that it'll  fundamentally change warfare, and air power is a   really big one. There was this idea that now we've  got these long-range bombers and aircraft, that  

we'll never need to send young men and into  to harm's way again in the sense that we had.   A couple of hundred years later we're still  sending people to crawl around in the mud. I definitely think it will change the character,  but I think the nature is going to be immutable.  

I mean, as military officers, you get  taught Clausewitz, Carl von Clausewitz,   a Prussian military theorist, he said,  “War is an extension of politics by another   means.” And that's my mandatory Clausewitz  reference, by the way. We've got to say that. Dr Susan Carland: [Laughter] At least one. Ben Pronk: [Laughter] Yeah. But governments have  for centuries had this tool that if we exhaust all   other options, then this is a tool of national  power. And I think that will remain the same. I  

still think at some point you're going to need to  seize and hold ground, if that's the national aim.   And so I think it will be augmented by  AI, but I don't know if it'll be replaced. Dr Susan Carland: Do you think we have  unfair expectations of our soldiers where we   expect and even train them to be  able to do things that in normal   civilian life are unacceptable,  such as killing other people? Ben Pronk: Yeah. Dr Susan Carland: But then we expect them  just to be able to come back to civilian life   and flick a switch and behave like everyone else. Ben Pronk: Yeah, to an extent, I do. And I think   if we accept that the vast majority of  humans don't like inflicting violence on   one another…. And there's a guy called Dave  Grossman who wrote a book, On Killing, which  

talks a lot about this, the psychological impacts  of warfare, and he offers that the vast majority   of people can't kill without remorse. It's only  the sociopaths really that are able to do that. So   if we accept that most of us can't do that, then  if we want people to be able to kill on behalf   of the state, so sanctioned violence, then  we need to train them to be able to do that. But I also think, and my observations of the  Afghanistan experience was, you are parking an   element of your humanity when you kill, when you  inflict legitimate violence, or sanction violence.  

And I kind of think if you do that long enough, it  becomes harder and harder to touch back into that. And I do think that some of the  things we've seen in contemporary   history are that chronic exposure to a  really extraordinary environment where   violence is pretty commonplace. And I do think  that results in something of a humanity slip. And so I think to an extent we expect that of our  soldiers. I think we need to look at how we employ   our soldiers to try and minimise that wherever  possible. But I do also think that demands an  

element of transition and a recognition  that we do need to come back from that spot. Dr Susan Carland: Long-distance killing  doesn't make killing any less difficult and   it's clear that introducing new technology on the  battlefield also introduces new moral questions. As Kate says, “War is a human activity”, and  we need to ensure we hold onto our humanity as   we navigate future conflicts. Can we do it?  Find out next week as our experts discuss   the changing face of war, the nature of bravery,  and the vital role of soldiers in peacekeeping. Thanks to all our guests today, Prof Rob  Sparrow, Paul Scharre, Dr Dr Kate Devitt,   and Ben Pronk. For more information  about their work, visit our show notes. Thank you also to the Monash University  Performing Art Centre's David Li Sound Gallery,   where a portion of this season was recorded.

If you are enjoying What Happens Next?,   don't forget to give us a five-star  rating on Apple Podcasts or Spotify,   and share the show with your friends. Thank  you for joining us. See you next week.

2022-05-18 03:19

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