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Arms and the man

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute have been experimenting with a tiny robot that can swim through our body fluids, ultimately delivering a drug precisely in the target area. Integrating advanced computer technology with the vast experience of the skilled surgeon is a remarkable milestone in the history of medical science

PARTHASARATHI CHAKRABORTY | Kolkata |

“Robots may replace humans altogether, Artificial Intelligence (AI) could spell end of the human race”
~ Professor Stephen Hawking

Israel unveiled recently a remote-controlled armed robot to patrol volatile borders, track infiltrators and open fire (The Statesman, 15 September). The unmanned vehicle is the latest addition to the world of drone technology that is reshaping the modern battlefield. Enthusiastic proponents of this autonomous machine are cheerful and iterate that it would allow armies to protect soldiers and land, while critics fear this is a belligerent, dangerous step towards making life-or-death decisions by Artificial Intelligence (AI) for robots will never gain cognitive capabilities.

The four-wheel-drive robot mentioned above has been developed by the state owned Israel Aerospace Industry “REX MKII”. It is equipped with two machine guns, cameras and sensors and is operated by an electronic tablet. Perceived as the most advanced unmanned vehicle, it can gather intelligence for ground troops, carry injured soldiers and supplies in and out of battle, and strike nearby targets precisely.

Be that as it may, the justification for utilizing drones to target and kill humans has opened criticism of ignoring international law. Even killing individuals by drones or capturing them is an intricate issue. Many military drone manufacturers are trying to capture the market for domestic surveillance using remote sensing drones to enable them to recognize faces of adversaries, monitoring and hearing conversations and even peeping into their minds.
However Human Rights Watch (HRW) and many NGOs are campaigning to halt production of killer military robots. At the 24th international joint conference on artificial intelligence (AI), Buenos Aires, in 2015, a letter signed by luminaries like Noam Chomsky and Stephen Hawking pointed out that the development of military robots could spell the end of the human race and must be stopped immediately. Bonny Docherty, a senior researcher from the arms division of Human Rights Watch, emphasised categorically the urgent need to ban military robots as they are incapable of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. “Machines cannot understand the value of human life, which in essence undermines human dignity and violates obviously the human rights laws” Docherty said.

Drones may be classified into two main groups: those which are used for reconnaissance and surveillance objectives and those that are armed with bombs and missiles for combat. The use of drones has flourished very quickly. They are cheaper and have the ability of reaching even remote and dangerous places without crew or pilot. Robots not only exist in movies or science fiction like Robu in Satyajit Ray’s ‘Professor Shanku’ or Isaac Asimov’s ‘I Robot’ and similar other books.

Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Obviously, the laws are contradicted with the deployment of military robots.

As a matter of fact, support for autonomous weapons systems falls into two general categories. Some experts advocate their use because of military advantage. Military robots are remote-controlled mobile robots designed for military applications. This artificial intelligence (AI) can initiate a war. Autonomous robotics would save and preserve soldiers’ lives by replacing them. Robot soldiers neither get tired, nor experience fear. Energetically Autonomous Tactical (AUT) robots have been created to give them more autonomy and to work for extended periods of time.

A vast number of military robots are tele-operated, used for neutralising explosives, reconnaissance, sniper detection etc. Unethical behaviour from robots is manifestly unlikely during war, as they do not possess sensitive minds capable of nurturing passion or emotion like human beings. A robot’s eye will never shed a tear. An amazing four-wheel robot equipped with a firearm, radar and number of digital cameras, MIDARS is efficiently pre-programmed to patrol in the close vicinity of a military base and have the potential of scanning Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID). The Mobile Autonomous Robot Software Research program has been initiated by the Pentagon with the idea to develop more efficient, advanced military robots.

Others emphasize moral justification for using them. In a message to the group of Governmental Experts, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “machines with power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant, and should be prohibited by internationational law”.

Robotic assistance for a better life has profound implications, even in the pandemic situation for combating Covid-19. Apart from doing surgical operations, robots are used in the disinfection of hospitals quickly and efficiently. Robotic surgical equipment is known as da vinci surgical equipment. The da Vinci surgical system is remarkable and enables the surgeon to operate with enhanced clarity, precision and control.

Researchers of the Max Planck Institute have been experimenting with a tiny robot that can swim through our body fluids, ultimately delivering a drug precisely in the target area. Integrating advanced computer technology with the vast experience of the skilled surgeon is a remarkable milestone in the history of medical science. The robots are precisely programmed with protectors, which eventually help in safeguarding patients from surgical complications.

The ambulance drones are also significant. Drones for secret work, future warfare, deep sea research with Unmanned Under Sea Vehicles (UUVS), video drones for taking photographs and disaster relief are also remarkable. The world’s smallest, fully functional, radio-controlled drone, Nano Quad Copter is a miniature helicopter with four rotors that can be held in the palm and is only 45mm square in size. Drone researchers have found a new frontier in Alaska, a testing ground to study oil exploration including oil spills in oceans, and studying grey whales, sea lions and endangered species like the white polar bear. Alaska has become a key research and development field for non-military drones for smart drones can survive even in the deep freeze associated with incredible thick fog.

Using drones for crop surveillance can drastically increase yields of crops. It is cost- effective, saves time and can be meaningfully integrated with GIS mapping and crop health imaging by using image processing software.
Drone devices are capturing news video, assisting farmers, filming movies, delivering packages and providing disaster relief. Brian A. Rellinger, CIO Ohio Wesleyan University has been experimenting with drones to see how they can be effectively used to enhance the teaching-learning process and research. Drones are also finding space in the syllabi of school education in the US.
Researchers have developed cloud-seeding drones to manipulate the weather. Florida plans to use drones for mosquito control.