Time to order ‘Halt!’ to robot armies?

The world’s top experts are meeting in London to discuss the ethics of killer robots.

Missy CummingsHosting the two-day conference, the Royal Institute of International Affairs – with Future intelligence as the major media partner – aims to provoke a global debate about robotic armies, drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs) and weaponised software.

Keynote speaker Professor Missy Cummings told Peter Warren’s PassWord radio show on 104.4 Resonance FM that the UAVs currently flying lethal missions in Afghanistan and Pakistan have caused ‘revulsion’ amongst the civilian populations.

We have a very outspoken community when it comes to drones” she said.”Somehow with robots when there’s no person in that plane that makes people feel uncomfortable…when there’s no direct human link there’s a sense of revulsion.”

Call of Duty

Professor Cummings speaks from direct experience since she was a former US Navy fighter pilot, flying F-18s from aircraft carriers.Professor Cummings believes this is a timely and necessary debate because she claims there is a worrying level of technological illiteracy. She says protest movements against drones are misguided and claims that most people just don’t ‘get it’ – the real invasion is done by ourselves to ourselves by carrying around with us a mobile phone or tablet that is connected to to the Internet and also – unintentionally – to the authorities.

Based at the Massachussetts Instititute of Technology, Prof Cummings has commented on MIT’s latest research on the effect of low workload on drone (UAV) operators. the pilots studied were bored and chose to check their cellphones for messages or distract themselves with games such as Call of uty to while away the time between lethal flying missions. She observed that rookie drone pilots get bored whilst waiting for a target to be identified by the system, and is working on activities that will help them to concentrate.

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