Well, it's barely been a week, but here's another video about armed drones for you. This one just happens to be about an inexpensive and accessible DIY drone with a paintball gun on it, as presented by some dude in an utterly ridiculous costume and an almost painful excess of drama who's doing his level best to convince you that you should be terrified.
If this sort of thing bothers you, we should point out that much worse than this has been done before. This next video is from at least five years ago, and it shows an automatic shotgun (!) being operated on a partially autonomous (!!) helicopter:
So if you're just freaking out now about the idea of someone building their own armed UAV, you're way behind the times, my friend!
But seriously, this whole idea of armed robots has been coming up a lot recently, and the idea of armed hobby robots is an important subset of that to think about. The problem, I guess, starts to show up when this sort of thing gets to the point where it's relatively easy to do with not a lot of experience and not a lot of funding. Robots are cheap, and getting cheaper, and in general that's a good thing for everyone. If you look hard enough, you can find reasons why any emerging technology is horribly dangerous when people have easy access to it. Like, oh, I don't know, cars? Cars (or more accurately, people driving cars) kill over 30,000 other people (and themselves) every year. That's kill, not injure. Because it's easy and frequently deadly to use a car improperly, do we ban cars? Of course not. Heck, you can put armor and a gun on a car and call it a tank, and we still don't ban cars.
Robots, of course, differ from cars and guns and such in their ability to remove a person from an action. You can program a robot to do something, and then the robot will go and do it, while you hide in a cave somewhere and cackle nefariously to yourself. Potentially, this makes robots more dangerous (because you don't have to put yourself in danger), and there's an ethical question as well: does it become easier to hurt people when you're physically (and/or mentally) removed from them?
I'm not qualified to answer these questions, and it's going to take a lot of smart people talking (and arguing) for a long time to really nail down all the ramifications of robots with guns. But I'd just like to point out that military technology has been progressing along this path for ages. Look at just about every military technology that's ever been developed, and it's all going the same way: doing more harm to an enemy while minimizing your own risk. You could perhaps argue that the idea of an ethical, fair fight went out the window the moment someone figured out that you could throw a rock at someone else, and from that point on, via slings and bows and guns and airplanes and missiles, it's always been about getting farther and farther away. Robots (not fully autonomous robots, mind you, that's another kettle of fish) are simply an extension of this, and I'd argue that fundamentally they're no worse, and no better, than (say) shooting a missile at a target from an airplane.
But I digress. We're not talking about military technology here, we're talking about putting a gun on a drone that you can buy for a thousand bucks, and the question is whether you should be scared, and what should be done about it. My personal opinion is that you should be no more scared, and no less scared, than you are walking around when it's legal for just about anyone to drive a car and own a gun. Yes, it's easier than ever before to turn a robot into a weapon, but if someone is crazy enough to do that, whether or not a robot is easy and cheap isn't going to stop them from finding a way to do something bad. Sure, maybe we need laws to forbid guns to be attached to unattended machines (just like in some places you can't create unattended fires), and maybe existing laws already cover that, but that's about guns, not robots.
Via [ Boing Boing ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.