Robotics professor warns that DARPA droids will be used to “kill people”
Sept 6, 2012
In its ongoing quest to develop a robot that can chase down human prey, The Department of Defense now has a robot that can run faster than the fastest human on the planet.
The quadruped robot, dubbed the CHEETAH, by developers Boston Dynamics Inc, recently set a new record as the fastest moving robot in the world by running at a speed of 28.3 miles per hour.
The robot smashed its own previous land speed record of 18 miles per hour, which was set only six months ago.
Although still tethered to a treadmill and working from an off board power supply, the CHEETAH now moves faster than record setting sprinter Usain Bolt, who reached a peak speed of 27.78 mph over a 20-meter stretch during a 100-meter sprint in 2009. The feat is still recognized as the world speed record for a human.
The technology is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military.
In an interview with Wired, Dr. Alfred Rizzi, the technical lead for the Cheetah project stated:
“Our real goal is to create a robot that moves freely outdoors while it runs fast. We are building an outdoor version that we call WildCat, that should be ready for testing early next year.”
An artists impression of the WildCat robot has been released by the company.
Last month it was revealed that Boston Dynamics has also been contracted by DARPA to develop and build humanoid robots that can act intelligently without supervision, in a deal worth $10.9 million.
The DoD announced that “The robotic platforms will be humanoid, consisting of two legs, a torso, two arms with hands, a sensor head and on board computing.”
DARPA’s website says that the robots will help “conduct humanitarian, disaster relief and related operations.”
“The plan identifies requirements to extend aid to victims of natural or man-made disasters and conduct evacuation operations.” reads the brief, first released in April as part of DARPA’s ‘Robotics Challenge’.
The robots will operate with “supervised autonomy”, according to DARPA, and will be able to act intelligently by themselves, making their own decisions if and when direct supervision is not possible.
The Pentagon also envisions that the robots will be able to use basic and diverse “tools”.
“The primary technical goal of the DRC is to develop ground robots capable of executing complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments. Competitors in the DRC are expected to focus on robots that can use standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles, with an emphasis on adaptability to tools with diverse specifications.” reads the original brief.
The robots are set to be completed by Aug. 9, 2014, according to the contract.
Boston Dynamics has enjoyed a long working relationship with DARPA, during which time it has also developed the rather frightening BigDog. This hydraulic quadruped robot can carry up to 340lb load, meaning it can be effectively weaponised, and recovers its balance even after sliding on ice and snow:
The company also developed RiSE, a robot that climbs vertical terrain such as walls, trees and fences, using feet with micro-claws to climb on textured surfaces:
In addition to a host of other smaller robots, Boston Dynamics is also developing PETMAN, a robot that simulates human physiology and balances itself as it walks, squats and does calisthenics:
While the Pentagon says the robots are for “humanitarian” missions, one cannot avoid thinking of the propensity to adapt this kind of military style technology for other more aggressive purposes.
Indeed, the Pentagon has, in the past, issued a request to contractors to develop teams of robots that can search for, detect and track “non-cooperative” humans in “pursuit/evasion scenarios”.
Issued in 2008, the request, called for a “Multi-Robot Pursuit System” to be operated by one person.
The proposal described the need to
“…develop a software/hardware suit that would enable a multi-robot team, together with a human operator, to search for and detect a non-cooperative human subject.
The main research task will involve determining the movements of the robot team through the environment to maximize the opportunity to find the subject, while minimizing the chances of missing the subject. If the operator is an active member of the search team, the software should minimize the chance that the operator may encounter the subject.”
It is seemingly important to the Pentagon that the operator should not have to come into contact with the person being chased down by the machines.
The description continues:
“The software should maintain awareness of line-of-sight, as well as communication and sensor limits. It will be necessary to determine an appropriate sensor suite that can reliably detect human presence and is suitable for implementation on small robotic platforms.”
In addition, when the CHEETAH was first announced, Boston Dynamics noted that its flexible spine would help it “zigzag to chase and evade.”
Noel Sharkey, professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, said the robot was “an incredible technical achievement, but it’s unfortunate that it’s going to be used to kill people”.
“It’s going to be used for chasing people across the desert, I would imagine. I can’t think of many civilian applications – maybe for hunting, or farming, for rounding up sheep.” Sharkey added.
“But of course if it’s used for combat, it would be killing civilians as well as it’s not going to be able to discriminate between civilians and soldiers.”
Sharkey has previously warned that the world may be sleepwalking into a potentially lethal technocracy and has called for safeguards on such technology to be put into place.
In 2008, Professor Sharkey told listeners of the Alex Jones show:
“If you have an autonomous robot then it’s going to make decisions who to kill, when to kill and where to kill them. The scary thing is that the reason this has to happen is because of mission complexity and also so that when there’s a problem with communications you can send a robot in with no communication and it will decide who to kill, and that is really worrying to me.”
The professor also warned that such autonomous weapons could easily be used in the future by law enforcement officials in cites, pointing out that South Korean authorities are already planning to have a fully armed autonomous robot police force in their cities.
“…how long before we see packs of droids hunting down pesky demonstrators with paralysing weapons? Or could the packs even be lethally armed?” Marks asks.
Marks interviewed Steve Wright, an expert on police and military technologies, from Leeds Metropolitan University, who commented:
“The giveaway here is the phrase ‘a non-cooperative human subject’.
What we have here are the beginnings of something designed to enable robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once the software is perfected we can reasonably anticipate that they will become autonomous and become armed.
We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection and tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath and the radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These are technologies already developed.”
Indeed, noted as PHASE III on the Pentagon proposal was the desire to have the robots developed to “intelligently and autonomously search”.
Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, andPrisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.