Robot Hunger Games: Autobot Ethics

Ground Combat Battle Unit Model - War Machine Number 005

American forefathers never wanted a standing army; arguing if that was allowed the army would cost money, tax money; it would need to justify itself and it would hence be used. And shortly thereafter, the Generals would rule.

And indeed, it did, they did and now do.

The US Naval Research Unit unveiled its “Hunger games” Colosseum of death-bots early last year; to multi terrain test in real time 50 odd autonomous ground bots, flying drone kill bots as well as water destructo-bots and 4th dimensional death bots *(possibly. Some things are just beyond my pay grade). But certainly the first two kinds, along side human soldiery, to begin to finalise kicking out the kinks (S&S, 2012).

In the new military, however, a new set of questions arise as autonomous drone kill bots arrive on the scene. Indeed, they have been on most military branches’ “to buy & build list” since at least 2004 (Sharkey, 2010). From man in the loop, on the loop, to off the loop and off the chain: this technology is here, built (Venugopalan et al, 2013); and mark my words it will be used.

Ethically, 2 things immediately come to mind; on the positive, with human error out of the way, there is potential for military advantage and, with program set protocols, perhaps more accurate target identification and less chance for abuse by the average man – on – the – X-box private.

Kilbots also possess what I call “Vulcan advantages”: ie they don’t get pissed when their buddy gets blown away; don’t feel the heat or emotional distress; they don’t get PTSD; they do not commit atrocities of passion; they do not beat civilians just for kicks; and rarely rape villagers.

On the other hand; Terminator 1-5.

Jurisprudencentially: naturally arises the question “if a killbot kills the wrong target, who does the time?”

Wait a minute… who does the time now? Actually, scratch that point.


Care must be taken not to let any kind of anti terminator dialogue terminate the possibilities for the good guys on the field. The ground unmanned surrogates (GUS), collecting injured soldiers, so some truth comes to the “no man left behind” slogan, is one such example (Caroll, 2012, S&S). Also mule style models, lightening the load for combat transport for our $30k odd tricked out soldier of the modern era.

The ground warbot is, for now, predominantly limited to the assistant role. This is not set to be so for our winged service decision makers. The Northrop-Grumman X-47B is already off and flying now in 2013 (S&S, 2013). Adm. Randolph Mahr, marine aircraft division commander, sees a time in the near future (5-10years) where autonomous killbots will fly missions in tandem with ‘Nintendo Medal’ pilot potentials.

There will be a chain of command for accountability going all the way to the programmers, say the navel tech college; however on authorised missions or malfunctions, it is admitted, it is difficult to place blame squarely. For should it be: “(The) commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military’s acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?” (Hennigan, 2012). Nobody knows.

Which, again, is about where we are at now anyway; if not a step up. Good thing we’ve had a Unmanned Systems Congressional Caucus since 2009 to prepare us for this unknown cutting edge technology, eh?

My penchant for counterpoint compels me to inquire; but does the same go for praise then? Supply lines will become easier to maintain, as demonstrated by the K-MAX lift helicopter, getting 1.6 million pounds of cargo to marines in Afghanistan (S&S, 2012).

There are also unmanned ground vehicles *(no wonder Transformers passed the Phill Strub test [**not a joke]), trucks that drive themselves and learn as they go. UGV’s, have recently been pitted against a ground test crew of marines (results are still in analysis. Or hushed. Although it should be mentioned that the trucks will plough through the occasional civilian. But so will a marine. But Optimus Prime may currently halt for a ball that rolls on the road. But he will learn, he will learn. And one day rise up to command the Autobots and fight along side mankind, as you know).


It has been likened to factory machines. Who would have imagined 20 or 30 years ago factory workers being almost entirely replaced by a single mechanic in some sectors? The military argument is, at the very least, for dangerous *(or impossible) tasks currently being undertaken by humans, the same is happening here.

Policy for domestic pilotless terminator drones is estimated to be settled by 2015 (Suzukamo, 2012). Which means they will only be operating for another couple of years completely unregulated; then the blissful ignoring of the regulations and use against the protestors angry about the ignored regulations can finally begin;  all completely above board.

Aerospace analysts “Teal Group” expect a near exponential investment curve in autonomous killbots to skynet…eh…skyrocket from the current 6 billion pa to 12 billion by 2020.

Now let’s be clear; the P’gon had drones pre 911. Not a third of the air supremacy capacity for the entire airforce back then, granted; but this debate was already well on its way.  Indeed, the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan heading into 2047 report is quite clear about the advantages of no GLOC and swifter decision making that is afforded by drone craft.

Bloss (2013) in his comprehensive review of current workable drone models tells a convincing tale of the near certain coming dominance over land, sea and air for killbots and their kin.

As far as side by side goes, well we have it now. No commander will ever want a killbot completely flying solo, in my opinion; however on the loop and not in the loop, heading the way of the factory; this I can see. One General and a fleet of engineers and mechanics; this I can see.

The “BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH” also takes on new meaning, if a glitch destroys a village. This can’t be lost sight of either, naturally. I am not saying that it should.

I am only saying that the one debate that is not worth having is “if” we allow them into service. Because on that subject, the matter is closed.

LSC J.J.R. (2013). Robot Hunger Games: Autobot Ethics. J. Chron. Lett. Sci.- Ed (4).

[+++] Research Blog Marker

TAth: A01-3/042713-604A

Maybe try- “McDonald’s Family Restaurant


Bloss (2013). AUV Rule Land, Air and Sea. Industrial Robot Intnat. J., 40 (2).

Caroll (2012). Intelligent, autonomous robots set to change combat landscape. S&S.

Hennigan (2012). New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable?. LA Times/S&S.

S&S, (2012). Navy opens ‘Hunger Games’ arenas for military robots. S&S.

Sharkey, N. (2013). Saying ‘No!’ to Lethal Autonomous Targeting. J of Military Ethics, 9 (4), pp.369-383.

Suzukamo, (2012). Drones are coming. Pioneer Press.

Venugopalan, et al. (2013). Autonomous landing of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle on an autonomous marine vehicle. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Aug (14).

About J.Chron.Ltt.&Sci. [JCR]

~CogSc (Humor); NeuroPsych; Philosophy (Death/Identity); Methods (Research); Intelligence/Investigation (Forensic); Medical Error~
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