mm211: Proxy killers — Can you live with that?

December 3, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Written previously in this space (here, here and even here) about the fascinating advent of robotic military aircraft, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — UAVs.

Well, we’re reminded lately that robots are also very much in use and under development for our ground-based forces.

Two stories popped out at us over the past couple of days. And they make for an interesting debate.

First, this intriguing story about the latest in a series of government funded development projects at Carnegie Mellon University, always a pioneer in the field of robotics, from CNET Blogs.

Meet the “Crusher:”

Army’s ‘Crusher’ gets $14 million makeover

Posted by Mark Rutherford Post a comment

(Credit: Carnegie Mellon University)

Carnegie Mellon University will upgrade its 6.5-ton robot mobile, the “Crusher,” by adding advanced suspension and hybrid-electric innards as part of a $14.4 million Army grant meant to push the envelope for unmanned ground vehicles.

The project, a result of more than two decades of robotics research by the university’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), will demonstrate how advanced vehicle and navigation technology can solve transportation challenges like those encountered by supply convoys in Iraq, according to the university (PDF).

The balance of the short article is fascinating, not least for the inclusion of a YouTube video of Crusher touring the countryside by way of Popular Mechanics (anyone else surprised that that publication is still around?).

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Army’s ‘Crusher’ gets $14 million makeover | Military Tech – Mark Rutherford looks at how the military merges with the digital age – CNET Blogs

An interesting essay in Armed Forces Journal provides an argument in favor of maintaining the human element in warfare.

Who decides: Man or machine?


When the industrial revolution of the early 19th century threatened the centuries-old caste of the English artisans by replacing man with machine, they rose up, allegedly led by a man named Ned Ludd, in protest. To protect their way of life, they attempted to destroy the machines in hopes of clinging to their past. Since then, anyone who opposes technological advancement has been derided as a Luddite.

After reading an article in the Arizona Daily Star about future robotic warfare, such a title might well be lobbed at me — although for rather different reasons than my distinguished British predecessors.

The article celebrated the advent of technology that would soon see robots fighting wars for us, and even pondered what would happen when nations assemble robot armies. Although it brings to mind images of Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi battling the droid army in “Star Wars,” the idea is anything but science fiction.

Already, numerous robots in Iraq and Afghanistan are showing utility in counter-IED efforts and can significantly enhance a soldier’s ability to clear a hostile building. Similarly, semi-robotic UAVs provide imagery on enemy movements, as well as fire precision-guided weapons at enemy targets. Without a doubt, technology is providing a notable utility to the combat soldier.

Maj. Davis admits above the utility of robotic equipment. But he also effectively quotes Gen. George Patton (brilliant even if Nixon loved the George C. Scott portrayal):

“Wars may be fought with weapons,” he once said, “but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.”

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

ARMED FORCES JOURNAL – Who decides: Man or machine? – November 2007

For Maj. Davis it’s about morality (men choosing to kill which men, rather than leaving such decisions in the claws and CPUs of machines), not potential unemployment.

I guess I’ll buy that; he certainly is sincere.

But, there’s an outsourcing argument here that I think could be pursued.

Where do majors come from? Nobody joins the Army as a major, any more than 18 year olds join corporations as senior managers.

There’s a learning curve. One joins the Army, trains, drills, fights, survives, perhaps is sent to Officer Candidate School to train at a higher level, becomes a junior officer who trains, drills, fights, survives, and perhaps is promoted to major.

MUDGE has had this same discussion with the outsourcing functionary at his place of employment. Where is the next generation of IT operations managers going to come from, if the entry level positions from which most of the present generation has sprung are being outsourced to Bengaluru? Obvious answer: Bengaluru, of course!

So, assuming that robot combatants become increasingly prevalent, one could posit that the next generation or the next after that might be a very capable Maj. Crusher.

Now, that’s food for thought!

It’s it for now. Thanks,