IS the human race is on the threshold of crucial and ominous change when it comes to wars of the future? Yes this very change is knocking at the doors. It is a shift that possibly bangs our foundations and warps the entire world beyond imagination. The abysmal change to which many of us are not showing any serious concern would prove one of the most lethal ones human eyes have ever witnessed. Im talking about the coming outmodedness of the gun-wielding human soldier as a fighter in a war zone. Or to put it in a simple way, future wars would be fought between mechanized Robots versus living beings. Very soon in the near future, the autonomous, killing army of robots will replace the human soldiers as the prevailing combat zone technology. And as always, that shift in soldierly technology will cause colossal social mayhem.
Imagine one day you look at the blue sky on a cool sunny day. Everything seems to be alright, beautiful and calm. All the salient features of the known universe look in order. All of a sudden you hear the thunders and stormy lights out of blue. Along with thunders and lightening you see something falling from the blue sky down the earth. No clouds, no rain, not even a single drop of water. You witness the flocks of a familiar creature coming down the earth under the influence of gravitational pull but in a controlled and organized manner. No accelerated velocity or speed of the moving objects. They are equipped with modern weapons. Someone wants their attention and he/she waves the hand. The next moment he/she is down to the earth with a single shot. Looking at the scene a dog barks and is dead within no time. A tree whistles and reduces to ash with blinking of eye. A bird twitters to send the alert signal for the fellow creatures and the second moment is grounded with a strong beam of laser shot. Every creature capable of movement on earth is on target of this army. You are watching an army of Robots instead of humans. Equipped with all the armaments and arsenals operated automatically through an inbuilt system, programmed with high-tech soft-ware. The inbuilt commands of shoot to kill the enemies. But, one second, who is the enemy? Robot does not know. It knows only that any living being that comes on its way is an enemy. The high frequency sensors on robot can sense every single movement and even breath taken by some living being in the battlefield. Again, where is the battlefield? Perhaps everywhere till the robot can move and loaded with ammunition. Where would be the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) at that time? IHL does prohibit shooting innocent civilians (Non-combatants), children, women, wounded, sick and elderly. How these clauses would be applicable on a machine that cannot feel? The army of robots cannot distinguish between faiths, geographies and other divisions we, the humans have created.
It is not that far that human armies would be replaced by man-made robots as drones have already become the modern technology to combat the enemy. During this machine versus human combat majority of innocent civilians are losing their lives along with a few targeted enemy combatants. We should remember that drones are the earliest phase of a terrible catastrophe yet to come. Drone technology does not operate independently and it needs human intervention somewhere no matter by sitting out of the battle field hundreds of miles away, if not thousands. Somewhere a click of mouse by a human being is needed to send the signals to drone, time consumed for the directions from human fingers click on the keyboard to drone, signals interference through satellite, frequency, wave-length all matters in this regard. Even then drones are spreading widespread causalities in war zones. Imagine a more sophisticated and much faster technology that does not need any instruction input from human intervention and would have the ability to destroy within micro and nanoseconds and it is almost on the way. In future the destiny of human life-and-death would be in hands of robots in a war zone. In future the modern technological robots would have the potential to process information and target the aim within small fractions of time; predictions are about the nanoseconds. Imagine you are in front of a robot in a war zone that does not know you are an innocent civilian or enemy combatant, an elderly, child, woman or wounded because robots would have no fear, no feelings and no tears to let you go for any reason which a human soldier could do under certain circumstances.
Imagine the naked dance of death in a given territory, where piles of corpses are everywhere but no living being would be left alive to mourn. No tears, no mercy, no fears and kindness because the programmed armies of machines will not have any conscious which would wake up to remind them their duties towards other fellow creatures. The fellow creatures linked with each other in the eco-system and natural environment are dependent upon each other, therefore, they have some sort of dependency based care of each other. But man-made sophisticated army of robots will not be the part of our natural eco-system, therefore, no dependency-based mercy could be expected from these machines.
Drones have been in existence for decades now, but during the past decade this lethal technology has become pervasive. Some governments and defense experts defend the drone technology as an effective and refer it as a humane weapon because they argue that it can be used with precision to target enemies and without harming the non-combatant civilians. They defend the drone technology by arguing that it poses no special risks that cannot be handled by existing law. Some analyst claim that drones, far more than any other existing major weapon, facilitate governments to comply with international humanitarian law by avoiding civilian casualties when attacking enemies. But in practice, even this technology is controlled by humans, there have been more civilian killings than the enemy combatants in the territories where this drone technology is used.
Professor Michael Clarke, the director general of the Royal United Services Institute and a defense adviser to the Government in United Kingdom says At the moment, all drones still require an active decision to fire. In future, it might be a bit more complicated. The rules of engagement will most likely be that a target would be defined, and then a particular time-frame and area would be identified where the system would make its own decisions, he says. Outside that specific window the robot will not be authorized or allowed to fire. Further, or wider, engagement would have to be re-authorized. Not everyone can agree with Professor Clarke because the rules of engagement within a given territory would not be in control of anyone when the robots army would land in that particular territory. It is possible that there might be some amendments in International Humanitarian Law and rules of armed engagement. The legitimacy of the use of robot soldiers is one thing; the morality is another. The question of the ethics of robots is a complex one: who, in the end, is answerable if a robotic soldier destroys a school instead of a military base? It destroys a hospital instead of enemys warehouse? It targets an ambulance instead of enemys military vehicle? Would the manufacturer, the designer or robot itself be brought to International Criminal Court for alleged Crimes against humanity and War Crimes?
In the 1921 play that invented the word “robot” Czech writer Karel Capek’s “Rossum’s Universal Robots” mechanical, highly intelligent slaves mount a revolt and kill all humans but one. Ever since, science fiction has explored the idea of robots outsmarting, dominating and destroying the human race. Author P. W. Singer, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, can’t resist the fascination of the topic, but he isn’t writing fiction. He treats the possibility with appropriate seriousness in the book “Wired for War,” a meticulous account of the latest military robots (Carl Hartman 2009). Singer may be right when he defends the robot technology but the catastrophic outcome of this technology would be far beyond the imagination. Alas, the developed countries and nations invest more on promoting, making and building a trust-based PEACE instead of mechanical ROBOTS. Because it’s not killer robotic technology that prevents wars, but morality, trust and the just laws with firm commitment to co-exist in harmony.
(Nayyar N Khan is a US based Peace activist of Kashmiri origin. His area of expertise is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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