Department of Defense leaders have stated that robotics and autonomous systems will be a key part of a new “offset strategy” to sustain American military dominance, but what is autonomy? Uninhabited, or unmanned, systems have played important roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, from providing loitering overhead surveillance to defusing bombs. They have operated generally in a remote-controlled context, however, with only limited automation for functions like takeoff and landing. Numerous Defense Department roadmap and vision documents depict a future of uninhabited vehicles with greater autonomy, transitioning over time to true robotic systems. What that means for how militaries fight, however, is somewhat murky.
What does it mean for a robot to be “fully autonomous?” How much machine intelligence is required to reach “full autonomy,” and when can we expect it? And what is the role of the human warfighter in this proposed future with robots running loose, untethered from their human controllers?
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