Some time before the war with the Taliban, which was resplendent with drone aircraft, I felt and said clearly to a handful of people that the age following the Information Age would be the Age of Robotics. I remember being told things that it would be the Age of Energy or the Nuclear Renaissance, but I didn't buy into that conclusion. Perhaps I saw one too many movies. Perhaps my copy of the IJCAI proceedings told me what mankind was planning in my lifetime.
Today, I caught this article about robotic prison surveillance in South Korea:
Prison Sentry Drones
Humans no longer have to work so hard to take care of other humans, or we need fewer humans because we trust robots to do simple things. Should we trust robots with human lives?
We've learned they can kill us when they are not supposed to do so:
Robotic Killing Spree
We have also learned they can turn unexpectedly after they have been trusted enough to take into war:
Robot Turns on Own Forces
But they can also do things that few of us can do, regardless of the number of SUVs on the road:
Offroad Robot Rally
Do we trust them with our lives? Is it wise to trivialize the safety and welfare of prisoners to anything less than a human? At some point, some community or culture will make the argument that financial cost or perceived effectiveness is superior to the human element prerequisite. I have been told that the Joint Strike Fighter is the last manned USAF combat fighter to be built for a long time. The future has been drones for a long time for aircraft. At some point, a robotic system can endure forces that a human cannot.
Is the argument that robots will rise up on their own and take control? No. The argument is that we will slowly sit down on our own and give it to them. I perceive a "Luddite" response in the future, where robots become so much in control that some will rise up and destroy the robots, not that the robots were ever provoking conflict. That will be our war, as always: a rebellion against oppression.
I remember the first time I ever experienced a robot in a work setting. Its name was Zelda, and it was following a UV-visible stripe on the carpet, to deliver mail to the different mail rooms at Highmark Blue Cross in Harrisburg, PA. I was also told by my deceased co-worker, Bill Weninger, that such robots were at other places as well, such as Toro headquarters.
Robots never regard life as precious nor fear death. Our entire existence is about decisions we make in life, and robots are the first things that make decisions about life without implicit concern for it, even though, ostensibly, South Korea has these aims. My expectation of their system is that the bored inmates will entertain themselves, perhaps to tactical advantage, by distracting robots (and the guards who overly trust the robots) to commit illegal acts without supervision. The evil of humanity will find a way to abuse an automaton, just like so many Americans have found a way to abuse the police, who have occasionally behaved within a set of parameters and have stopped thinking for themselves by "just following the rules."
The positive and negative that comes with robotics will mirror the positive and negative in humanity, and likely, for a time, amplify it. It is fine excited about the future, but it is wiser to contemplate it first.