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Journal cover: Industrial Robot: An International Journal

Industrial Robot: An International Journal

ISSN: 0143-991X

Online from: 1973

Subject Area: Mechanical & Materials Engineering

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Hearts and minds

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Article citation: Clive Loughlin, (2010) "Hearts and minds", Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Vol. 37 Iss: 1, pp. -



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Article Type: Editorial From: Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Volume 37, Issue 1

In August 2009, the headlines in the West announced that Baitullah Mehsud, a leading Taliban commander had been killed by a CIA strike using a predator drone. Since 2004, ten “high-value targets” and an estimated 650 other militants have been killed by US and UK drones.

The predator is an unmanned robotic plane armed with Hellfire laser-guided missiles. It is not autonomous, but it can be controlled remotely from anywhere on the planet.

The mission was hailed as a great success and no US or UK military personnel were killed or injured in anyway.

It would be easy to view the above as an excellent justification for the use of robots in warfare. The old motto of “if it is dirty, dull or dangerous – use a robot” has served us well as a guide to industrial applications – but is it really such a good idea for military applications?

I do not wish to comment on the political or religious arguments; but I would like to consider the implications of using robots in this way.

First, I see no great difference between a remote controlled and an autonomous military robot. Keeping a person “in the loop”, is simply a matter of technical advancement. Sooner or later (it may already be happening), they will be autonomous and will carry out missions just as a human pilot would.

One statistic that does not often get mentioned is that for every militant killed by a drone, there are an estimated 24 civilians killed. The drones have proved very effective and as a result the militant leaders have withdrawn into urban areas where they are less easy to identify and presumably where the civilian casualties can only be expected to rise. It is also somewhat ironic that after the suicide attacks of 9/11 the protagonists were often stated as being “cowardly” – what then are we to make of drone attacks controlled from Nevada?

If both sides in a war have roughly equivalent levels of technology, then the winner can be expected to be the one with the technological edge. If one side in a war has high technology while the other has low technology, the end result is far less certain. Faced with the near impossibility of inflicting damage on drones and other high-tech military hardware, it cannot be at all surprising that a low-technology army concentrates on direct attacks on military or civilian personnel.

If this notion is true, and there would appear to be overwhelming evidence to support it; then high technology has failed in its fundamental mission of protecting the people that collectively control it.

The high technology will also have greatly aggravated the aim that is commonly stated of “winning over the hearts and minds” of the adversaries and their civilian populations – and if that aim is lost then the prospect of peace becomes another casualty.

Clive Loughlin

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