I hated the Transformers movie. For me, it was just bad Eighties toys repackaged as a rubbish film, with the human actors every bit as tinny as their metallic counterparts. It comes to something when a talking car comes across as the most sympathetic character.
Besides, the idea of robots playing a meaningful role in a contemporary conflict is just ridiculous. Isn’t it?
Well, apparently not. According to the British Red Cross’ brand new Robots in war education resource, robots are playing an increasingly prominent role in modern conflict and throwing up all kinds of tricky ethical questions and dilemmas.
Take just one example: ‘pilots’ can now fly unmanned planes – and drop bombs on people – in perfect safety from bases thousands of miles from the actual conflict. Who can begin to guess the psychological effects of taking numerous lives while sat at a desk dunking biscuits in your tea?
As well as remotely-controlled planes, there’s also medical robots that retrieve the wounded from battle, the legendarily creepy big dog robot (below) and even armed border guard robots that can be programmed to automatically shoot on sight.
As an impartial organisation, the Red Cross remains, well, impartial on the topic of robots in conflict. But given our close interest in international humanitarian law, we’re understandably very interested in the questions raised by recent developments.
For example: could using robots make it harder to comply with laws of war? And who’s responsible if an armed robot mistakes a granny in a wheelchair for a tank and lets rip with both barrels? The whole mind-boggling topic has had me mulling over the rights and wrongs, the whos and whys, ever since I first came across the resource.
Robots in war – which includes lots of compelling video footage of robots in action – is designed for secondary-aged students and will hopefully be a big hit in the classroom. However, it’s well worth a look by curious minds of all ages.
The modern battlefield is changing beyond measure, from the Green Berets to Starship Troopers in the space of just 50 years. Who knows where we’re heading next?