Robot Soldiers Will Be a Reality—and a Threat
Much controversy has surrounded the use of remote-controlled drone aircraft or “unmanned aerial vehicles” in the war on terror. But another, still more awe-inducing possibility has emerged: taking human beings out of the decision loop altogether. Emerging brain science could take us there.
Today drone pilots operate thousands of miles away from the battlefield. They must manage vast amounts of data and video images during exceptionally intense workdays. They are scrutinized by superiors for signs of stress, and to reduce such stress the Air Force is attempting shift changes, less physical isolation on the job, and more opportunities for rest.
Yet even as this remarkable new form of war fighting is becoming more widely recognized, there are at least two more possible technological transitions on the horizon that have garnered far less public attention. One is using brain-machine interface technologies to give the remote pilot instantaneous control of the drone through his or her thoughts alone. The technology is not science fiction: Brain-machine interface systems are already being used to help patients with paralytic conditions interact with their environments, like controlling a cursor on a computer screen.
In a military context, a well-trained operator, instead of using a joystick for very complicated equipment, may be able to process and transmit a command much more rapidly and accurately through a veritable mind-meld with the machine.