Robot sentry armed and dangerous

An unanswered ethical question facing AI (artificial intelligence) is whether robots should be allowed to carry weapons.

In one sense the question may be moot, as so many weapons systems already are computerized. Witness also, for example, the advent of unmaned, armed planes.

But what about humanoid robots walking about our world--as graphically portrayed (or maybe prophesized, if one can use the label)--in the film, "I, Robot?"

Boing Boing reports that armed robotic sentries are now under development:

"Samsung has partnered with a Korean university to develop a robotic sentry equipped with a 5.5mm machine gun. Meant for deployment along the DMZ between North and South Korea, the $200,000 robot employs sophisticated pattern recognition software for targeting humans. No three laws here, but the robot does include a speaker that can be used to politely issue a warning before taking the target out. The promotional video is both scary and funny at the same time."

Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics are familiar to most science-fiction fans, enshrining the notion that robots will be programmed to obey rules that prevent them from harming humans:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Later Asimov books also conceptualized the so-called 'zeroeth law,' which stood for the proposition that a robot must protect Humanity as a whole.

In practice, such programming may be complex, I've learned from "Flesh and Machines" (2001) by MIT professor Rodney Brooks, because the three laws of robotics established by Isaac Asimov do not provide situational contexts describing the robot's preferred, specific choices.

What if the robots being scheduled for deployment in the DMZ were slated for our cities? We've seen these scenarios in "Robocop" and other films. Hollywood is sometimes prescient in hitting the nerve of concerns in our near future. Somehow the ethical concern doesn't seem to be highlighted here, as there is a practical need and a ready corporate supplier.

In this case, 'saving our environment' requires more than the environmentalist's sensitivity to nature; an appreciation for technology's ever-increasing destructive potential, alongside its creative possibilities, must also be enfolded. We might have organic cotton sheets and eat foods without pesticides, but those weapon-laden robowarriors are still slated to guard our frontiers.


Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law, with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is also President of the the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine, also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society. The Institute serves as a reliable forum for investigation and recommendations regarding the legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care.

The most recent book written by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary and alternative medicine and related fields is an interdisciplinary collection of essays entitled, Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion. This is the fourth book in a series, the first being Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998).