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Russia's Deadly New Robotic Weapons Platform Bears A Striking Resemblance to WALL-E

As I'm certain I've mentioned before, there's been a concerted push in the robotics field to regulate automated killing machines. Governments and human rights groups alike have expressed serious concerns about so-called 'killer robots;' weapons platforms capable of gunning down a human being with absolutely no human intervention. Such devices have been likened to the land mines of World War II, and people have called for everything from instilling a sense of morality into these machines to disabling them altogether.

Evidently, Russia didn't really get the memo.

This past week at the Kalingrad War Games, Russia's armed forces unveiled the latest technological addition to their arsenal: a robotic weapons platform that (rather fittingly) goes by the name of Platform-M. Intimidating though it is, one somehow can't help but find it at least a little endearing - after all, it's nearly a dead ringer for the titular WALL-E. Well...if WALL-E had a bunch of military weaponry strapped to him, I mean. 

Platform-M has been designed with versatility in mind. The military plans to use it for gathering intelligence, discovering and eliminating mobile and stationary targets, supporting infantry with extra firepower, and guarding important, top-secret sites. In other words, it's an all-purpose warmachine.

Now, that in and of itself isn't particularly distressing. I think it's great that more countries are looking to mechanize their military; it potentially means less loss of life in the event of armed conflict. On top of that, it's not like Russia's the only one doing this; far from it. Pretty much every country with a military budget is spending on a robotics program.

On top of that, my understanding is that Project-M will primarily be a remote-controlled unit. That means that we're going to have a human operator on the other end, monitoring what's going on and making decisions. Presumably, they'll use their better judgement when it comes down to who and what they should shoot.

So...what's the problem then? Why does the news of Project-M make me so uneasy? What exactly am I going on about? 

It's this line in particular, a direct quote from the Progress Scientific Research Technological Institute of Izhevsk, where the robot was made(bolded emphasis is mine):

"Platform-M is a universal combat platform. It is used for gathering intelligence, for discovering and eliminating stationary and mobile targets, for firepower support, for patrolling and for guarding important sites. The unit's weapons can be guided, it can carry out supportive tasks and it can destroy targets in automatic or semiautomatic control systems; it is supplied with optical-electronic and radio reconnaissance locators."

From the sounds of it, what they're saying is that even though the robot might currently be remote-controlled, the capacity is there for it to enjoy some degree of autonomy.  If you don't find the idea of a robot armed with four grenade launches and a high-end rifle running on automatic systems at least a little troubling, then you've clearly got nerves of steel. 

I don't mean to thoroughly lambast Russia here. I think that, at least on the surface, Platform-M is a pretty incredible device. That said, I can't help but be concerned at the prospect of a robot like this being granted even a modicum of autonomy. Isn't that precisely what we've been trying to avoid of late?

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