With Terminator Salvation - a film on which The Science & Entertainment Exchange did a consult - hitting theaters this weekend, it’s hard not to get excited about watching John Connor staving off the impending destruction of humanity in the fourth installment of the franchise. But, let's not completely take this action film at face-value. The latest Terminator movie releases in a very different era than did its predecessors. Starting in 2007, robots actually did start carrying guns in Iraq. More and more, we are outsourcing risky combat assignments to machines.
Author PW Singer recently published an insightful and, at times, ominous book on the present and near future of robotics in warfare called Wired for War which chronicled the incredible leaps in recent military technology that save American lives daily, but beg the question: are we actually building Skynet?
Thus far, the reality of robots on the front line has been much more positive than apocalyptic. Machines routinely help protect Americans and have not been known to terminate friendlies. In 2008, the National Academies published a report called Soldier Protective Clothing and Equipment that detailed the way robotic test subjects can save lives by carrying out advanced chemical testing. In Iraq and Afghanistan, robots have also been useful in clearing mines, advanced surveillance, and bombing runs.
Inevitably, the roll of advanced robotics in warfare will grow in the coming years, with machines playing a crucial part in protecting human life.