16 August 2015
Unlike most adventure cartoons, the human characters in the Japanese cartoon Pokemon usually avoid dangers, instead relying on their “pocket monsters” to do the fighting. This unique style of combat may in fact anticipate the battlefields of the future, once military robots are in widespread use.
Although long-range weapon systems, especially remote-controlled drones, have considerably lower the exposure of military personnel in recent years, while reshaping relations between people and machines in modern warfare, the advantage has so far been limited to certain aviation units – in most theaters, “boots on the ground” are still indispensible. However, trends in robotic warfare may gradually transform combat, including infantry, into remote controlled, or even remote monitored, encounters, given the application of certain automatic functions. In other words, soldiers and their robots will be in different places, allowing the former to operate at lower risk. Without lethal threats, soldiers will be able to calmly operate robots free of physical constraints such as fatigue or heat, achieving superior performance.
This “Pokemon warfare” would indeed reduce casualties, and would help with other human resources issues as well. If the principal job of a soldier is to remotely operate or monitor a robot, the physical and psychological requirements would be less onerous than the present standards, giving militaries access to a wider pool of potential applicants. As has been seen with the drone experience, rookies without field experience may be more desirable than experienced veterans. As a result, a lot of ground training may be waived or at least scaled back, reducing costs. Moreover, controlling or monitoring robots would ease the popular worry about an extreme scenario in which autonomous robots lower the threshold of the use of violence, a concern again raised at the recent International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires.
Yet, even this middle way would nevertheless significantly change the nature of warfare, in several respects.
… Shang-su Wu is a research fellow in the Military Studies Programme, a constitute unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 16/11/2015