London, Dec 1 : The Pentagon is planning to build 'ethical' robot soldiers, to prevent the creation of an amoral Terminator-style killing machine that murders and commits war crimes indiscriminately.
According to a report in the Telegraph, the move is being made by Pentagon chiefs because they are concerned by studies of combat stress in Iraq that show high proportions of frontline troops supporting torture and retribution against enemy combatants.
Ronald Arkin, a computer scientist at Georgia Tech university, who is working on software for the US Army has written a report which concludes that robots, while not "perfectly ethical in the battlefield" can "perform more ethically than human soldiers."
He said that robots "do not need to protect themselves" and "they can be designed without emotions that cloud their judgment or result in anger and frustration with ongoing battlefield events".
Airborne drones are already used in Iraq and Afghanistan to launch air strikes against militant targets and robotic vehicles are used to disable roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.
But, this generation of robots are all remotely operated by humans.
Researchers are now working on "soldier bots" which would be able to identify targets, weapons and distinguish between enemy forces like tanks or armed men and soft targets like ambulances or civilians.
According to Dr Colin Allen, a scientific philosopher at Indiana University, "The question they want answered is whether we can build automated weapons that would conform to the laws of war. Can we use ethical theory to help design these machines?"
The software of the researchers working on the new robotic soldiers, would be embedded with rules of engagement conforming with the Geneva Conventions to tell the robot when to open fire.
In fact, the US Navy has already hired the services of a British robotics expert to advise them on building robots that do not violate the Geneva Conventions.
"It's time we started thinking about the issues of how to take ethical theory and build it into the software that will ensure robots act correctly rather than wait until it's too late," said Dr Allen.