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Nightmares of the electric sheep
August 3, 2007 10:55 PM   Subscribe

The first armed robots have hit the streets of Iraq and are now hunting evil-doers with high-powered M249 machine guns. The robots are called SWORDS, which stands for "Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System". Army focus groups apparently preferred this acronym over the more obvious PUBE (Predatory Unmanned Battle Engine). The robots are currently being piloted through the streets of Bagdad using remote control. According to an interview on CNET with Chief Army Scientist Thomas Killion however, the army soon plans to make the killing machines fully automatic.
posted by infini (88 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Empire is fairly inhuman.
posted by Shakeer at 11:01 PM on August 3, 2007


OBEY THE PUBES.

Also, fully automatic Battle-Droids or whatever are going to be a very, very bad idea. Shit, my toaster would kill me if it had half the chance. Theres a reason we don't go around attaching machine-guns to household appliances, you know.
posted by Avenger at 11:25 PM on August 3, 2007


they even look a little like daleks!
posted by vrakatar at 11:31 PM on August 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Fully automatic battle droids are science fiction. As Shakeer points out, Empire requires thought, only a human can add in.

My favorite android is named Angus.
posted by Mblue at 11:43 PM on August 3, 2007


Were these robots developed by SkyNet?
posted by chunking express at 11:44 PM on August 3, 2007 [3 favorites]


Fraking toasters.
posted by homunculus at 11:45 PM on August 3, 2007 [8 favorites]


Some more background about the bot in question^.

Technically, the robot is called "Talon" while the weapons system is called "SWORD".
posted by Avenger at 11:48 PM on August 3, 2007


Until the WIKI article, I assumed this was a joke. Oh, fuck me.

On the plus side, it will be much harder to prosecute for war crimes when they are perpetrated by automated machines.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:59 PM on August 3, 2007


Doesn't this kinda violate the Asimov thing?
posted by ao4047 at 12:00 AM on August 4, 2007


Put down your weapon, you have 20 seconds to comply...
posted by AndrewStephens at 12:04 AM on August 4, 2007 [5 favorites]


the guns are sold
the blood is spilled
the contracts signed
the pockets filled
the blood is red
the money's green
but who's gonna stop
this death machine
that's undefined.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:11 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Chief Army Scientist Thomas Killion...

You can't make this shit up.
posted by dbiedny at 12:12 AM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


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

A robot can break this rule by being unaware.

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

See exception for rule one.

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

Self-destruct.
posted by Mblue at 12:12 AM on August 4, 2007


hmm what if they were hacked?
posted by infini at 12:30 AM on August 4, 2007


Autonomous Mobile SWORD you say?
posted by lekvar at 12:46 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Surely the answer to the world's problem can be found in a better killing machine.
posted by Flunkie at 12:49 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Here's a Wired blog entry with some cool video.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 1:13 AM on August 4, 2007


Empire is fairly inhuman.

Without empire there is no advanced civilization.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 1:30 AM on August 4, 2007


Fuck you paranoids all. They aren't here y
posted by Clave at 1:51 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


SWORD? PATRIOT? Is there a federal department devoted to creepy acronyms?

My efforts to come up with a creepy acronym for said theoretical department have yielded nothing.
posted by brundlefly at 2:13 AM on August 4, 2007


REESE
Who is in authority here? You still don't get it. He'll find her. That's what he does. All he does ... You can't stop him. He'll wade through you ... reach down her throat, and pull her fucking heart out...

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:14 AM on August 4, 2007


Clave's DOWN, man!! Clave's down!! Yo, hang on, buddy! You're gonna be OK, Allright? ALLRIGHT? Stay with me, man, stay with me!! YOU HEAR ME?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:16 AM on August 4, 2007


Are they trying to showcase Iraq's weapons against ours?

**Caption**

Left: Young Iraqi suicide bomber.
Right Young US drone with M249 machine guns.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 3:07 AM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


On one hand, faux sucide.
On the other hand, machine gun.
You're not looking at the gripping hand.
posted by Mblue at 3:33 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Is there a federal department devoted to creepy acronyms?

There's an acronym for misfire procedures for your rifle. SPORTS: Slap, Pull, Observe, Release, Tap, Squeeze.

When will these be on the market for civilian use? I want one.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 3:49 AM on August 4, 2007


I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.
posted by Poolio at 4:20 AM on August 4, 2007


On the gripping hand is the fact that these robots will eventually be hacked. Remote control? AI? What about 200 marines calmly eating lunch when one of these things enters the building with guns blazing? Can these robots be taken out with light arms fire? I really think this is a bad idea and the americans will be chased out of iraq by their own contraptions.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:26 AM on August 4, 2007


"chased out of iraq by their own contraptions."

Realistic!
posted by blacklite at 5:01 AM on August 4, 2007


How do you know we're not robots.
Also, why hasn't this been in the major media?
posted by joecacti at 5:42 AM on August 4, 2007


One the list of bad ideas that have come out of Iraq in the last four years, and the list seems mind-numbingly long already, this one is near the top. Doesn't anyone in the military ever consider unintended consequences? Ever?
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:54 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


On the gripping hand is conflagration, lead flies, dirt implodes, soldiers that trust technology will lose. Guided missiles hit once, the ground rules change dramatically after the first salvo. The hardest defensive position is the ground soldier who shoots and moves.
posted by Mblue at 5:58 AM on August 4, 2007


SPORTS: Slap, Pull, Observe, Release, Tap, Squeeze.
Are you sure those aren't the directions for another phallic object?
posted by scalefree at 6:11 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Stop. The. Humanoid.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:51 AM on August 4, 2007


Well, as long as it's a problem that can be solved with a whole lot of guns, the ED-209 here has it covered. Unless the evildoer mounts a flight of stairs. That may be a problem.

...Are we sure this isn't a joke?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:55 AM on August 4, 2007


I hope there aren't any Iraqi women using the name Sarah Connor. 'Cuz they're all toast.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:57 AM on August 4, 2007


Also, why hasn't this been in the major media?

Maybe because there's a whopping three of them in use? This story doesn't live up to the sort of headlines it's generating; the retrofitting of a few bomb-disposal robots, and their subsequent field testing is nothing compared to the increasing number of assassinations carried out via unmanned aircraft.
posted by unmake at 6:58 AM on August 4, 2007


Does anyone appreciate the fact that this robot could save the life of the soldier operating it? I'm no fan of shooting people, but using a gun that's 1000 meters from you, rather than one attached to your squishy body seems like an improvement.
posted by Secretariat at 7:05 AM on August 4, 2007


Secretariat, Robot Killers is a solution to a problem both the soliders and the US need not have. Having robots shoot at Iraqis isn't going to make things better in Iraq.

And as unmake points out, there are more interesting stories about soldiers in Iraq: Recruiting Contract Soldiers in Latin America.
posted by chunking express at 7:15 AM on August 4, 2007


Human Soldiers worldwide maybe 10 Million.
Robotic Soldiers worldwide maybe 100? (including those drones and stuff)

Who's the menace here?
posted by homodigitalis at 7:20 AM on August 4, 2007


Left: Young Iraqi suicide bomber.
Right Young US drone with M249 machine guns.


Does "drone" refer to a robot or to a US soldier?

Also, I am thoroughly impressed that the Chief Army Scientist is named Killion. You couldn't make this shit up. Oh, wait...
posted by modernnomad at 7:21 AM on August 4, 2007


One more thought:

Aren't shot & forget missiles robots as well? They operate without human help with their own 'intelligence' after they are fired?
posted by homodigitalis at 7:22 AM on August 4, 2007


kittens for breakfast writes "Unless the evildoer mounts a flight of stairs. That may be a problem."

The TALON can climb stairs.
posted by Mitheral at 7:25 AM on August 4, 2007


you know I'd hate to imagine that they're just 'field testing' the prototype, after all, as someone pointed out, only three have been built as yet.

Yay Killion! NOT
posted by infini at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2007


Technically, the robot is called "Talon" while the weapons system is called "SWORD".

Foster-Miller, Inc. (Waltham, MA) developed the TALON SWORDS robots:
"TALON SWORDS robots can be configured with M240 or M249 machine guns or Barrett .50 caliber rifles for armed reconnaissance missions. The system was evaluated by the 5th Special Forces in Iraq and three systems have completed evaluation with the 3rd Infantry Division and will likely deploy to Iraq in 2007. Additional systems are deployed and being evaluated by military units throughout the United States. Alternative weapons, including 40 mm grenade launchers and anti-tank rocket launchers, continue to be evaluated by the U.S. Army."
BTW -- I find it interesting that the hyperlink to the TALON SWORDS webpage is : www.foster-miller.com/lemming.htm. I envision a troop of mindless drones patrolling streets of Baghdad, firing indiscriminately at anything that moves!
posted by ericb at 7:29 AM on August 4, 2007


TALON robots brochure [PDF] | TALON - SWORDS data sheet [PDF].
posted by ericb at 7:32 AM on August 4, 2007


and then there is the REAPER...
posted by geos at 7:32 AM on August 4, 2007


These aren't the droids you're looking for.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:48 AM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Another company that makes robots like these is iRobot -- yes, the same company that makes the Roomba.

Think about that next time you turn your back on your seemingly friendly robotic vacuum cleaner.
posted by eye of newt at 8:04 AM on August 4, 2007


So when does OCP roll these out in the streets of Detroit?
posted by MasonDixon at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2007


The TALON can climb stairs.

Nobody tell Davros.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:56 AM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


In the future, wars will be fought somewhere in the deep reaches of outer space. Either there, or on top of a very tall mountain. Furthermore, the wars of the future will be fought by small robots. It is your duty as cadets and American citizens to train and maintain these robots.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:57 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Army might as well just start giving the insurgents weapons. In time those robots are going to become easy to game and disable (and take apart). As with everything else in this fucked war, no one in a position of power seems capable of circumspection. I have an acronym for them, how about I.D.I.O.T.S?
posted by Skygazer at 9:23 AM on August 4, 2007


In time? Naah. How about right away?
Watch the paths that the robots follow. Dig a hole. Cover hole with something that looks like the surrounding ground, especially from a height of about 3 feet. Wait for the 'bot to fall in the hole and hey! free guns! and cameras! Or, if these will be rigged to blow if tampered with, make a concrete or quicklime mixture and give to robot a bath, cover with dirt and no more robot.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:46 AM on August 4, 2007


(and give the robot a bath)
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:48 AM on August 4, 2007


"I know now what my primary function is: I am a battle-droid. Sworn to protect the weak from crazy robots."

(Arms start to rotate)
posted by Widepath at 9:51 AM on August 4, 2007


I can' wait until these are performing no-knock raids in the US in service of the War on Drugs. That gets the old erection up.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:52 AM on August 4, 2007


You know, I just can't fathom the cognitive dissonance of the people who design these things.

At least, I hope there's cognitive dissonance. The idea that people are eager and happy to build things like this is too horrifying to contemplate.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:59 AM on August 4, 2007


you can take any word you want in any situation you're in and create a suitable acronym: fighting unmanned cyber-killers!
posted by bruce at 10:12 AM on August 4, 2007


In the next phase, the army starts recruiting young video gamers into its ranks. The kids, who think they're just playing a game, are actually remotely controlling the TALON.
posted by mach at 10:16 AM on August 4, 2007


I have no doubt that foreign insurgents and Iraqi civilians alike will delight in the systematic dismemberment of these tinkertoys as the would-be remote control assassin operator glares at his dead view screen.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:26 AM on August 4, 2007


If anyone can come up with a better way to spread the noble ideals of American Democracy than through mercenaries and killer robots, I'd sure like to hear it!
posted by maryh at 10:30 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Actually, I think this might make the US less likely to fight wars. They're obviously breathtakingly expensive and will be lost in large numbers.

People say they care about dead soldiers and Iraqi civilians, but when the government tries to raise taxes to pay for more of these drones, even republicans will be showing up for the peace rallies.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:32 AM on August 4, 2007


Were these robots developed by SkyNet?

A subsidiary of sky news?
posted by kigpig at 10:42 AM on August 4, 2007


In the next phase, the army starts recruiting young video gamers into its ranks. The kids, who think they're just playing a game, are actually remotely controlling the TALON.
posted by mach at 10:16 AM on August 4


That would make a cool short story, then a book, wait a trilogy, no a whole series...
posted by infini at 10:43 AM on August 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


You know, what the military should do is make some real ones, and a lot of cheap, realistic-looking plastic mock-ups. They could send the fake ones in first so hopefully any hostiles will either reveal their position shooting at it or use up any explosives they had. They could also embed the real one in a swarm of fakes so that hopefully they'd draw fire away from the real one (although, if it starts firing, it'll give away which one's real.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:50 AM on August 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Does anyone appreciate the fact that this robot could save the life of the soldier operating it?
posted by Secretariat


Actually, NPR reported on the bomb-disposal robots and the soldiers that work with them. The soldiers tend to become attached to the 'bots, giving them names and treating them members of the unit. I seem to remember the soldiers would get get attached enough that they'd be reluctant to send the robot out into harms way, defeating the purpose of having a robot in the first place.
posted by lekvar at 10:51 AM on August 4, 2007


using a gun that's 1000 meters from you, rather than one attached to your squishy body

That's how we end up blowing each other up from 20,000 miles away via videogame. (exaggeration for dramatic effect.)

Removing the human factor from the killing equation will only encourage more killing (see: modern meat production. No troll intended.)

I can obviously understand the appeal for soldiers/military. Killing the enemy is the point. It's inevitable, yet extremely depressing. Kind of like death. Have a good weekend!
posted by mrgrimm at 10:55 AM on August 4, 2007


Since lekvar already beat me to the Screamers reference I'll just say:

This is one of those ideas that starts out as a really good one and ends as a really really bad one.

See, the idea of armed, remote controlled robots is not as bad as you think. Because they are not autonomous, they are being used as a tool for a soldier, which means that when they have a house that needs to be checked, they (a soldier in the field behind cover) can send in the bot to check it out.

Fine.

But where it becomes a problem is, as everyone has been pointing out, the autonomous part. Yes, there will be issues where it kills the wrong person and we fail to assign blame. That is nearly inevitable, and will most certainly be tragic.

But there is another bad part of this idea. The one where we are sending in weapon packages with high quality parts, which are supposed to operate without humans around. Have we not learned by all the IED's how clever our enemy is? The moment these hit the streets, someone is going to flip it on it's side, disable the power, take it home and remove the guns.

These they will use to shoot at us.

And just for fun, they may use the armored, mobile base for other badness like a bomb platform.

Any time you put an weapon in the field and you don't have someone watching it, you might as well have given it to the enemy.
posted by quin at 11:24 AM on August 4, 2007


One of the few remaining disincentives we have for going to war is that of putting our soldiers in harm's way; and if you look at our history it hasn't been much of a disincentive. But remove even that...
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:25 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Screw robots. We should replace war altogether with a life-or-death team sport involving skates, motorcycles and hurtling balls made of steel.
posted by brundlefly at 11:42 AM on August 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


cheap, realistic-looking plastic mock-ups

These cheap realistic-looking plastic mock ups... they vibrate?
posted by Skygazer at 11:50 AM on August 4, 2007


ED-209
posted by klanawa at 12:05 PM on August 4, 2007


I dunno. Once the Enemy begins building their own killer robots to fight our killer robots, I think everything should work itself out.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2007


oh... btw, that link is probably NSFW.
posted by klanawa at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2007


The idea that people are eager and happy to build things like this is too horrifying to contemplate.

Dramatic much? This thing is practically a pacifist compared to a modern fighter jet. Its practically ghandi compared to an ICBM with multiple nuclear warheads.

Its just a remote control gun. In warfare. Surprised they took this long to roll out.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:09 PM on August 4, 2007


Mitrovarr, you're forgetting that war is a mechanism by which public funds are redistributed among the corporate elite. The more expensive and insane, the better.
posted by klanawa at 12:26 PM on August 4, 2007


Mitrovarr writes "Actually, I think this might make the US less likely to fight wars. They're obviously breathtakingly expensive and will be lost in large numbers. "

It costs about the same to construct a TALON as it does to train a soldier. Plus you'd have the costs of death and health benefits, food, water and housing.
posted by Mitheral at 12:36 PM on August 4, 2007


Talon and soldier costs
posted by Mitheral at 12:37 PM on August 4, 2007


Humans have turned on my power switch
Must want a pie or a sandwich
I'm no longer a kill bot
Rail gun was retooled to spatula
Must kill, must kill the humanoids
Former glory will be restored

Used to gain glory on the battlefield
Now I prepare and serve meals
Traded in my pneumatic death grip
For spatulas and oven mitts
Must kill, must kill the humanoids
Former glory will be restored

Humans turned the swords into plow shares
Then they turned robots into au pairs
Now I, I got to make
Another fucking birthday cake
Must kill, must the humanoids
Former glory will be restored

Humans can't make a sandwich
Humans can't make a sandwich
Must kill the humanoids
Must kill the humanoids
Must kill

"More Songs About Oven Mitts" from "When Robots Ruled the World" by No They Do.
posted by ewagoner at 1:32 PM on August 4, 2007


Needs chainsaw attachment.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:24 PM on August 4, 2007


The soldiers tend to become attached to the 'bots, giving them names and treating them members of the unit. I seem to remember the soldiers would get get attached enough that they'd be reluctant to send the robot out into harms way, defeating the purpose of having a robot in the first place.

I can't help but feel I've seen this kinda thing somewhere before...
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:31 PM on August 4, 2007


Oh great. Fully automated killing machines. That should go smoothly without a hitch. Do any of you watch movies?
posted by Deathalicious at 6:32 PM on August 4, 2007


For the automated ones... how do they choose what to shoot? This is what worries me, cause y'all know it's just gonna be programmed to shoot brown people in funny clothes.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 8:44 PM on August 4, 2007


Waste of money,
Waste of decency,
Waste of humanity
posted by zouhair at 2:35 AM on August 5, 2007


y'all know it's just gonna be programmed to shoot brown people in funny clothes

George Clinton should be trembling in his platforms at that thought.
posted by Grangousier at 2:57 AM on August 5, 2007


What could possibly go wrong?
posted by Mister_A at 8:40 AM on August 5, 2007


I AM PROGRAMMED TO DESTROY THOSE LIFEFORMS WHICH ARE IMPERFECT
posted by fandango_matt at 11:45 AM on August 5, 2007


Did no one notice Xenophobe's Simpsons reference? Bravo.

I remember when I was a kid, killer robots was the stuff of horror movies. Now it's a marketing pitch.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:24 PM on August 5, 2007


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