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  Robot soldiers
Updated 12 April 2002, 14.34
Robot soldier of the future?

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Scientific development and its implications

US scientists are looking into building a mechanical super-soldier that can heal its own wounds.

Students consider and discuss the implications of mastering and using this type of technology.

Learning aims

  • Learn the importance of considering scientific advances.

  • Discuss the moral issues raised by developing robot soldiers.
Read the story

Ask the class:

  • What are the advantages of building robot soldiers?

  • What could go wrong if armies are full of robot soldiers?

  • How could terrorists use them to their advantage?
In pairs, the class list the six most important machines in their lives.

They could also note down two machines they wish had never been invented.

Main activity
Ask the class to name all the films, TV shows and books they can that contain intelligent machines or robots:

  • The Star Wars saga
  • Lost in Space
  • Robocop
  • Buck Rogers
  • Aliens series
  • The Terminator films
  • Short Circuit
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • AI
  • The Matrix
  • Bladerunner
  • The Iron Man
  • Robot Wars
  • The War of the Worlds

Ask the class:

  • How are the robots portrayed in these stories?

  • How likely is it that similar robots will be developed to those in stories?
Students write a diary entry of a school day in the future in which they live and work alongside robots.

They could include:

  • How robots help them get ready and get to school in the morning.

  • The influence they have in their education.

  • The consequences for those who can't afford to have the latest robot models or none at all.

  • The effects of a robot malfunctioning or breaking down.

Extension activity
Students could write a 'programming code' (or set of rules) for robots of the future to operate by.

This could include rules for:

  • Artificial morals
  • Social etiquette
  • Appearance
  • Duties

Recap on the main teaching points and see if the class can reach a consensus.

Teachers' Background

The word 'robot' comes from comes from Czech 'robota' meaning 'servitude or forced labour'.

Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army's Training and Doctrine Command arguing in favour of robot soldiers:

  • "Machines don't get tired. They don't close their eyes. They don't hide under trees when it rains and they don't talk to their buddies.

  • "A human's attention to detail on guard duty drops dramatically in the first 30 minutes.

  • "Machines know no fear."
Other arguments in favour:
  • They will allow humans to be removed from jobs that are highly hazardous, exhausting or boring.

  • They will make it possible for one person, with the aid of robots, to do the work of several.
Arguments against:
  • Machines are designed to only do what you say and so they will always follow orders. But could they turn upon their human owners?

  • There is also the concept of the artificially intelligent machine that just breaks down such as HAL in 2001:Space Odyssey. A reliance on robot technology could have tragic consequences.

  • The push for robots simply continues the arms race.

  • A play published in 1921, 'Rossum's Universal Robots' by Czech writer Karel Capek, tells the story of how people built better and better robots until they finally built robots to fight wars. In the end, the robots decide that fighting is crazy, and take over the world.

For all links and resources click at top right.

More InfoBORDER=0
Sci/TechIs this the fighter of the future?


Web Links
MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology
The History of Artificial Intelligence
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