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An army of robots in the 2030s: is it good or bad news for human beings?

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

During the "Battle of the 300 champions" in antique Greece (546 B.C.), the cities of Sparta and Argos agreed to have only three hundred men fighting each other and deciding the fate of the battle, instead of committing their entire armies and generating a bloodbath. Could we have a dream of a world where wars would be resolved between robots, sparing thousands of human lives in useless fights? Or will the irruption of robots on the battlefield be even more deadly for humans? The Battle of the 300 champions was finally undecisive... and its results contested by both sides. Back to human nature after a sparkle of wisdom! In the end, the two armies finally fought in a more traditional way, to make the final call, and Sparta won.

In two recent interviews on BBC and Sky News on Armistice Day, General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of Defence Staff, the head of the military in the UK, who has served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Irak, told the press that he expects up to a quarter of soldiers in the British Army could be robots by the 2030s.

“I suspect we could have an army of 120,000, of which 30,000 might be robots, who knows?” General Carter said on Sky News. He pointed out that an army designed for the 2030s could include a large number of autonomous and remotely controlled machines.

(Source Sky News - General Sir Nick Carter during his Armistice day interview on Sky News)

He also said on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC that robots would play a role on the battlefields in the near future: “if I projected forward another 10 years, I think we should be in no doubt that warfare will look different, there will be robots on our battlefield in future — there already are today,” Carter said.

In order to achieve that vision, we can suspect that the impact of budgetary considerations, especially for medium-size powers such as Britain, France, or Germany will be essential. Will robots cost too much to develop? Will these countries and more generally NATO rely almost only on U.S. R&D or will they have some autonomy? Will robots bring a cost advantage once developed on a massive scale? All considered - investments, expenses, national autonomy, fighting power, military efficiency, sparing human lives, jobs created, buying power of these jobs - it would be extremely interesting to know what is the overall cost/benefit of 30,000 robots compared to 30,000 human soldiers? This is why the breakdown of approximately 25% of the Army headcounts, suggested by General Carter, might make sense and be a good compromise between man and machine.

Furthermore, with this image of 30,000 robots, we are immediately thinking about android robots, but that image might be misleading. There are plenty of robots already used by the armed forces: drones, vehicles, weapons, etc. The soldier of the future might take other directions: augmented soldiers assisted by several types of "cobots" (collaborative robots) helping them in their tasks, human soldiers wearing exoskeletons, or "cyborg soldiers" equipped with implants for instance. It will probably be a mix of all these solutions.

The theme of robot soldiers has been a recurring science fiction theme in movies and literature.

Here is a bit more to read in this interesting article from "Vice" about the Russian Iron Man project, nicknamed "Ivan the Terminator":

To know more about the American "Super Soldier" developed by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense), you can read this article from "The Sociable":

And finally, an article from Forbes about DARPA's "ADAPTER" project, based on therapeutic implants, to make soldiers healthier and more resistant - particularly to diarrhea - on the battlefield: We know that diarrhea has caused some major defeats throughout history, that sounds quite smart to come up with something to resolve that very practical issue.

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