If this is the future of warfare and intelligence gathering, rest assured it won’t only be Washington doing it.
Let’s look at some current and future scenarios. These go beyond obvious intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), strike, and sentry applications, as most robots are being used for today. I’ll limit these scenarios to a time horizon of about 10-15 years from now.
Military surveillance applications are well known, but there are also important civilian applications, such as robots that patrol playgrounds for pedophiles (for instance, in South Korea) and major sporting events for suspicious activity (such as the 2006 World Cup in Seoul and 2008 Beijing Olympics). Current and future biometric capabilities may enable robots to detect faces, drugs, and weapons at a distance and underneath clothing. In the future, robot swarms and “smart dust” (sometimes called nanosensors) may be used in this role.
Robots can be used for alerting purposes, such as a humanoid police robot in China that gives out information, and a Russian police robot that recites laws and issues warnings. So there’s potential for educational or communication roles and on-the-spot community reporting, as related to intelligence gathering.
In delivery applications, SWAT police teams already use robots to interact with hostage-takers and in other dangerous situations. So robots could be used to deliver other items or plant surveillance devices in inaccessible places. Likewise, they can be used for extractions too. As mentioned earlier, the BEAR robot can retrieve wounded soldiers from the battlefield, as well as handle hazardous or heavy materials. In the future, an autonomous car or helicopter might be deployed to extract or transport suspects and assets, to limit US personnel inside hostile or foreign borders.
In detention applications, robots could also be used to not just guard buildings but also people. Some advantages here would be the elimination of prison abuses like we saw at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This speaks to the dispassionate way robots can operate. Relatedly–and I’m not advocating any of these scenarios, just speculating on possible uses–robots can solve the dilemma of using physicians in interrogations and torture. These activities conflict with their duty to care and the Hippocratic oath to do no harm. Robots can monitor vital signs of interrogated suspects, as well as a human doctor can. They could also administer injections and even inflict pain in a more controlled way, free from malice and prejudices that might take things too far (or much further than already).