Thursday, November 17, 2011

Making robots like humans is hard, so let's make humans into robots

Quest For The Ultimate Human Killing Machine:

Arnold Schwarzenegger T-800Guilt, tiredness, stress, shock – can specialized drugs help to mute the qualities that make soldiers human, asks Michael Hanlon in the Independent (with thanks to disinfo reader Freeman for the tip):


…The era of The Terminator, the perfect robotic killing machine, is decades away; to date, all efforts to create a humanoid robot that can climb the stairs, let alone fight the Taliban, have been risible. But scientists are reporting breakthroughs with the next-best thing – the creation of human terminators, who feel less pain, less terror and less fatigue than “non-enhanced” soldiers and whose very bodies may be augmented by powerful machines.


Efforts to understand the brain of the soldier and put this knowledge to good use have been going on for some time. Professor Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at Pennsylvania State University, studies the way neuroscience is being co-opted by the military. “Right now, this is the fastest-growing area of science,” he says.


The Pentagon is currently spending $400m a year researching ways to “enhance” the human fighter. The defence giant Lockheed recently unveiled its “Hulc” (Human Universal Load Carrier), a science fiction-like, battery-powered exoskeleton that allows a human to lift 100kg weights and carry them at a fast run of 16kph (10mph). The videos of the Hulc in action are truly impressive. Superman strength is one thing, but soldiers still need to sleep. In Afghanistan the average soldier in combat gets only four hours’ rest a day and sleep deprivation is the single biggest factor in reducing fighting performance. Not only are tired soldiers less physically able to fight and run, they make more mistakes with the complex weapons systems at their disposal – mistakes that can prove deadly to themselves and their comrades.


Using chemistry to attack fatigue is, of course, nothing new. Two centuries ago, Prussian soldiers used cocaine to remain alert and Inca warriors used coca leaves to stay alert long before that. Since then, nicotine, amphetamines, caffeine and a new class of stimulants including the drug Modafinil have all been used successfully, to the extent that American soldiers can now operate normally even after 48 hours without sleep. Now the chemists are trying to tweak the molecular structure of this drug so that it will switch off the desire for sleep for even longer…


[continues in the Independent]




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