The next 'rise of the robots' might take place in the U.S. military, but it's not as scary as it sounds. Recently, the U.S. and Great Britain tested the use of robots to replace soldiers for certain tasks, in what is called the Robotics Complex Breach Concept demonstration. Specifically, the demonstration used robotic vehicles to breach enemy territory, then search for and clear dangerous obstacles, including minefields. The idea is to have robots conduct dangerous tasks that until now had to be carried out by human soldiers.
Military leaders and engineering experts believe using robotics for dangerous things like navigating minefields will significantly reduce the risk of life for soldiers. "They actually use the 'three d's' for robotics---situations that are dirty, dull, dangerous---that's where we want to use robotics, so we can keep people safe and have them working at a distance," says Marcia O'Malley, professor of mechanical engineering at Rice University.
Many of these new robotics are far more advanced than the unmanned vehicles and drones which the military has used for decades, but that doesn't mean people should fear the rise of 'killer robots.' "We're not anywhere near having autonomous robots out doing whatever they want to do," says O'Malley. "There's always going to be the person behind the robot who is making the high-level decisions and strategies, and then deploying the robot to keep people out of harm's way."
In other words, these new robotics will be used to reduce risk to life and increase efficiency, but not to replace human thinking or decision-making. "I think we're quite a ways away from having to worry about the Terminator case or the robots taking over the world," says O'Malley.