Life as an Extreme Sport

Robots Are a Soldier’s Best Friend

While we have written about a robot code of ethics, the Washington Post has an incredibly touching and illuminating story about soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan interacting bonding with their robots:

Humans have long displayed an uncanny ability to make emotional connections with their manufactured helpmates. Car owners for generations have named their vehicles. In “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks risks his life to save a volleyball named Wilson, who has become his best friend and confidant. Now that our creations display elements of intelligence, however, the bonds humans forge with their machines are even more impressive. Especially when humans credit their bots with saving their lives.

Ted Bogosh recalls one day in Camp Victory, near Baghdad, when he was a Marine master sergeant running the robot repair shop.

That day, an explosive ordnance disposal technician walked through his door. The EODs, as they are known, are the people who — with their robots — are charged with disabling Iraq’s most virulent scourge, the roadside improvised explosive device. In this fellow’s hands was a small box. It contained the remains of his robot. He had named it Scooby-Doo.

“There wasn’t a whole lot left of Scooby,” Bogosh says. The biggest piece was its 3-by-3-by-4-inch head, containing its video camera. On the side had been painted “its battle list, its track record. This had been a really great robot.”

The veteran explosives technician looming over Bogosh was visibly upset. He insisted he did not want a new robot. He wanted Scooby-Doo back.

It’s a heartwarming story, although it’s actually the introduction, which talks about an Army colonel stopping a test on a centipede-style mine detonation robot because it was “inhumane”, that makes me wonder if the entire point of a robot code of ethics misses something intrinsic in our interaction with robots: how we, ourselves, bond to the robot, regardless of just how sentient that robot is.

-Kelly Hills [with a tip of the hat to Art Caplan]

Originally posted at the American Journal of Bioethics Editors Blog.