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Technical And Operational Sspects Of Robot Swarms: UNIDIR Report

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The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) has just released a report on “Swarm Robotics: Technical and Operational Overview of the Next Generation of Autonomous Systems”.

The objective of the report is to improve understanding of how lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) operate, how they are managed and controlled during military operations, and implications for the development of international guiding principles and norms:

“As the international community continues discussions on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) in 2020 and 2021 and will focus on the further development and operationalization of the guiding principles, the role of human decision-making will undoubtedly remain one of the core issues. By drawing on near-term technologies, such as swarms, and related command and control models in deliberations about human control and human-machine interaction, the international community can move to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how control may or may not be exercised in military practice – now and in future operations.” LINK

As international rivalries, reckless provocations and one-upmanship among the world’s superpowers and regional powers reach fever pitch, the headlong rush to gain a strategic advantage is pushing military R&D programs far beyond the capabilities of supervision and rational debate over the possibly devastating consequences of the new technology.

“The prospect of military swarms is real, although they are not yet operational and the technology is rather brittle. Yet how to exercise effective and responsible levels of human involvement over swarms remains a nascent area of research. The main challenges relate to the design and implementation of appropriate human-machine and machine-machine interactions. Researchers and developers have taken numerous approaches to injecting human involvement into a swarm. Human involvement or control in the context of swarming typically refers to either command, control or coordination.”

The document envisages a wide range of potential military and intelligence applications, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, perimeter surveillance and protection, distributed attacks, air defence, force protection, deception, dull and dangerous tasks, and combatting other swarms.

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