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A workshop held with leaders from the US Defence Department, Army Research Lab, Institute for Defence Analysis and a select number of academics in the United States recently, published a report which tries to envision the future combat field in 2050.

In the world envisioned, armed drones will patrol the skies searching for enemy targets to eliminate. Unlike today where a human is always operating the unmanned platform, this future world has no need for human to call the shots and soldiers, the report states, will only have limited control over the smart robots operating in the field. “The difference being that in the former, human decisions are a required step in a process and thus humans are exercising positive control,” the report stated. “While in the latter, humans can only observe the behaviours that are taking place, but they can only act after the fact or in anticipation of expected behaviours.”

The humans fighting on the frontline will be far more technologically advanced than those in modern warfare: “These super humans will feature exoskeletons, possess a variety of implants and have seamless access to sensing and cognitive enhancements,” the report said. These enhancements may derive from external technology or even be the result of genetic engineering.

While technology will improve soldiers to give them an edge in combat, it could also make them vulnerable to attacks, with enemy forces attempting to monitor and disrupt biophysical signals and decision-making abilities of these supersoldiers.

This report, while a milestone in the application of robotics and bio-enhancement in the field of combat and war, is in no way a singular view. For the past several decades, and especially in the last one, talks about biologically and genetically enhanced humans and the use of robotics have been commonplace among scientists and philosophers. The thought of a future of humans having limited control over robots, in combat or otherwise, has caused heated debates in ethical and technological debates. One such recent example is the open letter signed by a thousand signatories, including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Noam Chomsky, among others, calling for supervision and restriction on autonomous weapons.

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