It’s Not A Robot

So the (lone, untriangulated) Dallas shooter is dead, killed in what is widely heralded as the first combat use of a robot in the US. Only, it’s not. A robot is:

… a mechanical or virtual artificial agent, usually an electromechanical machine that is guided by a computer program or electronic circuitry, and thus a type of an embedded system. Robots can be autonomous or semi-autonomous … (Wikipedia)

Our modern era has an unfortunate habit of using cool words in ways that redefine their underlying meaning. For example, ever since Star Wars, android has been used to mean any mobile robot, instead of a human-seeming one. And robot is used for any mobile telepresence device.

Remote-presence EOD machines have no autonomy. They can’t. You don’t want them to. You want them to be under precise human control at all times. Their job is to be manoeuvred into position next to a suspicious bag of groceries by a human handler, so that the human handler can (for example) set off a small explosive charge that will detonate the main charge (or, more likely blow somebody’s dinner across the parking lot). They are the modern equivalent of a bomb-onna-stick, cousins to the Bangalore torpedo or the self-hoisting petard.

So, yes, the use of a remote-presence EOD machine to deliver a lethal payload to a human target is a first. It is not a harbinger of the rise of the robot killers.

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