The soldiers who fall in love with their robots

by Toby Manhire / 09 December, 2013
Automatons are increasingly part of military plans – and some say humans are ill prepared to deal with it.
A US solider and his Talon robot, used to clear improvised explosive devices. Photograph/US Army


Robots have become an essential part of the US military effort.

And in many cases they take on an emotional importance to the soldiers that send them into the battlefield, where they are most frequently deployed to investigate potential explosive devices.

“They’re starting to form relationships with them”, writes Adam Clark at Gizmodo. “They give them names. They give them hugs, a little brotherly love.” It would be simply sweet and funny “if it weren’t so dangerous”.

A study by US researcher Julie Carpenter of the University of Washington on the dynamic detailed how soldiers “often named their [bomb-disposal] robots, and when the robots got blown up, they held funerals”.

And: “Some pretended the robots were their girlfriends. None of this seems like healthy behaviour for soldiers who have jobs to do, jobs where lives are at stake.”

The role of automatons in the military is rapidly increasing – and they’re developing some pretty extraordinary technology. The US is already developing the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit – “what the media refer to as the ‘Iron Man Suit’,” notes Carpenter – which goes some way to introducing robotic functions to the soldier itself.

And yet the ethical and psychological implications are largely overlooked, Carpenter fears.

Clark agrees. “How about spend some time teaching people how to deal with robots,” he says, “especially so that the soldiers we put into Iron Man suits know where to draw the line between man and machine.”

Because, after all, it’s not just soldiers. Will posties fall in love with their drones?

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