New Internationalist

Gulf War III - Rise of the Machines

Issue 376

Of all the Hollywood visions of the future that could end up coming true, you have to hope the Terminator films will not be among them. Is there anything more terrifying than an invulnerable robot blowing people away with a sawn-off shotgun and uttering one-liners like ‘Hasta la vista, baby!’ in an Austrian accent?

Well, as always, the military and scientific communities are on the fast track to making such nightmares a distinct possibility. In a joint venture, the British Ministry of Defence and the US Carlyle Group (closely associated with the Bush family) have developed a series of tactical robot soldiers called SWORDS - Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection Systems. The US military is already planning to deploy 18 of the one-metrehigh killing machines in Iraq in the next few months.

The robots are operated by soldiers near the battlefield using videogame- style controls. Work is currently under way to enhance the experience by adding ‘virtual-reality goggles’, confirms one enthusiastic engineer.

It’s a premonition of things to come,’ says director Jonathan Pike. ‘It makes sense. These things have no family to write home to. They’re fearless. You can put them places you’d have a hard time putting a soldier in.’

Scientists meanwhile are working on ways to graft living tissue on to robotic skeletons. Recently, scientists at the University of California Los Angeles have successfully combined muscle-tissue from rats on to robotic parts, creating small ‘bio-bots’ that could move around on their own. ’ They’re absolutely alive,’ says the project leader, Professor Montemagno. ’ I mean the cells actually grow, multiply and assemble - they form the structure themselves. So the device is alive.’

Cut to Terminator 3.

Kate Brewster: So what’s his story? [points to Terminator]

John Connor: He’s a robot from the future. Living tissue over a metal skeleton. He means you no harm.’

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This article was originally published in issue 376

New Internationalist Magazine issue 376
Issue 376

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