Building Robotic Soldiers is No Easy Undertaking


James Cameron hit a home run in 1984 with his sci-fi thriller, The Terminator. The film made Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton household names while simultaneously scaring the daylights out of anyone who had an unreasonable fear of robots. Some 25 years later, anything resembling a real Terminator is still a long way off.

The thing is that building robotic soldiers is no easy undertaking. It is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Cameron’s Terminator was an intelligent robot capable of thinking for itself. It could solve problems independently. It was capable of thinking up clever ways to outsmart its targets. In short, the Terminator was equal to human beings in its thinking ability but superior in its physical strength and durability.

We may never see the day when the Terminator becomes reality. However, that is not stopping U.S. military researchers from developing robotic soldiers they hope will one day be battlefield companions instead of just machinery. According to Signal Magazine, getting there is going to require significant advancements in artificial intelligence.

Soldiers Talking to Robots

Researchers at the U.S. Army’s lab in Adelphia, Maryland are currently working on robots capable of speaking to, and hearing from, human soldiers. The general idea is to create robotic soldiers fully capable of communicating via speech. Once this is conquered, the hard part will be done.

Imagine a human commander directing a hybrid team of human and robotic soldiers. He issues one command and they all obey without question. If he needs one particular robot to carry out a given task, he speaks to that machine the same way he would a human soldier. Again, the robot responds obediently.

Now imagine that same robot returning to its commanding officer to give a report. Rather than requiring the officer to read a screen or watch a video, the report is given via the spoken word. A simulated speech engine built into the robot forms the words and sentences necessary to convey the information.

Speech is one of the most efficient ways human beings communicate. By designing robots capable of communicating this way, their efficiency increases tremendously. And the more efficient they become, the more robotic soldiers act like people instead of machines.

Better Natural Language Processing

How long will it take for the military to fully develop the battle robots now in the works? That depends on how quickly researchers make progress with natural language processing (NLP). This really is the linchpin of the entire thing, explains California-based Rock West Solutions.

Natural language processing is the ability of a computer to recognize speech and analyze it effectively enough to make use of it. If you use a smart speaker, for example, it is NLP that allows that speaker to recognize your request to play a certain song. Rock West explains that NLP is a form of advanced signal processing.

It is worth noting that smart speakers are fairly effective, but only because they have a limited amount of information to deal with. It is comparatively easy to program a device to recognize the phrase “order a pizza”, for example. It’s an entirely different matter to create a device capable of understanding and processing anything that might be said on the battlefield.

The goal here is not to create robots that can recognize a small number of predetermined phrases. It is to create a machine capable of communicating regardless of what a human soldier says. That is going to require a lot of technology. It is going to require advanced signal processing, better NLP, more capable deep learning, and incomprehensible amounts of real-world testing.

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