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Armed and dangerous: robot soldiers.

AT FIRST GLANCE, THE robot looks like a cross between a high-tech toy truck and some kind of space invader. It is four feet tall, rolls around on tractor treads, and has a zoom-lens camera that sticks up like a Cyclops eye. The robot also has a unique feature that will keep it out of the stores: a machine gun that fires real bullets.

What is it? You can call it the Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System (SWORDS, for short). If the U.S. military has its way, SWORDS will be among the first in a series of robot soldiers. The Pentagon is set to pour billions of dollars into these mechanical warriors.

"By 2015, we think we can do many missions," Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command told The New Fork Times. "The American military will have these kinds of robots. It's not a question of if, it's a question of when."

Already, robots are digging up bombs in Iraq and serving as scouts and sentries [guards] in other locations. Also heading to Iraq is a version of the bomb-disposal robot that fires 1,000 rounds a minute. A soldier with a laptop computer controls the machine.

The $127 billion project, called Future Combat Systems, will develop robots for different functions. Machines will be designed to search buildings and caves, haul weapons, search people, and spy on enemies--as well as shoot. Pentagon officials hope that these robots will help reduce casualties--and cut way down on other human costs. "They're not afraid," said Johnson. "They don't forget their orders.... Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."

But many people raise concerns about using robots as soldiers. Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, worries that powerful robots could cause "whole new classes of accidents and abuses." Others think that having a "bloodless" army would be a terrible temptation to invade other countries.

What of the basic judgments of logic and morality that every soldier must make? Said one robot maker: "We are a long way from creating a robot that knows what that means."
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Title Annotation:National
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 21, 2005
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