September 20, 2013
Funerals for Fallen Robots

When Boomer was lost on the battlefield in Taji, Iraq, his brothers in arms gave him a funeral. The tribute involved a 21-gun salute, and the awarding of both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal. All in recognition, according to a soldier who has worked with Boomer’s comrades, of Boomer’s heroism and of the many lives he had saved on the battlefield. 
It was a funeral that was typical in every way but one: Boomer was a machine. He was a MARCbot, an inexpensive robot designed to seek out and disarm explosives. He — Boomer was, apparently, a he — saved soldiers’ lives as he tooled his way into dangerous zones, taking one for the team in the most selfless way possible. The tributes in Taji, be they figurative (the Bronze Star) or more literal (the firearmed salute), recognized all this. “Some people got upset about it,” the soldier recalls of Boomer’s improvised funeral, ”but those little bastards can develop a personality, and they save so many lives.”
The little bastards do save lives. Their personalities, however, aren’t so much developed as they’re imposed by their human minders. In the heat of battle, and in the chaos of war zones, soldiers, it seems, tend to humanize their robotic aides. They develop emotional attachments to the machines that put themselves in harm’s way so the humans don’t have to.
Read more. [Image: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bobby J. Segovia/Wikimedia Commons]

Funerals for Fallen Robots

When Boomer was lost on the battlefield in Taji, Iraq, his brothers in arms gave him a funeral. The tribute involved a 21-gun salute, and the awarding of both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal. All in recognition, according to a soldier who has worked with Boomer’s comrades, of Boomer’s heroism and of the many lives he had saved on the battlefield. 

It was a funeral that was typical in every way but one: Boomer was a machine. He was a MARCbot, an inexpensive robot designed to seek out and disarm explosives. He — Boomer was, apparently, a he — saved soldiers’ lives as he tooled his way into dangerous zones, taking one for the team in the most selfless way possible. The tributes in Taji, be they figurative (the Bronze Star) or more literal (the firearmed salute), recognized all this. “Some people got upset about it,” the soldier recalls of Boomer’s improvised funeral, ”but those little bastards can develop a personality, and they save so many lives.”

The little bastards do save lives. Their personalities, however, aren’t so much developed as they’re imposed by their human minders. In the heat of battle, and in the chaos of war zones, soldiers, it seems, tend to humanize their robotic aides. They develop emotional attachments to the machines that put themselves in harm’s way so the humans don’t have to.

Read more. [Image: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bobby J. Segovia/Wikimedia Commons]

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