In reality, robotics has grown from a nascent pipedream to a billion dollar industry. Even still, as ubiquitous as they have become, the state of robotics is nowhere near the predictions of science fiction’s great imaginations from 30 years ago.
That isn’t stopping the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), however, from seeking to use robots in complex and critical national security missions (1).
If you buy the argument that national security concerns are more complicated and sophisticated than they were a quarter century ago, then it seems to reason that the tools and technology used to combat such threats need to be more sophisticated, as well. So what are the threats to national security, exactly?
Naturally, we could be deliberately and directly attacked by an enemy state. This threat is perhaps more real than it ever has been simply because several nations now have access to lethal drone technology that could skirt the nation’s airspace detection sensors as was recently shown when a lone lunatic invaded the White House’s airspace with a gyrocopter (2).
If that doesn’t scare you, it should. It means the national security apparatus is no better at detecting potential threats today than they were on September 11, 2001. As a result, a lone terrorist, or a small cell of them, could wage an attack more crippling than the loss of two high rises.
National Security Threats
Just as likely, a national security threat could come in the form of a denial of service attack on all government and commercial websites (just think of the economic impact of the Internet blacking out in seconds), a global economic crisis, a demographic event of fatal proportions, political turmoil, or even natural forces.
We’ve recently seen social unrest in Baltimore, Maryland (3) and Ferguson, Missouri (4). What if such unrest rose to the surface in every major American city simultaneously? Such a circumstance could put so much stress on public services that it would afford an opportunity for our enemies to sneak in and do even more damage. It would be disastrous.
With autonomous intelligence systems, the CIA could ward off danger before it gets too close. Robotic systems are capable of many sophisticated tasks and can be programmed to handle complex situations at the drop of a hat. Here are just a few of the things a robot can handle more easily than humans:
–> Gather information from enemy states and terror cells in areas that are inaccessible to intelligence units
–> Overpower or outsmart enemy counterintelligence assets attempting to deny U.S. and allied attempts to gain critical information about their activities
–> Protect information systems with sensitive information
–> Counter the efforts of nefarious groups attempting to acquire critical U.S. information
–> And much more
The CIA wants to design robotic systems with complex and sophisticated maneuver technologies in order to perform the above tasks, and more.
For instance, robotic systems can navigate difficult terrain in order to get close to terrorists, enemy states, and individuals seeking to do great harm for the purpose of obtaining information about intent and planned activities. These robots could be waterborne, airborne, or land systems.
Robotic spies also need to be stealthy. They should be able to perform reconnaissance and surveillance quietly and quickly without drawing attention to themselves.
Autonomous intelligence systems should also be capable of great endurance. Ideally, such systems would be able to perform surveillance for long periods of time that would be impossible for humans.
The CIA would also like its robotic systems to be able to analyze the data it collects and make sense of it for quick deployment of strategic defense assets.
Robotic espionage is nothing new, but to do it the way the CIA wants to do it means developing autonomous systems that are so intelligent even Maxwell Smart can’t match their sophistication.