“From the file marked “Evidently, many scientists have never seen even one scary sci-fi movie”: The Defense Department is funding research into battlefield robots that power themselves by eating human corpses. What could possibly go wrong? Since they apparently don’t own TVs or DVD players, researchers at Robotic Technology say the robots will collect organic matter, which “could” include human corpses, to use for fuel. But if you picked up anything on flesh-eating robots over the years you know they’ll ignore that tasty soybean field and make a chow line right to the nearest dead body. And, if the machines can’t find enough dead people to eat, they can always make new ones. Researchers seem to get a kick out of ensuring the demise of the human species, so the project is called the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, or EATR. readers looking to save time and trouble are invited to begin marinating themselves in a mix of 10W30 and Heinz 57 Sauce immediately.”

[Please click here for an Important Message Concerning EATR]
By Noah Shachtman / July 17, 2009
I never imagined I’d print a press release in full. Then, an hour ago, Howard Lovy e-mailed me the most incredible press release of all time…

Pompano Beach, Fla.– “In response to rumors circulating the internet on sites such as, and CNET News about a “flesh eating” robot project, Cyclone Power Technologies Inc. (Pink Sheets:CYPW) and Robotic Technology Inc. (RTI) would like to set the record straight: This robot is strictly vegetarian.

On July 7, Cyclone announced that it had completed the first stage of development for a beta biomass engine system used to power RTI’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR™), a Phase II SBIR project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Sciences Office. RTI’s EATR is an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling.

RTI’s patent pending robotic system will be able to find, ingest and extract energy from biomass in the environment. Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes “human bodies,” the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips – small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage. Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.

“We completely understand the public’s concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population, but that is not our mission,” stated Harry Schoell, Cyclone’s CEO. “We are focused on demonstrating that our engines can create usable, green power from plentiful, renewable plant matter. The commercial applications alone for this earth-friendly energy solution are enormous.”

Corporate Profiles
Cyclone Power Technologies is the developer of the award-winning Cyclone Engine – an eco-friendly external combustion engine with the power and versatility to run everything from portable electric generators and garden equipment to cars, trucks and locomotives. Invented by company founder and CEO Harry Schoell, the patented Cyclone Engine is a modern day steam engine, ingeniously designed to achieve high thermal efficiencies through a compact heat-regenerative process, and to run on virtually any fuel – including bio-diesels, syngas or solar – while emitting fewer greenhouse gases and irritating pollutants into the air. Currently in its late stages of development, the Cyclone Engine was recognized by Popular Science Magazine as the Invention of the Year for 2008, and was presented with the Society of Automotive Engineers’ AEI Tech Award in 2006 and 2008. Additionally, Cyclone was recently named Environmental Business of the Year by the Broward County Environmental Protection Department. For more information, visit

Robotic Technology Incorporated (RTI), a Maryland, U.S.A. corporation chartered in 1985, provides systems and services in the fields of intelligent systems, robotic vehicles (including unmanned ground, air, and sea vehicles), robotics and automation, weapons systems, intelligent control systems, intelligent transportation systems, intelligent manufacturing, and other advanced technology for government, industry, and not-for-profit clients. Please visit for more information.

Safe Harbor Statement
Certain statements in this news release may contain forward-looking information within the meaning of Rule 175 under the Securities Act of 1933 and Rule 3b-6 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and are subject to the safe harbor created by those rules. All statements, other than statements of fact, included in this release, including, without limitation, statements regarding potential future plans and objectives of the company, are forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. There can be no assurance that such statements will prove to be accurate and actual results and future events could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements. The company cautions that these forward-looking statements are further qualified by other factors. The company undertakes no obligation to publicly update or revise any statements in this release, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.”

“Article 15. At all times, and particularly after an engagement, Parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick, to protect them against pillage and ill-treatment, to ensure their adequate care, and to search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled. Whenever circumstances permit, an armistice or a suspension of fire shall be arranged, or local arrangements made, to permit the removal, exchange and transport of the wounded left on the battlefield. Likewise, local arrangements may be concluded between Parties to the conflict for the removal or exchange of wounded and sick from a besieged or encircled area, and for the passage of medical and religious personnel and equipment on their way to that area.”

DARPA (cont.)

“A traditional gas or diesel powered internal combustion engine ignites fuel under high pressure inside its cylinders – a explosive process that requires precise fuel to air ratios. The Cyclone Engine is dramatically different. It burns its fuel in an external combustion chamber. Heat from this process is used to turn water into steam, which is what powers the engine. Because of the way we burn fuel – in an external combustion chamber under atmospheric pressure — we have incredible flexibility as to the fuel we use. In combustion tests we have used fuels derived from orange peels, palm oil, cottonseed oil, algae, used motor oil and fryer grease, as well as traditional fossil fuels … none of which required any modification to our engine. We have also burned propane, butane, natural gas and even powdered coal. What does this mean? Well, imagine having the choice to run your car on gasoline one day and 100% pure biodiesel the next, or even a mixture of the two. The Cyclone Engine can provide consumers with the power to use fuels that are less expensive, more plentiful and locally produced. This is better for our economy, national security and global environment. Additionally, we have built engines that don’t burn any fuel at all. Instead, we can recycle the heat from other sources such as ovens, furnaces, exhaust pipes or even solar collectors – thermal energy that would otherwise be wasted into the environment. Our Waste Heat Engine harvests this external heat to produce mechanical energy which, in turn, can run an electric generator.”


Flesh-Eating Robots Developed for Pentagon
By Tana Ganeva / July 15, 2009

Thanks to the Pentagon and a Maryland Robotics Company, the robots who inherit the Earth when humanity is wiped out will be able to survive by feasting on the flesh of human corpses! The Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR — yes, EATR) is described thusly on the company’s website: “The purpose of the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot (EATR)™ (patent pending) project is to develop and demonstrate an autonomous robotic platform able to perform long-range, long-endurance missions without the need for manual or conventional re-fueling, which would otherwise preclude the ability of the robot to perform such missions. The system obtains its energy by foraging – engaging in biologically-inspired, organism-like, energy-harvesting behavior which is the equivalent of eating. It can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable.”

Doesn’t sound that sinister, since dead bodies are artfully skirted around in the description. Then again, a presentation on the technology is accompanied by the picture above, which appears to show a giant robot calmly shooting the last rebel human aircraft out of the sky with its eyes … As Peter Singer, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institute and author of Wired for War, said after seeing a presentation about the technology: “I really hope Skynet doesn’t learn about that kind of system.”

IF MACHINES COULD BALK / Taking Man Out Of The Loop

P.W. Singer
email : author [at] pwsinger [dot] com


designed by James Auger, Jimmy Loizeau and Aleksandar Zivanovic
1. Lampshade robot : Flies and moths are naturally attracted to light. This lamp shade has holes based on the form of the pitcher plant enabling access for the insects but no escape. Eventually they expire and fall into the microbial fuel cell underneath. This generates the electricity to power a series of LEDs located at the bottom of the shade. These are activated when the house lights are turned off.
2. Mousetrap coffee table robot : A mechanised iris is built into the top of a coffee table. This is attached to a infra red motion sensor. Crumbs and food debris left on the table attract mice who gain access to the table top via a hole built into one over size leg. Their motion activates the iris and the mouse falls into the microbial fuel cell housed under the table. This generates the energy to power the iris motor and sensor.
3. Fly stealing robot : This robot encourages spiders to build their webs within it’s armature. Flies that become trapped in the web are tracked by a camera. The robotic arm then moves over the dead fly, picks it up and drops it into the microbial fuel cell. This generates electricity to partially power the camera and robotic arm. This robot also relies on the UV fly killer parasite robot to supplement it’s energy needs.
4. UV fly killer parasite : A microbial fuel cell is housed underneath an ultra violet fly killer. As the flies expire they fall into the fuel cell generating electricity that is stored in the capacitor bank. This energy is available for the fly stealing robot.
5. Fly-paper robotic clock : This robot uses flypaper on a roller mechanism to entrap insects. As the flypaper passes over a blade, captured insects are scraped into a microbial fuel cell. Electricity is generated to turn the rollers and power a small LCD clock.

Small scale MFCs – Large scale power / By I.Ieropoulos, J.Greenman and C.Melhuish
Abstract : “This study reports on the findings from the investigation into small scale (6.25mL) Microbial Fuel Cells (MFC), connected together as a network of multiple units. The MFCs contained unmodified (no catalyst) carbon fibre electrodes and a standard ion-exchange membrane for the proton transfer from the anode to the cathode. A stack of four (4) of these units connected together were – in terms of volume – the equivalent of a single analytical size (25mL) MFC with the same unmodified electrode material and PEM, but produced a peak power density of 60mW/m2. This was 2 orders of magnitude higher than the
power density produced from a single analytical size MFC. The anode microbial culture was of the type commonly found in domestic wastewater fed with 5mM acetate as the carbon-energy (C/E) source. The cultures had matured in the MFC environment for approximately 2 months before being re-inoculated in the experimental MFC units. The cathode was of the O2 diffusion open-to-air type, but for the purposes of the polarization experimental runs, the cathodic electrodes were moistened with ferricyanide solution, which performs more efficiently during the initial experimental stages. It is furthermore shown that polarity reversal is a function of MFC internal impedance. This occurs in series connected networks in which one or more MFCs have developed a different to the rest of the stack internal resistance. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first report on small scale MFCs producing such high power density figures.”

“With readily-available chemicals (such as methylene blue), the fuel cell can be used to generate a small electrical current from the metabolic activities of ordinary yeast! Fuel cells like this are now used by a leading UK brewery to test the activity of the yeast used for their ales. The NCBE’s improved high-quality cell is supplied with neoprene gaskets, carbon fibre electrode material, cation-exchange membrane and an illustrated instruction booklet. The microbial fuel cell is ideal for investigations of respiration and students have even won prizes with it at international science fairs.”

Self-sustaining killer robot creates a stink
By Duncan Graham-Rowe / 09 September 2004

dn6366-1_250 It may eat flies and stink to high heaven, but if this robot works, it will be an important step towards making robots fully autonomous. To survive without human help, a robot needs to be able to generate its own energy. So Chris Melhuish and his team of robotics experts at the University of the West of England in Bristol are developing a robot that catches flies and digests them in a special reactor cell that generates electricity. So what is the downside? The robot will most likely have to attract the hapless flies by using a stinking lure concocted from human excrement. Called EcoBot II, the robot is part of a drive to make “release and forget” robots that can be sent into dangerous or inhospitable areas to carry out remote industrial or military monitoring of, say, temperature or toxic gas concentrations. Sensors on the robot feed a data logger that periodically radios the results back to a base station.

Exoskeleton electricity
The robot’s energy source is the sugar in the polysaccharide called chitin that makes up a fly’s exoskeleton. EcoBot II digests the flies in an array of eight microbial fuel cells (MFCs), which use bacteria from sewage to break down the sugars, releasing electrons that drive an electric current (see graphic). In its present form, EcoBot II still has to be manually fed fistfuls of dead bluebottles, but the ultimate aim of the UWE robotics team is to make the droid predatory, using sewage as a bait to catch the flies. “One of the great things about flies is that you can get them to come to you,” says Melhuish. The team has yet to tackle this, but speculates that it would involve using a bottleneck-style flytrap with some form of pump to suck the flies into the digestion chambers. With a top speed of 10 centimetres per hour, EcoBot II’s roving prowess is still modest to say the least. “Every 12 minutes it gets enough energy to take a step forwards two centimetres and send a transmission back,” says Melhuish. But it does not need to catch too many flies to do so, says team member Ioannis Ieropoulos. In tests, EcoBot II travelled for five days on just eight fat flies – one in each MFC.

Donated sewage
So how do flies get turned into electricity? Each MFC comprises an anaerobic chamber filled with raw sewage slurry – donated by UWE’s local utility, Wessex Water. The flies become food for the bacteria that thrive in the slurry. Enzymes produced by the bacteria break down the chitin to release sugar molecules. These are then absorbed and metabolised by the bacteria. In the process, the bacteria release electrons that are harnessed to create an electric current. Previous efforts to use carnivorous MFCs to drive a robot included an abortive UWE effort: the Slugbot. This was designed to hunt slugs on farms by using imaging systems to spot and grab the pests, and then deliver them to a digester that produces methane to power a fuel cell. The electricity generated would have been used to charge the Slugbot when it arrived at a docking station. But the methane-based system took too long to produce power, and the team realised that MFCs offered far more promise. Elsewhere, researchers in Florida created a train-like robot dubbed Chew Chew (New Scientist print edition, 22 July 2000) that used MFCs to charge a battery, but the bacteria had to be fed on sugar cubes. For an autonomous robot to survive in the wild, relying on such refined foodstuffs is not an option, says Melhuish. EcoBot II, on the other hand, is the first robot to use unrefined fuel. Just do not stand downwind.

Artificial symbiosis: Towards a robot-microbe partnership
By Ioannis Ieropoulos, Chris Melhuish, John Greenman, Ian Horsfield
Abstract : “The development of the robot EcoBot II, which exhibits some partial form of
energetic autonomy, is reported. Microbial Fuel Cells were used as the onboard self-
sustaining power supply, which incorporated bacterial cultures from sewage sludge
and employed oxygen from free air for oxidation in the cathode. This robot was able
to perform phototaxis, temperature sensing and wireless transmission of sensed data
when fed (amongst other substrates) with flies. This is the first robot in the world, to
utilise unrefined substrate, oxygen from free air and perform (three) different token
tasks. The work presented in this paper focuses on the combination of flies (substrate)
and oxygen (cathode) to power the EcoBot II.”

email : Ioannis.Ieropoulos [at] [dot] uk


‘Electricity from landfill leachate using microbial fuel cells’ / By J.Greenman, A.Gálvez, L.Giusti, I.Ieropoulos

Bug-Eating Robots Use Flies for Fuel
BY Sean Markey / March 31, 2006

At the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in England, researchers are designing their newest bug-eating robot—Ecobot III. The device is the latest in a series of small robots to emerge from the lab that are powered by a diet of insects and other biomass. “We all talk about robots being able to do stuff on their own, being intelligent and autonomous,” said lab director Chris Melhuish. “But the truth of the fact is that without energy, they can’t do anything at all.” Most robots today draw that energy from electrical cords, solar panels, or batteries. But in the future some robots will need to operate beyond the reach of power grids, sunlight, or helping human hands. Melhuish and his colleagues think such release-and-forget robots can satisfy their energy needs the same way wild animals do—by foraging for food. “Animals are the proof that this is possible,” he said.

Over the last decade, Melhuish’s team has produced a string of bots powered by sugar, rotten apples, or dead flies. The biomass is converted into electricity through a series of stomachlike microbial fuel cells, or MFCs. Living batteries, MFCs generate power from colonies of bacteria that release electrons as the microorganisms digest plant and animal matter. (Electricity is simply a flow of electrons.) The lab’s first device, named Slugbot, was an artificial predator that hunted for common garden slugs. While Slugbot never digested its prey, it laid the groundwork for future bots powered by biomass. In 2004 researchers unveiled Ecobot II. About the size of a dessert plate, the device could operate for 12 days on a diet of eight flies. “The flies [were] given as a whole insect to each of the fuel cells on board the robot,” said Ioannis Ieropoulos, who co-developed Ecobot II as part of his Ph.D. research. With its capacitors charged, the bot could roll 3 to 6 inches (8 to 16 centimeters) an hour, moving toward light while recording temperature. It sent data via a radio transmitter. While hardly a speedster, Ecobot II was the first robot powered by biomass that could sense its world, process it, act in it, and communicate, Melhuish says. The scientist sees analogs in the autonomously powered robots of the future. “If you really do want robots that are going to … monitor fences, [oceans], pollution levels, or carbon dioxide—all of those things—what you need are very, very cheap little robots,” he said. “Now our robots are quite big. But in 20 to 30 years time, they could be quite minuscule.”

More Power
Whether microbial fuel-cell technology can advance enough to power those robots, however, is unclear. Stuart Wilkinson, a mechanical engineer at the University of South Florida in Tampa, developed the world’s first biomass-powered robot, a toy-train-like bot nicknamed Chew-Chew that ran on sugar cubes. He says the major drawback of MFCs is that it takes a big fuel cell to produce a small amount of power. Most AA batteries, for example, produce far more power than a single MFC. “MFCs are capable of running low-power electronics, but are not well suited to power-hungry motors needed for machine motion,” Wilkinson said in an email interview. He added that scientists “need to develop MFC technology further before it can be of much practical use for robot propulsion.” Ieropoulos, Ecobot II’s co-developer, agrees that MFCs need a power boost. He and his colleagues are exploring ways to improve the materials used in MFCs and to maintain resident microbes at their peak.

Bot Weaning
To date, the Bristol team has hand-fed its bots. But if the researchers are going to realize their vision of autonomously powered robots, then the machines will need to start gathering their own food. When Ecobot II debuted in 2004, Melhuish suggested one way that it might lure and capture its fly food-source: a combination fly-trap/suction pump baited with pheromones. Whether the accessory will appear in Ecobot III is anyone’s guess. The BRL team remains tight-lipped about their current project, preferring to finish their work in secret before discussing it publicly. Melhuish will say this, however: “What we’ve got to do is develop a better digestion system … . There are many, many problems that have to be overcome, and waste removal is one of them.”


By Noah Shachtman / October 18, 2007
“The tragedy in South Africa that killed nine soldiers isn’t the first time a robotic weapon has spun out of control. Here’s a video I obtained a few years back, showing a XM-101 Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station connected to an Apache chaingun, emptying its magazine of 30 mm high explosive rounds — and then turning towards the camera, looking for new targets to nail. I’m told — but cannot confirm — that this footage was shot during a demonstration for VIPs, and that several members of Congress would’ve been in serious jeopardy, had the weapon not run out of ammo. {thanks to info from KS, who “was there when it happened, and I was lying flat on the ground together with US Army officers.}”

Did software kill soldiers?
BY Leon Engelbrecht / 16 October 2007

The National Defence Force is probing whether a software glitch led to an antiaircraft cannon malfunction that killed nine soldiers and seriously injured 14 others during a shooting exercise on Friday. SA National Defence Force spokesman brigadier general Kwena Mangope says the cause of the malfunction is not yet known and will be determined by a Board of Inquiry. The police are conducting a separate investigation into the incident. Media reports say the shooting exercise, using live ammunition, took place at the SA Army’s Combat Training Centre, at Lohatlha, in the Northern Cape, as part of an annual force preparation endeavour. Mangope told The Star that it “is assumed that there was a mechanical problem, which led to the accident. The gun, which was fully loaded, did not fire as it normally should have,” he said. “It appears as though the gun, which is computerised, jammed before there was some sort of explosion, and then it opened fire uncontrollably, killing and injuring the soldiers.” Other reports have suggested a computer error might have been to blame. Defence pundit Helmoed-Römer Heitman told the Weekend Argus that if “the cause lay in computer error, the reason for the tragedy might never be found”. Electronics engineer and defence company CEO Richard Young says he can’t believe the incident was purely a mechanical fault. He says his company, C2I2, in the mid 1990s, was involved in two air defence artillery upgrade programmes, dubbed Projects Catchy and Dart.

Software details
During the shooting trials at Armscor’s Alkantpan shooting range, “I personally saw a gun go out of control several times,” Young says. “They made a temporary rig consisting of two steel poles on each side of the weapon, with a rope in between to keep the weapon from swinging. The weapon eventually knocked the polls down.” Young says he was also told at the time that the gun’s original equipment manufacturer, Oerlikon, had warned that the GDF Mk V twin 35mm cannon system was not designed for fully automatic control. Yet the guns were automated. At the time, SA was still subject to an arms embargo and Oerlikon played no role in the upgrade. “If I was an engineer on the Board of Inquiry, I would ask for all details about the software for the fire control system and gun drives,” Young says. “If it was not a mechanical or operating system error, you must find out which company developed the software and did the upgrade.”

Young says in the 1990s the defence force’s acquisitions agency, Armscor, allocated project money on a year-by-year basis, meaning programmes were often rushed. “It would not surprise me if major shortcuts were taken in the qualification of the upgrades. A system like that should never fail to the dangerous mode [rather to the safe mode], except if it was a shoddy design or a shoddy modification. “I think there have been multiple failures here; in software and the absence of interlocking safeguards.” He asks if the guns were given arcs of fire and whether these were enforced with electromechanical end stops. “On a firing range you don’t want guns to fire through 360 degrees.” Oerlikon’s local agent, Intertechnic, did not respond to requests for comment. The SANDF said investigations were still under way. The air defence artillery will, in the next two years, receive new missiles, radar and computer-based fire control equipment worth R3 billion as part of projects Guardian and Protector.



Two years ago, a military robot used in the South African army killed nine soldiers after a malfunction. Earlier this year, a Swedish factory was fined after a robot machine injured one of the workers (though part of the blame was assigned to the worker). Robots have been found guilty of other smaller offenses such as an incorrectly responding to a request. So how do you prevent problems like this from happening? Stop making psychopathic robots, say robot experts. “If you build artificial intelligence but don’t think about its moral sense or create a conscious sense that feels regret for doing something wrong, then technically it is a psychopath,” says Josh Hall, a scientist who wrote the book Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of a Machine. For years, science fiction author Issac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics were regarded as sufficient for robotics enthusiasts. The laws, as first laid out in the short story “Runaround,” were simple: A robot may not injure a human being or allow one to come to harm; a robot must obey orders given by human beings; and a robot must protect its own existence. Each of the laws takes precedence over the ones following it, so that under Asimov’s rules, a robot cannot be ordered to kill a human, and it must obey orders even if that would result in its own destruction. But as robots have become more sophisticated and more integrated into human lives, Asimov’s laws are just too simplistic, says Chien Hsun Chen, coauthor of a paper published in the International Journal of Social Robotics last month. The paper has sparked off a discussion among robot experts who say it is time for humans to get to work on these ethical dilemmas.

Accordingly, robo-ethicists want to develop a set of guidelines that could outline how to punish a robot, decide who regulates them and even create a ”legal machine language” that could help police the next generation of intelligent automated devices. Even if robots are not entirely autonomous, there needs to be a clear path of responsibility laid out for their actions, says Leila Katayama, research scientist at open-source robotics developer Willow Garage. “We have to know who takes credit when the system does well and when it doesn’t,” she says. “That needs to be very transparent.” A human-robot co-existence society could emerge by 2030, says Chen in his paper. Already iRobot’s Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner and Scooba floor cleaner are a part of more than 3 million American households. The next generation robots will be more sophisticated and are expected to provide services such as nursing, security, housework and education. These machines will have the ability to make independent decisions and work reasonably unsupervised. That’s why, says Chen, it may be time to decide who regulates robots.

The rules for this new world will have to cover how humans should interact with robots and how robots should behave. Responsibility for a robot’s actions is a one-way street today, says Hall. “So far, it’s always a case that if you build a machine that does something wrong it is your fault because you built the machine,” he says. “But there’s a clear day in the future that we will build machines that are complex enough to make decisions and we need to be ready for that.” Assigning blame in case of a robot-related accident isn’t always straightforward. Earlier this year, a Swedish factory was fined after a malfunctioning robot almost killed a factory worker who was attempting to repair the machine generally used to lift heavy rocks. Thinking he had cut off the power supply, the worker approached the robot without any hesitation but the robot came to life and grabbed the victim’s head. In that case, the prosecutor held the factory liable for poor safety conditions but also lay part of the blame on the worker. “Machines will evolve to a point where we will have to increasingly decide whether the fault for doing something wrong lies with someone who designed the machine or the machine itself,” says Hall. Rules also need to govern social interaction between robots and humans, says Henrik Christensen, head of robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Computing. For instance, robotics expert Hiroshi Ishiguro has created a bot based on his likeness. “There we are getting into the issue of how you want to interact with these robots,” says Christensen. “Should you be nice to a person and rude to their likeness? Is it okay to kick a robot dog but tell your kids to not do that with a normal dog? How do you tell your children about the difference?”

Christensen says ethics around robot behavior and human interaction is not so much to protect either, but to ensure the kind of interaction we have with robots is the “right thing.” Some of these guidelines will be hard-coded into the machines, others will become part of the software and a few will require independent monitoring agencies, say experts. That will also require creating a “legal machine language,” says Chen. That means a set of non-verbal rules, parts or all of which can be encoded in the robots. These rules would cover areas such as usability that would dictate, for instance, how close a robot can come to a human under various conditions, and safety guidelines that would conform to our current expectations of what is lawful. Still the efforts to create a robot that can successfully interact with humans over time will likely be incomplete, say experts. “People have been trying to sum up what we mean by moral behavior in humans for thousands of years,” says Hall. “Even if we get guidelines on robo-ethics the size of the federal code it would still fall short. Morality is impossible to write in formal terms.”

Yueh-Hsuan Weng
email :

CODING AN ETHICAL PATCH / Embedding Ethics Into Military Robots

Ronald Arkin
email : arkin [at] gatech [dot] edu


Q&A: Robotics engineer aims to give robots a humane touch
by Dara Kerr / July 8, 2009

“Right now, we are looking at designing systems that can comply with internationally prescribed laws of war and our own codes of conduct and rules of engagement. We’ve decided it is important to embed in these systems with the moral emotion of guilt.” –Ronald Arkin

Can robots be more humane than humans in fighting wars? Robotics engineer Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute of Technology believes this is a not-too-distant possibility. He has just finished a three-year contract with the U.S. Army designing software to create ethical robots.
As robots are increasingly being used by the U.S. military, Arkin has devoted his lifework to configuring robots with a built-in “guilt system” that eventually could make them better at avoiding civilian casualties than human soldiers. These military robots would be embedded with internationally prescribed laws of war and rules of engagement, such as those in the Geneva Conventions.

Arkin talked with CNET News about how robots can be ethically programmed and some of the philosophical questions that come up when using machines in warfare. Below is an edited excerpt of our conversation.

Q: What made you first begin thinking about designing software to create ethical robots?
Arkin: I’d been working in robotics for almost 25 years and I noticed the successes that had been happening in the field. Progress had been steady and sure and it started to dawn on me that these systems are ready, willing, and able to begin going out into the battlefield on behalf of our soldiers. Then the question came up–what is the right ethical basis for these systems? How are we going to ensure that they could behave appropriately to the standards we set for our human war fighters?
In 2004, at the first international symposium on roboethics in Sanremo, Italy, we had speakers from the Vatican, the Geneva Conventions, the Pugwash Institute, and it became clear that this was a pressing problem. Trying to view myself as a responsible scientist, I felt it was important to do something about it and that got me embarked on this quest.

Q. What do you mean by an ethical robot? How would a robot feel empathy?
Arkin: I didn’t say it would feel empathy, I said ethical. Empathy is another issue and that is for a different domain. We are talking about battlefield robots in the work I am currently doing. That is not to say I’m not interested in those other questions and I hope to move my research, in the future, in that particular direction. Right now, we are looking at designing systems that can comply with internationally prescribed laws of war and our own codes of conduct and rules of engagement. We’ve decided it is important to embed in these systems with the moral emotion of guilt. We use this as a means of downgrading the robots’ ability to engage targets if it is acting in ways which exceed the predicted battle damage in certain circumstances.

Q. You’ve written about a built-in “guilt system.” Is this what you’re talking about?
Arkin: We have incorporated a component called an “ethical adaptor” by studying the models of guilt that human beings have and embedding those within a robotic system. The whole purpose of this is very focused and what makes it tractable is that we’re dealing with something called “bounded morality,” which is understanding the particular limit of the situation that the robot is to operate in. We have thresholds established for analogs of guilt that cause the robot to eventually refuse to use certain classes of weapons systems (or refuse to use weapons entirely) if it gets to a point where the predictions it’s making are unacceptable by its own standards.

Q. You, the engineer, decide the ethics, right?
Arkin: We don’t engineer the ethics; the ethics come from treaties that have been designed by lawyers and philosophers. These have been codified over thousands of years and now exist as international protocol. What we engineer is translating those laws and rules of engagement into actionable items that the robot can understand and work with.

Q. So, right now, you’re working on software for the ethical robot and you have a contract with the U.S. Army, right?
Arkin: We actually just finished, as of (July 1), the three-year project we had for the U.S. Army, which was designing prototype software for the U.S. Army Research Office. This isn’t software that is intended to go into the battlefield anytime soon–it is all proof of concept–we are striving to show that the systems can potentially function with an ethical basis. I believe our prototype design has demonstrated that.

Q. Robot drones like land mine detectors are already used by the military, but are controlled by humans. How would an autonomous robot be different in the battlefield?
Arkin: Drones usually refer to unmanned aero vehicles. Let me make sure we’re talking about the same sort of thing–you’re talking about ground vehicles for detecting improvised explosive devices?

Q. Either one, either air or land.
Arkin: Well, they’d be used in different ways. There are already existing autonomous systems that are either in development or have been deployed by the military. It’s all a question of how you define autonomy. The trip-wire for how we talk about autonomy, in this context, is whether an autonomous system (after detecting a target) can engage that particular target without asking for any further human intervention at that particular point. There is still a human in the loop when we tell a squad of soldiers to go into a building and take it using whatever force is necessary. That is still a high-level command structure, but the soldiers have the ability to engage targets on their own. With the increased battlefield tempo, things are moving much faster than they did 40 or 100 years ago, and it becomes harder for humans to make intelligent, rational decisions. As such, it is my contention that these systems, ultimately, can lead to a reduction in non-combatant fatalities over human level performance. That’s not to say that I don’t have the utmost respect for our war fighters in the battlefield, I most certainly do and I’m committed to provide them with the best technical equipment in support of their efforts as well.

Q. In your writing you say robots can be more humane than humans in the battlefield, can you elaborate on this?
Arkin: Well, I say that’s my thesis, it’s not a conclusion at this point. I don’t believe unmanned systems will be able to be perfectly ethical in the battlefield, but I am convinced (at this point in time) that they can potentially perform more ethically than human soldiers are capable of. I’m talking about wars 10 to 20 years down the field. Much more research and technology has to be developed for this vision to become a reality. But, I believe it’s an important avenue of pursuit for military research. So, if warfare is going to continue and if autonomous systems are ultimately going to be deployed, I believe it is crucial that we must have ethical systems in the battlefield. I believe that we can engineer systems that perform better than humans–we already have robots that are stronger than people, faster than people, and if you look at computers like Deep Blue we have robots that can be smarter than people. I’m not talking about replacing a human soldier in all aspects; I’m talking about using these systems in limited circumstances such as counter sniper operations or taking buildings. Under those circumstances we can engineer enough morality into them that they may indeed do better than human beings can–that’s the benchmark I’m working towards.

Q. Ok, what kind of errors could a military robot make in the battlefield in regards to ethical dilemmas?
Arkin: Well, a lot of this has been sharpened by debates with my colleagues in philosophy, computer science, and computer professionals for social responsibility. There are a lot of things that could potentially go wrong. One of the big questions (much of this is derived from what’s called “just war theory”) is responsibility–if there is a war crime, someone must be to blame. We have worked hard within our system to make sure that responsibility attribution is as clear as possible using a component called the “responsibility advisor.” To me, you can’t say the robot did it; maybe it was the soldier who deployed it, the commanding officer, the manufacturer, the designer, the scientist (such as myself) who conceived of it, or the politicians that allowed this to be used. Somehow, responsibility must be attributed. Another aspect is that technological advancement in the battlefield may make us more likely to enter into war. To me it is not unique to robotics–whenever you create something that gives you any kind of advantage, whether it is gun powder or a bow and arrow, the temptation to go off to war is more likely. Hopefully our nation has the wherewithal to be able to resist such temptation. Some argue it can’t be done right, period–it’s just too hard for machines to discriminate. I would agree it’s too hard to do it now. But with the advent of new sensors and network centric warfare where all this stuff is wired together along with the global information grid, I believe these systems will have more information available to them than any human soldier could possibly process and manage at a given point in time. Thus, they will be able to make better informed decisions. The military is concerned with squad cohesion. What happens to the “band of brothers” effect if you have a robot working alongside with a squad of human soldiers, especially if it’s one that might report back on moral infractions it observes with other soldiers in the squad? My contention is that if a robot can take a bullet for me, stick its head around a corner for me and cover my back better than Joe can, then maybe that is a small risk to take. Secondarily it can reduce the risk of human infractions in the battlefield by its mere presence. The military may not be happy with a robot with the capability of refusing an order. So we have to design a system that can explain itself. With some reluctance, I have designed an override capability for the system. But the robot will still inform the user on all the potential ethical infractions that it believes it would be making, and thus force the responsibility on the human. Also, when that override is taken, the aberrant action could be sent immediately to command for after-action review.

Q. There is a congressional mandate requiring that by 2010, one third of all operational deep-strike aircraft be unmanned and, by 2015, one third of all ground combat vehicles be unmanned. How soon could we see this autonomous robot software being used in the field?
Arkin: There is a distinction between unmanned systems and autonomous unmanned systems. That’s the interesting thing about autonomy–it’s kind of a slippery slope, decision making can be shared.
First, it can be under pure remote control by a human being. Next, there’s mixed initiative where some of the decision making rests in the robot and some of it rests in the human being. Then there’s semi-autonomy where the robot has certain functions and the human deals with it in a slightly different way. Finally, you can get more autonomous systems where the robot is tasked, it goes out and does its mission, and then returns (not unlike what you would expect from a pilot or a soldier).
The congressional mandate was marching orders for the Pentagon and the Pentagon took it very seriously. It’s not an absolute requirement but significant progress is being made. Some of the systems are far more autonomous than others–for example the PackBot in Iraq is not very autonomous at all. It is used for finding improvised explosive devices by the roadside, many of these have saved the lives of our soldiers by taking the explosion on their behalf.

Q. You just came out with a book called “Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots.” Do you want to explain in a bit more detail what it’s about?
Arkin: Basically the book covers the space of this three-year project that I just finished. It deals with the basis, motivation, underlying philosophy, and opinions people have based on a survey we did for the Army on the use of lethal autonomous robots in the battlefield. It provides the mathematical formalisms underlying the approach we take and deals with how it is to be represented internally within the robotic system. And, most significantly, it describes several scenarios in which I believe these systems can be used effectively with some preliminary prototype results showing the progress we made in this period.

“To see how commenter intelligence varies across different sites, I’ve created a scientifical method of analysis. By choosing a single story that multiple sites have reported on–Flesh Eating Robots–I’d be able to observe how different communities respond to the same stimulus.”

from reddit
Pfmohr2: “Once again, this is being taken completely too far, without proper context. Technically the title is not incorrect, but pretty damn close. This thing runs off of a biomass boiler. Now, I’m sure you all understand how a boiler works; heat+water=steam. The steam would be used to power the machine. Now, how does one create heat? Burning things. What is burned? Combustibles aka biomass. Namely wood. If you look at the designs on the claw, there is an attached chainsaw. That is because the main source of fuel for this bad boy will be wood. Technically bodies could be used, but quite frankly they are not going to burn with the consistency and intensity needed to keep that boiler going. I have literally not seen a single link to this on reddit which does not claim this thing will be fueled by bodies; technically possible, but far from the ideal fuel.”
hideogumpa: “As long as the ambulance version puts patient life above hunger, I’m cool with it.”

from the guardian
MartynInEurope: “Trust the yanks to reinvent the goat.”

FOX COVERAGE BEFORE,2933,532492,00.html
“It could be a combination of 19th-century mechanics, 21st-century technology — and a 20th-century horror movie. A Maryland company under contract to the Pentagon is working on a steam-powered robot that would fuel itself by gobbling up whatever organic material it can find — grass, wood, old furniture, even dead bodies. Robotic Technology Inc.’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that’s right, “EATR” — “can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable,” reads the company’s Web site. That “biomass” and “other organically-based energy sources” wouldn’t necessarily be limited to plant material — animal and human corpses contain plenty of energy, and they’d be plentiful in a war zone.”

FOX COVERAGE AFTER,2933,533382,00.html
Biomass-Eating Military Robot Is a Vegetarian, Company Says / 7.16.09
“A steam-powered, biomass-eating military robot being designed for the Pentagon is a vegetarian, its maker says. Robotic Technology Inc.’s Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot — that’s right, “EATR” — “can find, ingest, and extract energy from biomass in the environment (and other organically-based energy sources), as well as use conventional and alternative fuels (such as gasoline, heavy fuel, kerosene, diesel, propane, coal, cooking oil, and solar) when suitable,” reads the company’s Web site. But, contrary to reports, including one that appeared on, the EATR will not eat animal or human remains. Dr. Bob Finkelstein, president of RTI and a cybernetics expert, said the EATR would be programmed to recognize specific fuel sources and avoid others. “If it’s not on the menu, it’s not going to eat it,” Finkelstein said. “There are certain signatures from different kinds of materials” that would distinguish vegetative biomass from other material.”

RTI said Thursday in a press release: “Despite the far-reaching reports that this includes “human bodies,” the public can be assured that the engine Cyclone (Cyclone Power Technologies Inc.) has developed to power the EATR runs on fuel no scarier than twigs, grass clippings and wood chips — small, plant-based items for which RTI’s robotic technology is designed to forage. Desecration of the dead is a war crime under Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions, and is certainly not something sanctioned by DARPA, Cyclone or RTI.” EATR will be powered by the Waste Heat Engine developed by Cyclone, of Pompano Beach, Fla., which uses an “external combustion chamber” burning up fuel to heat up water in a closed loop, generating electricity. The advantages to the military are that the robot would be extremely flexible in fuel sources and could roam on its own for months, even years, without having to be refueled or serviced. Upon the EATR platform, the Pentagon could build all sorts of things — a transport, an ambulance, a communications center, even a mobile gunship. In press materials, Robotic Technology presents EATR as an essentially benign artificial creature that fills its belly through “foraging,” despite the obvious military purpose.

British blamed for Basra badgers

British forces have denied rumours that they released a plague of ferocious badgers into the Iraqi city of Basra. Word spread among the populace that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic. But several of the creatures, caught and killed by local farmers, have been identified by experts as honey badgers. The rumours spread because the animals had appeared near the British base at Basra airport. UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: “We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area. “We have been told these are indigenous nocturnal carnivores that don’t attack humans unless cornered.”

The director of Basra’s veterinary hospital, Mushtaq Abdul-Mahdi, has inspected several of the animals’ corpses. He told the AFP news agency: “These appeared before the fall of the regime in 1986. They are known locally as Al-Girta. “Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect and unscientific.” But the assurances did little to convince some members of the public. One housewife, Suad Hassan, 30, claimed she had been attacked by one of the badgers as she slept. “My husband hurried to shoot it but it was as swift as a deer,” she said. “It is the size of a dog but his head is like a monkey,” she told AFP.


From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]








“Government is an industry with a really high barrier to entry,” he
said. “You basically need to win an election or a revolution to try a
new one. That’s a ridiculous barrier to entry. And it’s got enormous
customer lock-in. People complain about their cellphone plans that are
like two years, but think of the effort that it takes to change your

Peter Thiel Makes Down Payment on Libertarian Ocean Colonies
BY Alexis Madrigal  /  05.19.08

Tired of the United States and the other 190-odd nations on Earth?

If a small team of Silicon Valley millionaires get their way, in a few
years, you could have a new option for global citizenship: A
permanent, quasi-sovereign nation floating in international waters.
With a $500,000 donation from PayPal founder Peter Thiel, a Google
engineer and a former Sun Microsystems programmer have launched The
Seasteading Institute, an organization dedicated to creating
experimental ocean communities “with diverse social, political, and
legal systems.”

“Decades from now, those looking back at the start of the century will
understand that Seasteading was an obvious step towards encouraging
the development of more efficient, practical public-sector models
around the world,” Thiel said in a statement. It might sound like the
setting for the videogame Bioshock, but the institute isn’t playing
around: It plans to splash a prototype into the San Francisco Bay
within the next two years, the first step toward establishing deep-
water city-states, or what it calls “seasteads” — homesteads on the
high seas.

Within the pantheon of would-be utopian communities, there’s a
particularly rich history of people trying to live outside the nation-
state paradigm out in the ocean. The most ambitious was Marshall
Savage’s Aquarius Project, which aimed at nothing less than the
colonization of the universe. There was also Las Vegas millionaire
Michael Oliver’s attempt to create a new island country, the Republic
of Minerva, by dredging the shallow waters near Tonga. And the Freedom
Ship was to be a mile-long portable country costing about $10 billion
to construct.

None of these projects has succeeded, a fact that The Seasteading
Institute’s founders, Google’s Patri Friedman and the semi-retired
Wayne Gramlich, are keenly aware of throughout the 300-page book
they’ve written about seasteading. Instead of starting with a grand
scheme worthy of a James Bond villain, the Institute is bringing an
entrepreneurial, DIY mentality to creating oceanic city-states.
“There’s a history of a lot of crazy people trying this sort of thing,
and the idea is to do it in a way that’s not crazy,” said Joe
Lonsdale, the institute’s chairman and a principal at Clarium Capital
Management, a multibillion-dollar hedge fund.

The seasteaders want to build their first prototype for a few million
dollars, by scaling down and modifying an existing off-shore oil rig
design known as a “spar platform.” In essence, the seastead would
consist of a reinforced concrete tube with external ballasts at the
bottom that could be filled with air or water to raise or lower the
living platform on top. The spar design helps offshore platforms
better withstand the onslaught of powerful ocean waves by minimizing
the amount of structure that is exposed to their energy. “You have
very little cross-sectional interaction with waves [with] the spar
design,” Gramlich said. The primary living space, about 300 square
feet per person, would be inside the tube, but the duo envisions the
top platform holding buildings, gardens, solar panels, wind turbines
and (of course) satellites for internet access. To some extent, they
believe the outfittings for the seastead will be dependent on the
business model, say aquaculture or tourism, that will support it and
the number of people aboard. “We’re not trying to pick the one
strategy because we think there will be multiple people who want one
for multiple reasons,” Gramlich said.

Dan Donovan, a long-time spokesman for Dominion, an energy company
that operated Gulf of Mexico-based gas rigs, including Devils Tower,
the world’s deepest spar structure, said the group’s plan wasn’t too
far-fetched. His company’s off-shore rigs, which are much larger than
the institute’s planned seasteads, provided long-term housing for its
workers. “They were sort of like mobile homes. We could move them from
one place to another,” Donovan said. “People did live on them.” But
even the institute members admit that their plans aren’t far enough
along to stand up to rigorous engineering scrutiny. Some engineers,
Gramlich said, have been skeptical of their plan, particularly their
desire to do it on the cheap. “We have some legitimate doubting
Thomases out there,” Gramlich said.

But if the idea turns out to be just crazy enough that it works,
Friedman, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the Nobel
Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, envisions transforming the
way that government functions. “My dad and grandfather were happy
arguing their ideas and were happy influencing people through the
world of ideas,” Friedman said. “I see a real need for people to go
out and do something and show by example.” True to his libertarian
leanings, Friedman looks at the situation in market terms: the
institute’s modular spar platforms, he argues, would allow for the
creation of far cheaper new countries out on the high-seas, driving
innovation. “Government is an industry with a really high barrier to
entry,” he said. “You basically need to win an election or a
revolution to try a new one. That’s a ridiculous barrier to entry. And
it’s got enormous customer lock-in. People complain about their
cellphone plans that are like two years, but think of the effort that
it takes to change your citizenship.”

Friedman estimates that it would cost a few hundred million dollars to
build a seastead for a few thousand people. With costs that low,
Friedman can see constellations of cities springing up, giving people
a variety of governmental choices. If misguided policies arose,
citizens could simply motor to a new nation. “You can change your
government without having to leave your house,” he said. Of course,
one major role of government is to provide security, which would seem
to be an issue on the open sea. But Friedman’s not worried about
defense beyond simple firearms because he thinks pirates will lack the
financial incentive to attack the seasteads. “More sophisticated
pirates will take entire container ships that have tens of millions of
dollars of cargo and 10 crew [members],” he said. “On a seastead,
there’s a much different crew-to-movable assets ratio.”

In fact, his only worry is that a government will try to come calling
and force their jurisdiction upon them. Toward that end, they are
planning to fly a “flag of convenience” from a country that sells
them, like Panama, to provide them with protection from national
navies. “If you’re not flying a flag … any country can do whatever
they want to you,” he said. Even if their big idea doesn’t end up
panning out, their story should live on in internet lore for
confirming the dream that two guys with a blog and a love of Ayn Rand
can land half a million dollars to pursue their dream, no matter how
off-kilter or off-grid it might seem. “Everything changed when we got
the funding,” Friedman said. “Before that, it was two guys with some
ideas writing a book and blogging about their ideas…. Now that we’ve
got some funding, it’s something I plan to make a full-time job out





Dynamic Geography: A Blueprint for Efficient Government
by Patri Friedman

This article briefly discusses the fundamental reasons why governments
function so poorly, and why many libertarian solutions are
insufficient to solve the problem. Government is modeled as an
industry which is shown to be lacking in competitive feedback. Based
on this, we examine ways of making government more efficient,
including an odd but elegant way of fixing this problem which has not
previously been analyzed in this context. So if you’re ready to get
your feet wet, read on!

The Problem
Those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to
repeat them.

Given how far all current governments stray from the libertarian
vision, it is natural that some of us have considered designing or
even founding a new nation. In doing so, we sometimes assume that the
major failing of present nations is the mental attitudes of their
residents. Thus to ensure that a political system works, we merely
need to start with libertarians. This is incorrect, because much of
what we don’t like about current states stems from the behavior of
systems – behavior which is to some degree independent of which humans
are involved. As an example, the USA started with liberty-minded
founders and degenerated anyway.

Alternatively, it is tempting to think that some structural problems
or lack of specificity in the constitution are the issue. If laws
required a supermajority to enact but a 1/4 vote to repeal, or if the
constitution made it clear that RKBA really means the right for anyone
to possess the most deadly weaponry available, maybe that would solve
the problem. While these issues matter, the approach is still too
superficial. Again, the USA started with a pretty darn good
constitution, and still degenerated. No matter what your starting laws
(and the Bill of Rights is pretty clear), judges must interpret them.

When we look at the empirical evidence of the twentieth century, the
libertarian case is bleak. However much we may admire it, small
government does not appear to be a stable equilibrium. Instead, the
clear pattern is growth of government spending, in absolute and
relative terms, in a variety of different first-world countries. The
budget-maximizing bureau and the ratchet of government appear to be
robust phenomena. We must not dismiss this evidence simply because it
is distasteful. Laissez-faire may be efficient, but if it is
inherently unstable there can be no Libertopia.

This stability problem is a crucial one for libertarians, perhaps the
most fundamental issue we face. We know a great deal about how things
would/should/could/did work in our vision of society. But why are such
societies so rare? Why aren’t they forming? Why do they disappear? How
can we create one that lasts? Some excellent analysis has been done on
this topic (thanks, public choice economics!). But these pressing
questions seem to receive little attention compared to minor technical
issues, despite the fact that we must answer them if we are ever to
create a stable libertarian society.

The Governing Industry
Traditional government consists of a monopoly on the use of force in
some geographic area. Generally it is extended to include monopolies
on a large number of services as well, such as courts, police,
military protection, roads, and licensing. We’ll consider all of these
as government services, and call the provision of these services the
governing industry. There are two aspects which make this industry
uncompetitive: a high cost of switching and a high barrier to entry.

High Cost of Switching
Government service providers have monopolies over wide areas. Most
people live in buildings and own lots of physical property. They are
likely to have family and friends in the surrounding geographical
area, and to work at a nearby job. While there may be people who live
in RV’s, only have friends on the internet, and telecommute every day,
they are surely rare. Thus if an individual wishes to switch
providers, they must physically relocate to a new country. This
involves an onerous series of steps: sell their house, pack up all
their possessions, quit their job, move to a new country, deal with
immigration requirements, buy a new house, get a new job, make new
friends, learn a new culture. This is an extremely costly process.

Because it is so expensive to switch service providers, the industry
has little market feedback. Jurisdictional arbitrage is ineffective
because the difference to an individual between two governments must
be higher than the cost of switching – and that cost is huge. Thus its
a great temptation for residents to stay and hope things get better,
or perhaps try to change them despite slim odds.

If it is not clear why this leads to poor service, consider a business
example. Suppose there were many competing phone companies with no
interconnection, so that you could only call people subscribed to your
provider. It is likely that your friends, family, and coworkers all
use the same provider, because convenience of communication is so
important. In fact, they’ve probably all used the same provider for
their whole lives. Once a provider had many customers signed up, it
would not have to treat them very well to keep them as customers,
because it would be so difficult for them to switch. When all phone
networks are interconnected and it takes only a few minutes to change
providers, service is vastly more efficient. The effect with
government is even stronger because physical proximity is more
important and all-encompassing than the phone network, thus people are
willing to bear higher costs to maintain it.

High Barrier to Entry
Consider two industries. One has few economies of scale, thus small
firms can enter easily. In the other, high economies of scale mean
that only a huge, highly-funded new venture can be competitive with
current firms. The first might be the computer applications market and
the second the computer operating system market. When the barrier to
entry is low, many innovative firms will compete to provide the best
product. When it is high, a small number of entrenched firms fight to
maintain their position.

The barrier to entry in the government market is gargantuan. While it
is possible to control small parts of a democracy without great
expenditure, creating a new system or taking over the existing one are
very difficult. Bloody revolution is the usual route, and those
attempting it must risk death with little chance of success. All land
is claimed, and its current possessors have a great deal of interest
in maintaining the status quo. The recent US invasion of Iraq
demonstrates the tremendous expense and difficulty of regime change.

This high barrier means that the governing market contains a small
number of large firms. The industry lacks the continual growth,
innovation, and energy produced by a constant stream of small
experiments and ventures. Currently, small groups of people cannot
readily experiment with new systems. This deprives the world of useful
information about improved ways of governing – as well as letting
people keep their illusions about methods which would prove disastrous
in practice.

Further evidence that these two conditions are key to the poor
provision of services is found by examining the few governmental
services with a much lower cost of switching and barrier to entry. For
example, incorporation and ship chartering do not require physical
presence, and both are among the minority of profitable government-run
businesses. It is no surprise that for this small subset of “virtual”
services, jurisdictional arbitrage is alive and well.

Aside: applying these two criteria to the Windows OS explains why it
is of low quality, while Microsoft makes much better products for more
competitive industries.

Now that we have considered government as an industry and realized
that it is a very uncompetitive one, we should be unsurprised that
existing governments do such a poor job. Without competition and
market feedback, we should not expect significant improvement –
regardless of superficial reforms. Changing one part of one system is
not enough, we must change the meta-system under which systems evolve.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is
striking at the root.
— Henry David Thoreau

Industries are not made competitive by rhetoric, and the governing
industry is no exception. Instead, we must change the incentive
structure which leads to stagnant, exploitative governments. The above
analysis suggests that lowering the barrier to entry and the cost of
switching is likely to be effective. How can this be done?

One answer is a heirarchical system of alliances like medieval
feudalism. Each unit can choose which higher-level unit it is
affiliated with, and thus shop around for the best deal. This actually
created a competitive system, as Robert Wright describes in Non-Zero

Why were these ruling elites more open to change than Rome’s
ruling elites? One reason, some historians say, was the decentralized
nature of feudalism. Feudal lords often had the leeway to rewrite the
rules in their territory, and they also had the incentive –
competition with neighboring lords. As savvy lords tried to foster
more prosperity than their neighbors, the many fractal units of
feudalism became, in effect, laboratories for non-zero-sumness,
competing with each other to raise productivity. [1]

He also reports that this competition in the governing industry may
have contributed substantially to Europe’s technological advantage.
Unfortunately, there are problems with this method. For example,
stable units in feudalism tend to be geographically compact, and
geographic features constrain the possible configurations. So a unit
will often have only 2 options for affiliation – or if its not on a
border, no options at all.

One system fairly well-known in libertarian circles is called anarcho-
capitalism. The idea is that all of the services of government are
provided by private businesses. No one provider has a monopoly on any
service or area. For example, police functions would be the domain of
“protection agencies”, and disputes would be settled in private
courts. We will not examine the system in detail here (see [2]).
Instead, we will examine how AC fits into our model.

AC lowers the barrier to entry, because a new firm would only have to
enter a specific industry (like fire protection) in a certain area.
Some governing service industries may have high economies of scale and
be natural monopolies, but it is unlikely that all are. Unlike
monolithic governments, anarcho-capitalism allows for competition in
the non-monopolistic fields. AC also dramatically lowers the cost of
switching because people would not have to physically move in order to
change service providers – it would be like changing insurance agents
is today. Additionally they are free to choose a different provider
for each service. Thus to stay in business a provider must be
competitive, or its stream of customers will dry up. It is not merely
protecting a rent-generating resource like a traditional state.

The main objection raised to AC is stability – whether the power
vacuum of having no central government will inevitably lead to one
forming [3]. Critics say the protection agencies will just join
together to tyrannize the population. While the scant historical
evidence does not support this prediction of failure via swift descent
into totalitarianism, it does not point towards long-term stability
either. Rather, situations such as an external threat to the anarchy
cause centralized control to develop. Once in place, regardless of
what happens with the original threat, government gradually
strengthens its hold. This is a typical example of the so-called
ratchet effect which is a major contributor to the continual growth of
government [4].

Dynamic Geography
In The Machinery of Freedom, David Friedman used the following
metaphor to show the benefits of anarcho-capitalism:

Consider our world as it would be if the cost of moving from one
country to another were zero. Everyone lives in a housetrailer and
speaks the same language. One day, the president of France announces
that because of troubles with neighboring countries, new military
taxes are being levied and conscription will begin shortly. The next
morning the president of France finds himself ruling a peaceful but
empty landscape, the population having been reduced to himself, three
generals, and twenty-seven war correspondents. [2]

Taking this metaphor literally suggests an alternative strategy.
Suppose that the cost of physically switching countries really could
be dramatically reduced. Even though each country retained a monopoly
on its geographic territory, governments would be forced to compete
for citizens by providing services more efficiently. Governing would
be more like long-distance phone carriers less like operating systems.
But how?

While the answer is not to put wheels on our houses, some may find it
equally counterintuitive – to build floating cities from detachable,
modular units. The general concept is by no means an original idea, as
floating cities have long been a part of the nation-founding fringe.
Because all land is under the control of nations with no interest in
selling sovereignty, nation-founders have been forced to consider the
oceans. Yet far from being a booby prize, it appears that the sea may
be ideally suited to sustaining free societies.

The geography of land is fixed, and the cost of transporting things
over it is high. Moving buildings is rarely feasible. Buildings and
heavy possessions are valuable and important, which makes control over
physical territory important. Water, however, is a fluid medium. Even
large buildings, if floating, could be towed to new locations quite
cheaply (think cruise ships). So the geography of the oceans is
dynamic – pieces of territory need not maintain a fixed spatial

The consequences of this geography should be clear from Friedman’s
story. If an individual structure can cheaply relocate to another
jurisdiction, the cost of switching governments is low. The streets
which make up a town, the towns which make up a county, the counties
which make up a state – each level can switch its affiliation to get a
better deal. This switch is not merely virtual as in feudalism, since
it can involve physically moving the entire area. If the state tries
to impose a sales tax on Monday, the capitol building may be all
that’s left of the city by Tuesday. When leaving is easy, exploitation
is difficult.

The barrier to entry is much lower on the ocean as well, because the
geography of floating cities can be dynamically grown as well as re-
arranged. A new government no longer has to fight a war over some
already-claimed piece of land. It can simply take some small bit of
the vast empty oceans as its own. While location does matter, the
oceans are far more homogenous than land, and so there will be less
contention for prime real estate.

As mentioned earlier, one of the major factors bloating governments is
the ratchet effect. Because dynamic geography can also be shrunk, it
provides a potential “reset button” to help counter ratcheting.
Imagine a platform city where the government has become too repressive
or inefficient. A single platform decides to disengage and anchor a
mile away, forming a new government. More follow. Eventually, the
entire city may have relocated to the new position, with exactly the
same set of platforms, but an entirely new government. In practice, it
is likely that the threat of this possibility will keep it from being
necessary. While a reset policy could be made part of a terrestrial
constitution, the powers-that-be will have great incentive to fight
the reset. When citizens can just walk out and take friends, family,
and office with them, resetting is harder to stop. This sort of reset
is incremental, so it has no single point of failure. Stopping a
terrestrial reset might just require winning a vote. Stopping a
dynamic reset requires limiting the freedom of movement of every
module in the city.

This solution can be foiled. If a government physically prevents
modules from leaving, they have terrestrialized the city – and can
proceed to terrorize it. But while this is a genuine danger, the
aquatic city is still relatively better off. On land, buildings and
land are inescapably trapped in place. On the ocean there is always
some chance that a platform might, through valour or stealth, make a
daring escape. Further, this restriction will have to be sprung quite
suddenly, as I believe that the freedom of physical association will
be considered the most fundamental right of a platform. It will be
revered as free speech and property rights are by libertarians today,
for it ensures explicit, voluntary participation in the social

Dynamic geography moves power downwards towards the smallest separable
unit. Depending on various factors, the smallest economically feasible
unit might be as small as a single residence, or it might have to
house some 10-100 people. Either way, this size will allow far more
individual influence and accountability than in current huge,
monolithic, winner-take-all political systems. Not only will
government be more efficient, but it is likely to be more diverse.
There seems to be a fair variety in people’s tastes for political
systems, so with a lower barrier to entry firms will arise to serve
many niche markets.

Part of why this idea is so powerful is that you don’t need to believe
in it for it to work. The governing market will have different
characteristics under a different incentive structure, regardless of
the particular political beliefs of its citizens. This avoids the weak
link of many utopian ideas, which require everyone to See The Light.
The only convincing required is to start the process, and since its
incremental only a few people need be persuaded at each step. As
floating cities grow, the additional evidence that they are nice
places to live convinces those on the margin, which produces more
evidence, and so forth.

A disadvantage to DG is that the oceans are a difficult and resource-
poor environment. One might ask whether the advantages of efficient
government are worth it. Empirically, the answer appears to be yes.
For example, consider cities like Hong Kong and Las Vegas. With few
natural resources, they have enjoyed tremendous economic growth by
providing an environment of freedom. In our complex global economy,
there is plenty of work to be done besides extracting natural

You can see why governing floating cities will be a dynamic,
competitive industry. As with any such industry, I have great
confidence that it will produce useful innovations I would never have
dreamed of. DG, like AC, produces good government through competition.
I don’t claim this will result in utopia, but it will increase both
private freedom and the efficiency of public efforts. Note that the
advantages of dynamic geography are not specific to libertarian or AC
politics – all kinds of government will be made more efficient by DG.
In fact, it may turn out that both communism and anarcho-capitalism
are infeasible on land but workable at sea.

Are such settlements technologically feasible? I have done a fair
amount of research on the subject and concluded that they are not only
practical but reasonably cost-effective. I am currently writing a book
on the subject, called Seasteading. For more detailed information, see
the draft, which is available on the web [5]. Note that even if the
technical problems are an issue, we have transformed a political
problem into an engineering one – and humans are good at solving
engineering problems.

Dynamic Anarchism
Under anarcho-capitalism, individuals are free to switch providers of
any individual service without physically moving. In dynamic
geography, modules can always choose an entirely different government
by switching location. There is no conflict between these ideas, and
in fact a great deal of synergy. An AC system seems much more likely
to form and remain stable under DG, for several reasons.

For example, governments currently have huge profits from their
monopolies on coercion. This gives them a great deal of incentive to
fight the emergence of an AC system, and a large pool of resources to
fight it with. In the competitive market of governing a dynamic
geography, the profit for providing services is dramatically
decreased. This will make it much it easier for AC (or other
alternative systems) to emerge.

As we mentioned earlier, a frequent criticism of AC is the stability
problem – what happens if all the protection agencies gang up to form
a government. This is much less of a worry when potential victims can
physically move away at low cost. Like the president of France, the
protection agency cartel may form a monopoly – only to discover that
its territory consists of its corporate headquarters and a few waves.
Its rank and file should be able to get new jobs easily, as the
protection agencies in the newly formed city on the horizon are hiring
like mad – but its executives will have a more difficult time.

Thus dynamic geography may finally strengthen anarchy’s weakest link.
It is difficult to seize hold of water – it tends to fragment into
tiny pieces and swirl away. Counterintuitive though it may be, this
apparently shifty foundation will provide a stable base for anarchy.

Dynamic geography leverages the peculiar nature of the oceans to
create a free society. It is interesting to consider how broadly
applicable this technique is. Well, the next frontier will be space.
Space contains planets, some of which have static geographies, and
others (gas giants, worlds with liquid surfaces) have dynamic ones.
But most of space consists simply of…space – which is clearly an
environment of dynamic geography. Gravity wells do place severe limits
on movement, but the utter lack of friction means that gigantic
objects can be moved cheaply. In other words, dynamic geography is not
merely a local quirk, it holds for most of the universe.

So the bad news is that our current residences are unlikely to ever
enjoy high levels of freedom or support stable anarchy. The good news
is that 70% of the earth’s surface and 99.9999…% of the universe
have the necessary characteristic. The landlubbers and groundhogs can
keep their monopoly-inducing dirt – we’ll take everything else.

Mark Twain once said “Buy land. They’ve stopped making it.” When he is
finally disproved, I predict that a great deal of political change
will result.

Thanks to Wayne Gramlich and David Friedman for their inspirational
ideas, and to the Libertarian Nation Foundation for giving me a reason
to write this up.

[1] Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright. Pantheon
Books, 2000. ISBN: 0-679-44252-9.
[2] Friedman, David D: 1973. Machinery of Freedom: Guide To A Radical
Capitalism (New York, NY, Harper & Row).
A few chapters are webbed at:
[3] For an example of an article arguing that AC is unstable, see Paul
Birch’s Anarcho-Capitalism Dissolves Into City-States
[4] Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Epsiodes in the Growth of American
Government, Robert Higgs, Oxford University Press.
[5] The seasteading website and book can be found at:







Shipping Out U.S. Jobs — to a Ship
BY Michael Hiltzik  /  May 2, 2005

The public reaction was predictable when word first got out of SeaCode
Inc.’s proposal to house 600 foreign software engineers on a cruise
ship moored three miles off the California coast, thus undercutting
U.S. wage rates and circumventing local labor rules. The veteran
technology columnist John Dvorak described the vessel as a “slave
ship.” Other critics preferred the label “sweatshop.” The words
“exploitative” and “inhumane” caromed around the Web. The image that
first leaped to my own rather more literary mind was of the floating
prison hulks that housed the convict Abel Magwitch in “Great
Expectations.” Roger Green tried to take the rhetoric philosophically.
“We know we’ll be a lightning rod,” Green, 58, a co-founder and chief
operating officer of the San Diego company, told me. “But my hope is
we’ll get our story out.”

The story is SeaCode’s plan to help clients overcome the drawbacks of
outsourcing sophisticated engineering work overseas. The chief benefit
of offshoring — the low pay scales in India and elsewhere — often is
offset by the cost of flying executives out to monitor progress, the
time difference (you have to be awake at 10:30 p.m. in California to
reach India at noon) and the doubtful security of intellectual
property abroad. When a mutual friend hooked up Green, a manager of
corporate software projects, with David Cook, 42, a former tanker
captain who had moved into the information technology business, their
complementary skills suggested a way to bring low-cost offshore labor
near to hand. (The mutual friend, Joe Conway, is SeaCode’s third co-

For all the skepticism that has greeted this proposal, it hardly
sounds like the launch of a slave ship. SeaCode says it will pay two
to three times the going rate for foreign IT workers, which works out
to as much as $24,000 for lower-level jobs and $60,000 for senior
programmers. They’ll work in two shifts of 12 hours each, spending
four months on board and two months off, with flights home provided by
contract. Assuming they’re cleared by immigration authorities, they’ll
be able to take shore leave whenever they’re off duty.

Clients, meanwhile, will gain an inexpensive workforce no farther away
than a coast-to-coast flight, allowing for more direct supervision of
projects than they could achieve at longer range. SeaCode also
promises to provide better security for client data than can be
offered abroad. The company says that the cost of maintaining a
floating software lab requires it to look for high-value software
development, not grunt work; it expects most of its employees will
have master’s degrees or better. The actual recruiting of engineers,
along with the acquisition of a ship, won’t take place until it signs
one or two major clients, which it hopes will happen in the next few

The ship’s location just outside the three-mile limit will exempt it
from California labor and environmental regulations, but not
international maritime labor rules or federal regulations forbidding
the dumping of fuel, trash and sewage. Because the ship will be
registered under the Bahamian flag or another foreign registry, the
workers won’t need H-1B visas, unlike foreign employees housed
temporarily on U.S. territory. SeaCode’s U.S. clients might consider
that a plus because H-1Bs have become extremely scarce since 2003,
when the government slashed the annual quota by more than half, to

Plainly, one’s opinion of the scheme depends on one’s opinion of
offshoring — whether it’s a scourge to be fought from every battlement
or a fact of life to be made the best of. If the former, then it’s
easy to view SeaCode as threatening to hasten the disappearance of
decent-paying jobs for American professionals. The drawbacks of
offshoring “are real, and this may be a way of addressing that,” says
Ron Hira, author of “Outsourcing America: What’s Behind Our National
Crisis and How We Can Reclaim American Jobs.” If the latter, then it’s
a means of salvaging some domestic profit from the inevitable shift of
certain work overseas. The firm expects to spend millions of dollars a
year on fuel, food and supplies in local communities. Indeed, Green
and Cook say only 10% of SeaCode’s total revenue will be spent on
foreign labor, with the rest staying in the U.S. “We’ll be creating a
lot of jobs on the mainland,” Green says. Even a small onboard cadre
of 200 engineers will require support from 35 or more workers on land.
The engineering jobs, he says, “are ones that have already gone out of
country. We’ll be taking jobs from Indians over there and bringing
them back here.”

In any event, while the founders dream of eventually running multiple
ships off the U.S. coast and even expanding to Europe, their initial
goal of 600 jobs won’t make a ripple in the overall employment
picture. The biggest Indian outsourcing company, Infosys, employs more
than 30,000 workers outside the U.S. Still, offshoring is bound to
remain a hot-button issue. Some researchers say the share of global
information technology jobs domiciled in low-cost locations like India
could double to 7% over the next three years. Most of that work will
be for American companies.

Accordingly, SeaCode’s big challenge may not be logistical but
political. While the company’s plans appear to conform to existing
law, says James P. Walsh, a maritime lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine,
critics might charge that classifying software engineers as maritime
crew and using a temporary mooring as a long-term anchorage amount to
exploiting legal loopholes. “Someone in Congress might say these
people are taking advantage of a set of rules that never were designed
for them,” Walsh says. Protectionist legislation has been enacted on
far less provocation. Green says he hopes that once SeaCode lines up
some major clients, its model’s economic logic will become clearer.
“The very definition of a brilliant idea,” he says, “is that it’s
obvious after you know it.”


ROBOT VS. PIRATES,15240,158732,00.html?
Pirate Hunting Drone Boats Unleashed

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have expressed interest in the 30-ft.-
long Protector, which comes mounted with a machine gun and could be
retrofitted for commercial use. Robots versus pirates — it’s not as
stupid, or unlikely, as it sounds. Piracy has exploded in the waters
near Somalia, where this past week United States warships have fired
on two pirate skiffs, and are currently in pursuit of a hijacked
Japanese-owned vessel. At least four other ships in the region remain
under pirate control, and the problem appears to be going global: The
International Maritime Bureau is tracking a 14-percent increase in
worldwide pirate attacks this year.

And although modern-day pirates enjoy collecting their fare share of
booty — they have a soft spot for communications gear — they’re just
as likely to ransom an entire ship. In one particularly sobering case,
hijackers killed one crew member of a Taiwan-owned vessel each month
until their demands were met.

For years now, law enforcement agencies across the high seas have
proposed robotic boats, or unmanned surface vessels (USVs), as a way
to help deal with 21st-Century techno Black Beards. The Navy has
tested at least two small, armed USV demonstrators designed to patrol
harbors and defend vessels. And both the Navy and the Coast Guard have
expressed interest in the Protector, a 30-ft.-long USV built by BAE
Systems, Lockheed Martin and Israeli defense firm RAFAEL.

The Protector, which comes mounted with a 7.62mm machine gun, wasn’t
originally intended for anti-piracy operations. But according to BAE
Systems spokesperson Stephanie Moncada, the robot could easily fill
that role. “Down the line, it could potentially be modified for
commercial use as well,” she says. Instead of being deployed by a
warship to intercept and possibly fire on an incoming vessel, a non-
lethal variant of the Protector could be used to simply investigate a
potential threat.

A favorite tactic of modern-day pirates is to put out a distress call,
then ambush any ships that respond. The unmanned Protector could be
remote-operated from around 10 miles away, with enough on-board
sensors, speakers and microphones to make contact with a vessel before
it’s too late. “Even without the machine gun, it could alert the crew,
give them some time to escape,” Moncada says. The 55-mph Interceptor
could become the long-range patrol boat of the future, while the
jetski-size Sentry could help prevent a terrorist plot such as Al
Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole in December 2000.


In international waters, are you beyond the reach of the law?  /  23-

Dear Straight Dope:
I have heard that in international waters you can commit endless
crimes with no jurisdiction to prosecute you. Is this true? Do such
ungoverned spaces exist? I am in no way interested in going to them,
but I know they exist and my friends say they don’t. Please help
settle this argument. –Michelle

SDSTAFF gfactor replies:
Nope, it doesn’t work that way. Freedom of the seas is a fundamental
principle of the law, but it only applies to countries. At sea
ordinary folks remain subject to at least one nation’s jurisdiction–
sometimes more. Freedom of the seas is often credited to the Dutch
jurist Grotius. In the early seventeenth century the Dutch wanted part
of the East Indies trade. Several nations, especially Spain and
Portugal, claimed control over all the oceans, which prevented the
Dutch from reaching foreign ports. The idea that a country could claim
control of the sea was called mare clausum (closed sea). Grotius, a
pioneer in international law, argued for the right of innocent passage
(or navigation) on the high seas. He noted, “the sea is called
indifferently the property of no one (res nullius), or a common
possession (res communis), or public property (res publica).” Grotius
contended that the sea could not be owned, and that no country could
deny another country’s ships innocent passage right up to the

Grotius didn’t dream up freedom of the seas on his own. He relied on
Roman law and the maritime customs of Asian and African countries
dating back to “before history was ever recorded,” according to Ram
Anand, in his essay, “Freedom of the Seas: Past, Present and Future.”
Spanish theologians of the sixteenth century had argued for freedom of
the seas as well. Grotius’s work, Mare Liberum, didn’t make much
headway at first. Welwood argued against him in Abridgment of all Sea
Lawes (1613). So did Selden in the unoriginally-titled Mare Clausum
(1635). Grotius himself changed his mind about it. Anand summarizes:

“[N]either Grotius nor Holland were in favour of the freedom of
the seas as a principle. . . . as soon as the Dutch defeated the
Portuguese and seized the profitable trade of the Spice Islands, they
sought to create their own monopoly . . . . Grotius conveniently
forgot his freedom of the seas principle propounded in 1609 with such
fervour, and went to England in 1613 with a Dutch delegation to argue
in favour of a Dutch monopoly of trade . . . . In fact, he was
surprised that his own book, published anonymously . . . was being
quoted by the British against him.”

Nevertheless, the idea of a sea where no vessel could interfere with
another one took hold. America fought the War of 1812 partly to
vindicate the principle and entered World War I in part because of its
violation. Woodrow Wilson relied on it in his Fourteen Points, and
Franklin Delano Roosevelt asserted it in 1941. The United States
Supreme Court traced the doctrine to “no later than the latter half of
the 18th century.”

The notion that freedom of the seas should extend up to the beach
never worked out in practice. Fear of smuggling and armed attack led
coastal nations to claim control of the water immediately offshore.
There was a lot of disagreement about how far out territorial waters
extended. According to the Head Department of Navigation and
Oceanography of the Russian Federation of Ministry and Defence:

“At the beginning of the 18th century, a widespread doctrine
proclaimed that “the authority of the coastal nation terminates where
she can no longer control it with her weaponry.” From that time, the
limit of sovereign authority of the maritime countries over coastal
waters has become to limit by a swath, the width of which does not
exceed distance of the flight of a cannonball from the shore. The
average distance of flight was about 3 miles.”

Outside this limit, no country could claim the seas. As we will see,
this rule survives today, although the 3-mile limit has been extended.
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC) lays
out the current rules. As of April 2006, 149 nations had ratified the
LOSC. The U.S. played a major role in the drafting of the LOSC, but
then decided not to sign it. Never fear: the rules we’re discussing
here apply to the U.S. The U.S. is party to other treaties with
similar provisions, has asserted rights available only under the LOSC,
and has said that its provisions are part of existing international
law. So it’s the best place to start looking for answers.

You asked about ungoverned spaces. Technically they exist–the LOSC
calls them the high seas: “No State may validly purport to subject any
part of the high seas to its sovereignty.” But that doesn’t mean you
can avoid prosecution for crimes committed there. For one thing, every
ship is subject to the jurisdiction of the country whose flag it
flies. So are its occupants. And you can’t just pick the flag of a
country whose laws are most favorable to you, either. The LOSC says
there must be a “genuine link” between the ship and the state. If you
want to fly a country’s flag, you have to ask the country’s permission
and provide it with your ship’s “name and particulars.”

The idea that there is no jurisdiction on the high seas comes from
confusion about the meaning of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction describes
the limits of the legal power of a nation (international lawyers call
them States) to make (prescriptive jurisdiction), apply (adjudicative
jurisdiction), and enforce (enforcement jurisdiction) rules of
conduct. One basis of jurisdiction is territory–a State can make and
enforce laws in its own territory. The confusion arises from the
assumption that this is the only basis of jurisdiction. It isn’t.
There are five:

(1) The territorial principle, which we’ve already covered.

The other categories are forms of extraterritorial jurisdiction:

(2) The nationality principle, also sometimes called the active
personality principle. That’s the one involved where ships are
concerned. LOSC says, “Ships have the nationality of the State whose
flag they are entitled to fly.” The nationality principle says that
states have the right to regulate the conduct of their nationals. One
example of this principle at work is section 4 of the Indian Penal
Code, which says, “The provisions of this Code apply also to any
offence committed by (1) any citizen of India in any place without and
beyond India; (2) any person on any ship or aircraft registered in
India wherever it may be.” Another example is the U.S.’s application
of its civil rights laws to Americans employed abroad by American

(3) The passive personality principle, which is jurisdiction based on
the nationality of those injured by the conduct. This kind of
jurisdiction is controversial. An example is 18 USC §7, a statute by
which the U.S. asserts jurisdiction “[a]ny place outside the
jurisdiction of any nation with respect to an offense . . . against a
national of the United States.”

(4) The protective principle. According to Amnesty International:
“National law in most states permits courts to exercise
jurisdiction over conduct by persons abroad which harms the national–
particularly the security–interests of the forum state in violation
of its own national criminal law (protective or security principle or
compétence réelle ou compétence du protection). This principle has
been used to prosecute national security offences; currency offences;
counterfeiting currency, stamps, seals and emblems; desecration of
flags; economic crimes; forgery, fraud or perjury in connection with
official documents, such as passports and visas; immigration offences
and political offences.”

(5) Universal jurisdiction. According to Henry Kissinger, “the
doctrine of universal jurisdiction asserts that some crimes are so
heinous that their perpetrators should not escape justice by invoking
doctrines of sovereign immunity or the sacrosanct nature of national
frontiers.” Under the relevant treaties, any State can board a ship on
the high seas if the ship is suspected of piracy, transporting slaves,
or broadcasting illegally. A ship and its occupants can be arrested
for piracy and illegal broadcasting by a warship of any State. For
other crimes, the arresting State must get the consent or assistance
of the flag state. Also, a ship that flies two flags (flags of
convenience) or a ship flying no flag may be visited for further
inquiry by any State’s ships. Ships without flags, and those that fly
flags of convenience are subject to the jurisdiction of any State.
While some scholars disagree, national courts have upheld convictions
based on such arrests.

Territory still plays a big part in the law of the sea. States’
territorial claims have expanded considerably since the 18th century.
Two hundred miles offshore (when I say mile, I mean the nautical mile,
which is 6076 feet, or 1.150779 statute miles) is the limit of a
State’s potential exclusive economic zone. I say potential because
States must claim the territory they want within this limit, and not
all of them do so. In this zone the State has some exclusive rights to
exploration and resources. However, other States’ ships have a right
of innocent passage through the EEZ, just as Grotius argued.

The next territorial boundary marks the State’s potential contiguous
zone, which extends 24 miles offshore. Within this zone, a coastal
state can stop and inspect vessels and act to punish (or prevent)
violations of its laws within its territory or territorial waters. The
contiguous zone solves a vexing problem. As Malcolm Evans describes

Traditionally, where the territorial sea ends, the high seas began
and the laws of the coastal State no longer apply. However, policing
maritime zones is no easy matter and, unlike land boundaries, they are
simple to cross. It would therefore be easy for vessels to commit
offences within the territorial sea but to evade arrest by moving just
a little further seaward. The answer is to permit coastal States to
arrest vessels outside their territorial seas in connection with
offences that either have been committed or which it is suspected are
going to be committed within their territorial sea.

In 1999 President Clinton extended the U.S.’s contiguous zone from 12
to 24 miles.

The potential territorial sea extends 12 miles off the coast. Here the
State has territorial jurisdiction, but only up to a point–the right
of innocent passage still applies. The LOSC says:

1. The criminal jurisdiction of the coastal State should not be
exercised on board a foreign ship passing through the territorial sea
to arrest any person or to conduct any investigation in connection
with any crime committed on board the ship during its passage, save
only in the following cases:

(a) if the consequences of the crime extend to the coastal State;
(b) if the crime is of a kind to disturb the peace of the country
or the good order of the territorial sea;
(c) if the assistance of the local authorities has been requested
by the master of the ship or by a diplomatic agent or consular officer
of the flag State; or
(d) if such measures are necessary for the suppression of illicit
traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances.

Because coastal State jurisdiction is limited, even in its territorial
waters, the flag State’s laws still apply aboard its ships. U.S.
courts adjudicate crimes committed aboard ships flying U.S. flags,
even if the crime was committed in foreign territorial waters.

In the territorial waters of the United States, ships can be subject
to the jurisdiction of individual U.S. states, too. Under federal law:
“The seaward boundary of each original coastal State is approved and
confirmed as a line three geographical miles distant from its coast
line or, in the case of the Great Lakes, to the international
boundary.” In Skiriotes v. State Of Florida, 313 U.S. 69 (1941), the
United States Supreme Court held that within the three-mile limit,
“[w]hen its action does not conflict with federal legislation, the
sovereign authority of the State over the conduct of its citizens upon
the high seas is analogous to the sovereign authority of the United
States over its citizens in like circumstances.” At the time, the
U.S.’s territorial sea was three miles wide, so the states had the
same territorial jurisdiction as the federal government. In 1988,
President Reagan extended the U.S.’s territorial sea to 12 miles. The
states’ territory was left at the three mile mark. For historical
reasons, Texas and Florida’s claims in the Gulf of Mexico are three
marine leagues, which is about nine miles.

Individual U.S. states can apply their laws to their citizens aboard
U.S. flag ships, even in foreign territorial waters. In State v. Jack
(2005) the Alaska Supreme Court upheld Alaska’s right to prosecute the
defendant for a sexual assault committed on the Alaska state ferry
while it was in Canadian territorial waters. The court based its
decision on the power of a sovereign state to regulate its citizens
(the nationality principle) and the effects doctrine (an application
of the territorial principle when conduct outside the state has
effects within it).

The right of innocent passage ends at the coastline of the State–you
need permission to enter the State’s internal waters. Once there,
ships and their passengers are subject to all of the State’s laws.
Even on the high seas, a foreign flag vessel isn’t completely exempt
from the jurisdiction of other States–vessels are subject to
”visit” and arrest under certain circumstances. LOSC also provides a
right of hot pursuit. According to Article 111,

“The hot pursuit of a foreign ship may be undertaken when the
competent authorities of the coastal State have good reason to believe
that the ship has violated the laws and regulations of that State.
Such pursuit must be commenced when the foreign ship or one of its
boats is within the internal waters, the archipelagic waters, the
territorial sea or the contiguous zone of the pursuing State, and may
only be continued outside the territorial sea or the contiguous zone
if the pursuit has not been interrupted.”

As a nod to the territorial principle, “The right of hot pursuit
ceases as soon as the ship pursued enters the territorial sea of its
own State or of a third State.” States can also agree to permit
another state to arrest vessels flying their flags. Even if none of
these exceptions apply, U.S. courts have held that arrest in violation
of international law doesn’t necessarily bar prosecution. For example,
in United States v. Postal, the defendants were U.S. nationals
arrested on board a vessel registered in the Grand Cayman Islands, 16
miles from shore (which at the time was the high seas). The United
States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that though the
arrest violated the Convention on the High Seas (1958), the treaty
violation didn’t impair the court’s jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals
for the Third Circuit followed suit in 2002. So on the high seas not
only are you not beyond the reach of any nation, sometimes you’re with
the reach of two.

–   Anand, Ram, “Freedom of the Seas: Past, Present, and Future,”
reprinted in Caminos, Hugo, ed., Law of the Sea (2001)
–   Bryant, Dennis, The U.S. Territorial Sea and Other Lines in the
Water, Holland & Knight, November 14, 1997:
–   Churchill, R. and Lowe, A., The Law of the Sea (1999)
–   CIA World FactBook, Field Listing – Maritime claims (listing of
most States’ maritime jurisdictional claims):
–   Evans, Malcolm, “The Law of the Sea,” in International Law,
(Malcolm Evans, ed., 2003)
–   Grotius, Hugo, The Freedom of the Seas, or the Right Which Belongs
to the Dutch to Take Part in the East Indian Trade (1608) (Ralph Van
Deman Magoffin, transl., 1916):
–   Head Department of Navigation and Oceanography of the Russian
Federation of Ministry and Defence, untitled web page available at:;
(tracing ancient history of maritime claims and their resolution)
–   Kissinger, Henry, “The Pitfalls of Universal Jurisdiction: Risking
Judicial Tyranny,” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2001:
–   Molvan v. Attorney-General for Palestine (The Asya), [1948] A.C.
351 (stateless vessel subject to jurisdiction)
–   Reagan, Ronald, Statement on United States Oceans Policy, March
10, 1983:;
–   Skiriotes v. Florida, 313 U.S. 69 (1941) (states have criminal
maritime jurisdiction to the three-mile limit):
–   State v. Jack, 125 P.3d 311, 2006 A.M.C. 206 (Alaska 2005) (Alaska
had criminal jurisdiction over sexual assault committed aboard ferry
operating in Canadian waters)
–   Stewart, Robert, Our Ocean Planet: Oceanography in the 21st
Century–an Online Textbook (work in progress, rev. 2006):
–   The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (A Historical
Perspective), United Nations:
–   United State v. Best, 304 F.3d 308 (3d Cir. 2002) (approving
prosecution of foreign national seized on foreign flag ship outside
the territorial waters of the United States):
–   United States v. Conroy, 589 F.2d 1258 (5th Cir. 1979) (upholding
conviction where defendants were arrested on American vessel in
Haitian waters)
–   United States v. DeLeon, 270 F.3d 90 (1st Cir. 2001) (arrest and
prosecution for attempted immigration violation in international
waters were based on United State’s effects jurisdiction despite lack
of authorization in relevant treaty):
–   United States v. Flores, 289 U.S. 137 (1933) (United States had
jurisdiction to prosecute murder committed aboard American vessel in
Belgian territory):
–   United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1 (explaining the basis for
Texas and Florida”s claims in Gulf of Mexico) final decree, 364 U.S.
502 (1960):
–   United States v. Maine, 475 U.S. 89 (1986) (part of Nantucket
Sound was United States territorial waters and part was high seas;
rejecting Massachusetts’ claim that it was part of the state’s
internal waters based on claim of “ancient title” because
Massachusetts did not effectively occupy the territory before the
freedom of the high seas became a part of international law):
–   United States v. Marino-Garcia, 679 F.2d 1373 (11th Cir. 1982)
(upholding arrest of stateless vessel found 300 miles from Florida).
–   United States v. One Big Six Wheel, 166 F.3d 498 (2d Cir. 1999):
(Congress did not intend to extend the three-mile limit for gambling
cruises under the Gambling Ship Act)
–   United States v. Postal, 589 F.2d 862, 874 (5th Cir. 1979)
–   United States v. Rodgers, 150 U.S. 249 (1893) (United States had
jurisdiction to prosecute assault committed on ship bearing its flag
despite fact that assault occurred in Canadian waters):
–   United States v. Suerte, 291 F.3d 366 (5th Cir. 2002) (Due process
does not require a nexus between foreign citizen and US where flag
state has consented or waived objection to the enforcement of United
States law by the United States):
–   “Vice President Al Gore Announces New Action To Help Protect And
Preserve U.S. Shores And Oceans: Extension of Federal Enforcement Zone
in U.S. Coastal Waters Will Help Prevent Violations of Environmental,
Customs, or Immigration Laws,” press release (September 2 1999):
–   Wildenhus’s Case, 120 U.S. 1 (1887) (United States had
jurisdiction to prosecute stabbing committed aboard Belgian steamship
docked at port of New Jersey):

Though buccaneering is back with a vengeance, stepped-up law
enforcement and high-tech tools are helping protect shipping on the
high seas
BY Paul Raffaele  /  August 2007

The attack came after daybreak. The Delta Ranger, a cargo ship
carrying bauxite, was steaming through the ink-blue Indian Ocean in
January 2006, about 200 nautical miles off Somalia’s coast. A crewman
on the bridge spied two speedboats zooming straight at the port side
of his vessel. Moments later, bullets tore into the bridge, and vapor
trails from rocket-propelled grenades streaked across the bow:

A member of the Delta Ranger’s crew sounded the ship’s whistle, and
the cargo ship began maneuvering away as bullets thudded into its
hull. The captain radioed a message to distant Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,
where the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) operates the world’s
only pirate reporting and rescue center. In describing the attack, he
added that the pirates seemed to be using a hijacked Indian dhow, a
fishing vessel, as their mother ship.

The center’s duty officer immediately radioed an alert to all ships in
the Delta Ranger’s vicinity and found that two other cargo ships had
escaped similar attacks in recent days. The duty officer’s next
message went to the USS Winston S. Churchill, a Navy guided-missile
destroyer on patrol about 100 nautical miles from the pirates’ last
reported position. Soon after, the Churchill headed for the dhow.

Pirates have been causing trouble ever since men first went down to
the sea in ships, or at least since the 14th century B.C., when
Egyptian records mention Lukkan pirates raiding Cyprus. A millennium
later, Alexander the Great tried to sweep the Mediterranean clear of
marauding bandits, to no avail. In 75 B.C., ship-based cutthroats took
Julius Caesar hostage and ransomed him for 50 talents. The historian
Plutarch wrote that Caesar then returned with several ships, captured
the pirates and crucified the lot of them.

That hardly spelled the end of pirating. At the beginning of the 13th
century A.D., Eustace the Monk terrorized the English Channel, and the
European colonization of the Americas, with all its seaborne wealth,
led to the so-called golden age of piracy, from 1660 to 1730—the era
of Blackbeard, Black Bart, Captain Kidd and other celebrated pirates
of the Caribbean. The era ended only after seafaring nations expanded
their navies and prosecuted more aggressively to deal with the threat.

Now the seedy romance of the golden-age legends may be supplanted by a
new reality: as governments cut their navies after the cold war, as
thieves have gotten hold of more powerful weapons and as more and more
cargo has moved by sea, piracy has once again become a lucrative form
of waterborne mugging. Attacks at sea had become rare enough to be a
curiosity in the mid-20th century, but began to reappear in the 1970s.
By the 1990s, maritime experts noted a sharp increase in attacks,
which led the IMB to establish the Piracy Reporting Centre in 1992—and
still the buccaneering continued, with a high of 469 attacks
registered in 2000. Since then, improvements in reporting, ship-
tracking technology and government reaction have calmed the seas
somewhat—the center counted 329 attacks in 2004, down to 276 in 2005
and 239 last year—but pirates remain very much in business, making the
waters off Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Somalia especially
perilous. “We report hundreds of acts of piracy each year, many
hundreds more go undetected,” says Capt. Noel Choong, head of the
Piracy Reporting Centre, in Kuala Lumpur. “Ships and their crews
disappear on the high seas and coastal waters every year, never to be
seen again.” Even stationary targets, such as oil platforms, are at

Global commerce would collapse without oceangoing ships to transfer
the world’s fuel, minerals and bulk commodities, along with much of
its medicines and foodstuffs. According to the U.S. Maritime
Administration, about 95 percent of the world’s trade travels by
water. Boston-based Global Insight, a forecasting company, estimates
the value of maritime trade for 2007 to be at least $6 trillion.
Estimates of the pirates’ annual global plunder range into the

Unlike the galleons of old, which sat low in the water and were easily
boarded, the supertankers and bulk carriers of today may rise several
stories—and yet they pose no great obstacle to thieves. Bullets and
rocket-propelled grenades have persuaded many a captain to stop at
sea; at that point, almost any pirate can climb to the deck by tossing
grappling hooks over the rail.

Today’s pirates range from villainous seaside villagers to members of
international crime syndicates. They ply their trade around the globe,
from Iraq to Somalia to Nigeria, from the Strait of Malacca to the
territorial waters off South America. No vessel seems safe, be it a
supertanker or a private yacht. In November 2005, pirates in two
speedboats tried to attack the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit off
Somalia. The liner’s captain, Sven Erik Pedersen, outran them while
driving them off with a Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD—a sonic
weapon the United States military developed after the USS Cole was
attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen in 2000.

If you enter an anonymous office 35 floors above Kuala Lumpur’s lush
tropical streets and pass through a secured door, you will come to a
small room dominated by maps of the world taped onto two of the walls.
This is the IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre, which operates round-the-
clock. When pirates attack anywhere in the world, this office almost
always receives the first report of it and radios out the first alert.
Tens of thousands of vessels depend on the IMB’s information.

Red pins mark the latest attacks. On the day I visited, the pins
looked like a rash covering much of the world. Another wall was
covered with thank-you plaques from the admirals of many nations,
including the United States. Noel Choong, who ushered me through this
command center, spent more than ten years on oceangoing ships as a
mariner. Now, in a dark suit, the soft-spoken Choong looked more like
a corporate middle manager than a supersleuth of the seas.

Choong showed me the center’s reports on the 239 major pirate attacks
it recorded in 2006. One hundred eighty-eight crewmen were taken
hostage and 15 were killed—9 in Asia, 4 in Africa and 1 each in the
Middle East and South America. “Modern-day pirates can be just as
merciless as the Caribbean buccaneers,” Choong told me. He recalled
the 13 pirates—12 Chinese and 1 Indonesian—who hijacked the Cheung
Son, a Hong Kong-registered cargo ship, off China in 1998. “They
blindfolded the 23 crewmembers, beat them to death with clubs and
threw their bodies overboard,” he said. Then they sold the vessel to
an unknown party for $300,000. But they were caught, convicted of
piracy and murder in a Chinese court, and sentenced to death.

On their way to the firing squad, Choong said, the 13 sang Ricky
Martin’s bouncy 1998 World Cup soccer theme, “La Copa de la Vida,”
jumping up and down in their chains as they bellowed the chorus: “Go,
go, go, ale, ale, ale.” (Afterward, Choong said, “the Chinese charged
their families the cost of each bullet” used in the executions.)

Because much of Choong’s work is under cover, and because he’s been
the target of assassination threats, he’s careful to protect his
anonymity. He has a wide network of informants—usually members of
pirate gangs or corrupt government officials looking for a fat payoff—
and when a big ship goes missing, he will jet to distant cities at
short notice to launch recovery operations. The pirates’ going rate
for the return of a hijacked ship, he said, is about $800,000. “If I
can get it back by paying an informant a fraction of that, then the
owners and underwriters are happy.”

Recently, an informant called Choong’s cellphone to say he knew where
pirates were holding a hijacked ship. The next day Choong flew to
Bangkok and, in the bar of an airport hotel, listened to the man’s
offer: the ship’s whereabouts in exchange for $50,000.

Choong forwarded the offer to Chinese authorities, who found the ship
at anchor in the South China Sea, sporting fresh paint, a new name and
a fake registration. After the ship was in hand—Choong said he never
pays without results—he arranged a $50,000 deposit to an account the
informant kept under a false name. The entire transaction—from phone
call to payoff—took no more than a week.

But Choong doubted that the man got to enjoy his loot. “I heard he was
murdered by the gang not long after,” he said.

Between rounds of whiskey in a plush Kuala Lumpur bar, a ship broker
who asked not to be named because of security concerns told me that
besides buying and selling ships for his clients, he sometimes
arranges ransoms to get their vessels back from hijackers, for about
the same sum that Choong had mentioned. “The owners usually pay up
without question,” he said. Bringing in the authorities “might tie up
the ship for weeks, even months, at a port while they investigate the
crime. That could lose them millions of dollars.”

Of course, not all negotiations go smoothly. Along the coast of Somalia
—which Choong pinpointed as one of the world’s likeliest areas for
pirate attacks—brigands can, and often do, drag out negotiations for

“Somalia is chaotic, with gangs of heavily armed men roaming around
the land and its seas,” James Mriria, a strapping sailor, told me in
the Kenyan port of Mombasa. He said he had spent four months in 2001
as a hostage of Somali pirates as they haggled with the Italian owner
of a fishing trawler they had hijacked. The bandits, he said, fed
their guests just enough food to keep them alive, and often beat them
with rifle butts. “It was hell,” Mriria said.

The pirates who tried to take the Delta Ranger would head for Somalia

In pursuit of the hijacked dhow, the Churchill had the advantage of
surprise. The pirates “couldn’t see us over the horizon” during the
night, the ship’s executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Erik Nilsson, told me
in a telephone interview. But at first light the destroyer
deliberately showed itself to the crew of the dhow, and the pirates
took off to the west. Somalia’s territorial waters—from which the
Churchill was barred by international law—were 80 nautical miles away.

Nilsson had no doubt this was the right ship. He had gotten a
description of it from the captain of the Delta Ranger. In time he
would see through his binoculars the 16 Indian crewmembers, on the
fo’c’sle, holding up a piece of plywood on which they had spray-

“We repeatedly radioed and asked [the dhow] to halt,” Nilsson said.
When the pirates refused, the U.S. sailors called to them over an
amplified megaphone, without effect. The chase went on all morning and
into the afternoon. With Somali waters only four hours away, the
Churchill closed to within 500 yards of the dhow and fired across its
bow with its 25-millimeter chain guns. “That got the pirates’
attention, and they stopped,” Nilsson said.

Some of the Churchill’s crew boarded the dhow and took everyone on it
into custody. Aboard the destroyer, a Hindi-speaking member of the
Churchill crew questioned the dhow’s captain. “She found that the
pirates had captured the dhow six days earlier and had beaten and
imprisoned the crew,” Nilsson said. “They’d given the Indians no food
during that time and had threatened to kill them if they resisted.”

Nilsson said that he had seen the Somalis throw unidentified “objects”
over the side during the night. Many pirates try to ditch their
weapons in the belief that it would provide less evidence for
prosecution, but if that were the case aboard the dhow, it didn’t
work: the boarding party found an AK-47 stashed in the wheelhouse.

Later that afternoon, the USS Nassau, a 40,000-ton amphibious assault
ship and the flagship of the expeditionary strike group to which the
Churchill was attached, caught up with the destroyer. Ten Somali
pirates were taken to the brig of the larger ship. After consulting
with the U.S. Central Command, the Nassau took the Somalis to Mombasa,
where Kenyan authorities arrested them and charged them with piracy.

Keeping the world’s sea lanes safe for commerce is one goal of what
the Navy calls Maritime Security Operations, or MSO. Another is to
prevent sea-based terrorism. Choong had told me that piracy was
prevalent even in the hazardous waters off Iraq in the northern
Persian Gulf.

To get there, I flew to the desert kingdom of Bahrain, headquarters of
the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which operates in the Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Gulf
of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. From there I caught a Navy
Desert Hawk helicopter for a two-hour flight to the guided-missile
cruiser USS Philippine Sea, my base for a three-day visit. Along the
way, the chopper flew fast and low over a sparkling green sea dotted
with coral islands, fishing dhows and oil rigs. With the cruiser
steaming along, the pilot put us smoothly down on the aft deck.

On board, Australian Navy lieutenant commander Tish Van Stralen, a
maritime lawyer, said that the cruiser was the flagship of an eight-
ship coalition task force guarding Iraq’s nearby Al Basrah and Khawr
Al Amaya oil terminals, which were pumping up to 1.6 million barrels a
day into the holds of supertankers. “They provide up to 90 percent of
Iraq’s GDP, and so the coalition forces have set up a pair of adjacent
two-mile-wide exclusion zones around the oil terminals,” Van Stralen
said. “We challenge and check every vessel wanting to enter them,
primarily on the watch for terrorists intent on blowing up the oil
terminals, but also for pirates and smugglers.”

The pirate hunters patrolling the zones were a Coast Guard crew aboard
the cutter Aquidneck. The next morning I rode a half hour across a
flat sea in a rigid inflatable speedboat to meet them.

Lt. Jonathan Carter and his 22-man crew had spent six months on these
volatile waters. Assault rifles were nestled in a rack, and on the
small bridge, four sailors hunched over radar and sonar equipment,
looking for any vessel trying to enter the exclusion zones.

As the Aquidneck edged up the Shatt Al Arab waterway toward Basra,
Carter pointed to an empty stretch of desert about 200 yards on our
left. “That’s Kuwait,” he said. About 200 yards to the right was Iraq—
more desert with no sign of life. The cutter passed several rusting
hulks resting half out of the water, casualties of Gulf warfare.

“Pirates have been active in these waterways for centuries. There’re
still plenty of them here, and we call them Ali Baba,” Carter went on.
“They mostly prey on the fishing dhows, especially during the prawning
season when the dhow captains carry plenty of money on board after
selling their catch to traders….We’ll hear a plea over the radio,
‘Ali Baba! Ali Baba!’ But by the time we reach the dhow, the pirates
have usually escaped. If we surprise them, they throw their weapons

Coalition naval forces are trying to train Iraqi marines to board,
search and, if necessary, seize suspicious vessels. From the north, I
saw two patrol boats roaring along the waterway toward us. On board
were Iraqi marines under the guidance of a pair of Royal Australian
Navy officers. The marines were taking part in a training exercise,
and five Coast Guardsmen and I volunteered to play potential
terrorists or pirates.

Several grim-faced Iraqi marines clad in camouflage fatigues climbed
aboard and forced us up to the front of the Aquidneck. Some pointed
their guns at us even though their trainers had ordered them not to,
and others searched us and checked our ID. I grimaced when a marine
yanked my arms above my head and I tensed as he roughly searched my
body for hidden weapons.

They made us sit on the uncovered deck in brutal heat for more than an
hour, refusing our requests for water and keeping their guns trained
on us. But for all that, our captors failed to detect a knife one of
the Aquidneck crew had secreted, and they never searched my camera
bag. Had we been actual bad guys, who knows what might have happened.

Last October I drove an hour north of Mombasa, past a string of Kenyan
luxury seaside resorts, to talk to any of the ten accused Somali
pirates who would speak with me in the maximum-security jail where
they were being held. As I waited outside the stone walls, grim-faced
prisoners in striped pajamas with short pants came and went, under

By then, the Somalis’ trial was under way; the defendants were due in
court the following day. Inside the jail, armed guards escorted two of
them as they shuffled toward me, handcuffed to each other.

We moved to a bare room with a barred window. The guards followed us,
while others crowded the window outside to stare and listen.

Moktar Mohammed Hussein and Abdi Fadar, clad in sarongs and T-shirts,
squatted in front of me but did not make eye contact. They were 17 and
18, respectively. “We’re fishermen, and our boats broke down on the
ocean,” Hussein said. “We sought help from the Indian dhow.”

Then why were they carrying assault rifles and rocket-propelled
grenades, I asked them. “Every man in Somalia carries such weapons for
protection,” Hussein said, turning his dark eyes on me. That much was
corroborated later by the BBC’s Mombasa-based correspondent, Peter
Greste, who often visits Somalia.

But why did they try to escape when they spotted the American warship?
“We thought they suspected us of being Al Qaeda. We were frightened,
and so we tried to get away,” Fadar said.

“We just want to go home,” Hussein added softly.

I reminded them that Indian crewmembers had testified that the Somalis
had hijacked their ship and beaten them? Hussein shook his head.
“They’re lying,” he said.

Did they even know any Somali pirates? Both shook their heads no, but
stared silently at the floor.

At 3 o’clock the next afternoon, all ten defendants crowded into the
dock in a small courtroom to face a senior magistrate, Beatrice Jaden,
seated high above us on a pedestal in the British manner. The
prosecutor, Margaret Mwangi, read out the charge, accusing them of
committing “acts of piracy on the high seas,” and ran through the
evidence, based on statements from the Indian crew aboard the dhow and
the U.S. sailors who had rescued them.

The Somalis’ lawyer, Hassan Abdi, argued that because no one involved—
neither the victims, the accused nor the alleged perpetrators’ captors—
was Kenyan, Kenya had no right to try this case in its courts.

Mwangi countered that the U.N.’s Convention on the Law of the Sea
allows Kenya to prosecute pirates of any nationality under the
corresponding section of the Kenyan penal code. Should the Somalis be
found guilty, Mwangi went on, they should be sentenced to death to
deter piracy.

Ten days later, Jaden handed down her verdict and the sentence.
Guilty. Seven years in prison for each man.

By then, the pirates might have considered themselves lucky. At the
time, Somalia was ruled by a fundamentalist Muslim movement called the
Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which sought to impose sharia, or Islamic
law, when it took over the capital of Mogadishu from its notorious
warlords in June 2006. Piracy was one of several crimes punishable by

Noel Choong told me that after the ICU takeover the IMB noted a lull
in piracy in the waters off Somalia. But the ICU was overthrown and
replaced by a transitional government at year’s end. Since then,
pirate attacks have surged off the Somali coast, from 10 reported to
the IMB in all of 2006 to 14 in the first six months of 2007.

In February, pirates off the coast boarded and hijacked the merchant
vessel Rozen, which had just delivered food for the U.N. World Food
Programme. They held its 12 crewmembers for 40 days until an
undisclosed ransom secured their release. Another merchant vessel, the
Mariam Queen, was hijacked and held for 24 days before it was freed
May 27 after the ship’s owner reportedly paid a $100,000 ransom. At
the end of that month, the IMB recommended that vessels keep 200 miles
offshore unless they were calling into Somali ports.

“We’ll never see the end of piracy, just as we’ll never see the end of
robbery on land,” Choong said. “But we’re doing everything we can.”

From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

NANO 101



For Rent: One Nano Research Lab…
BY Earl Boysen  /  March 24th, 2008

Say you’re an aspiring young nanotechnologist with an idea for a new
product. What are the barriers to moving your project forward? One big
barrier is the cost of the equipment to build and test your nano-based
prototype. For example an ebeam lithography system has a price tag of
a million dollars, not counting the cost of installation, a facility
to put it in, and maintance. The reality is that not just every Tom,
Dick, or Mary can set up a nano lab. What’s a researcher to do? Rent a

Several labs and facilities are making their equipment available for
nano related projects. Some simply charge a rental fee, others may
waive some or all fees if your research is non-proprietary. Still
others will test your materials for you if your research is allied
with their mission. Here’s a rundown of some of the facilities
offering this nifty service.

NNIN Lucky 13

If your in need of a lab your first step might be to see if one of the
thirteen facilities of The National Nanotechnology Infrastructure
Network (NNIN) located close to you has the equipment you need. These
facilities, supported by the National Science Foundation, are focused
on nanoscale fabrication and characterization (for example measuring
particle size distribution or material strength).

These centers are all located at universities such as Cornell,
Stanford, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas at
Austin, University of Minnesota, and Harvard. Each was funded by the
NSF to provide facilities for researchers from industry and other
universities. After completing a training program to qualify on a
particular tool you can rent equipment to use in building or
characterizing your little bit of nano material.

The DOE Office of Science Supports Nano Materials Research

If you are developing new nanomaterials you’ll be happy to hear that
the DOE has created five facilities called Nanoscale Science Research
Centers. These Research Centers are located in National Labs scattered
around the country: Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois;
Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State; Lawrence Berekely
National Laboratory in California; Oak Ridge National Laboratory in
Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The goal of these facilities is to encourage the development and
characterization of new nanomaterials. Each research center has a
number of focus areas that draws upon the expertise and equipment of
the National Lab where they are located.

For example, one focus at the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory is on biological nanostructures; one focus at The
Center for Nanophase Material Science at Oak Ridge National Lab is on
nano enhanced catalysts, while down in New Mexico the Center for
Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Lab includes among its
focusses nanophotonics and nanoelectronics.

Measuring Health

Making progress in the fight against cancer often requires synergistic
efforts that involve sharing ideas and tools. The National Cancer
Institute, in association with the National Institute of Standards and
Technology and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established a
Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory in Maryland. The mission of
this facility is to perform preclinical efficacy and toxicity testing
of nanoparticles in order to accelerate the transition of
nanoparticles into clinical applications.

If you’ve developed a nanoparticle for the treatment of cancer but
can’t afford to do the testing required to demonstrate that your
material is effective and safe, you can submit it to this facility,
but be sure to take a number: The testing program to characterize
physical attributes, biological properties, and compatibility of
nanoparticles takes about a year.

Nanofabrication and Measurement

The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) Nanofab in
Maryland is part of the National Institute of Standards and
Technology. The mission of the CNST is to solve nanoscale measurement
problems that hamper the progress of nanotechnology research.

These folks charge an hourly fee. If your research is non-proprietary
and could help to solve a nano measurement problem that supports the
production of nanobased applications you may be in luck. They may
offer discounted fees or waive fees entirely.

For more information on nanotechnology research labs and links to the
labs mentioned here:

National Institute of Standards Technology’s Nanofab
Nanoscale Science Research Centers Founded by US Department of Energy
The Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Lab.
The Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Lab.
The Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
The Center for Nanophase Material Sciences at Oak Ridge National Lab.
The Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia and Los Alamos
National Labs.


A Green Energy Industry Takes Root in California
BY Matt Richtel and John Markoff  /  February 1, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — The sun is starting to grow jobs. While interest in
alternative energy is climbing across the United States, solar power
especially is rising in California, the product of billions of dollars
in investment and mountains of enthusiasm. In recent months, the
industry has added several thousand jobs in the production of solar
energy cells and installation of solar panels on roofs. A spate of
investment has also aimed at making solar power more efficient and
less costly than natural gas and coal.

Entrepreneurs, academics and policy makers say this era’s solar
industry is different from what was tried in the 1970s, when Jerry
Brown, then the governor of California, invited derision for
envisioning a future fueled by alternative energy. They point to
companies like SolarCity, an installer of rooftop solar cells based in
Foster City. Since its founding in 2006, it has grown to 215 workers
and $29 million in annual sales. “It is hard to find installers,” said
Lyndon Rive, the chief executive. “We’re at the stage where if we
continue to grow at this pace, we won’t be able to sustain the
growth.” SunPower, which makes the silicon-based cells that turn
sunlight into electricity, reported 2007 revenue of more than $775
million, more than triple its 2006 revenue. The company expects sales
to top $1 billion this year. SunPower, based in San Jose, said its
stock price grew 251 percent in 2007, faster than any other Silicon
Valley company, including Apple and Google.

Not coincidentally, three-quarters of the nation’s demand for solar
comes from residents and companies in California. “There is a real
economy — multiple companies, all of which have the chance to be
billion-dollar operators,” said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor in the
energy and resources group at the University of California, Berkeley.
California, he says, is poised to be both the world’s next big solar
market and its entrepreneurial center. The question, Professor Kammen
says, is: “How can we make sure it’s not just green elite or green
chic, and make it the basis for the economy?” There also are huge
challenges ahead, not the least of which is the continued dominance of
fossil fuels. Solar represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the
$3 trillion global energy market, leading some critics to suggest that
the state is getting ahead of itself, as it did during the 1970s. The
optimists say a crucial difference this time is the participation of
private-sector investors and innovators and emerging technologies.
Eight of more than a dozen of the nation’s companies developing
photovoltaic cells are based in California, and seven of those are in
Silicon Valley. Among the companies that academics and entrepreneurs
believe could take the industry to a new level is Nanosolar, which
recently started making photovoltaic cells in a 200,000-square-foot
factory in San Jose. The company said the first 18 months of its
capacity has already been booked for sales in Germany. “They could
absolutely transform the market if they make good on even a fraction
of their goal for next year,” Professor Kammen said. “They’re not just
a new entrant, but one of the biggest producers in the world.”

Many of the California companies are start-ups exploring exotic
materials like copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, an alternative
to the conventional crystalline silicon that is now the dominant
technology. The newcomers hope that CIGS, while less efficient than
silicon, can be made far more cheaply than silicon-based cells.
Indeed, the Nanosolar factory looks more like a newspaper plant than a
chip-making factory. The CIGS material is sprayed onto giant rolls of
aluminum foil and then cut into pieces the size of solar panels.
Another example is Integrated Solar, based in Los Angeles, which has
developed a low-cost approach to integrating photovoltaic panels
directly into the roofs of commercial buildings. In 2007, 100
megawatts of solar generating capacity was installed in California,
about a 50 percent increase over 2006, according to the Solar Energy
Industries Association, a trade group.

That growth rate is likely to increase, in part because of ambitious
new projects like the 177-megawatt solar thermal plant that Pacific
Gas and Electric said last November it would build in San Luis Obispo.
The plant, which will generate power for more than 120,000 homes
beginning in 2010, will be built by Ausra, a Palo Alto start-up backed
by the investor Vinod Khosla and his former venture capital firm,
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The industry in California is also
helped by state and local governments’ substantial subsidies to
stimulate demand. The state has earmarked $3.2 billion to subsidize
solar installation, with the goal of putting solar cells on one
million rooftops. The state Assembly passed a law to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, which could spur alternatives
like solar. Additional incentives have come from a small but growing
number of municipalities. The city of Berkeley will pay the upfront
costs for a resident’s solar installation and recoup the money over 20
years through additional property taxes on a resident’s home. San
Francisco is preparing to adopt its own subsidy that would range from
$3,000 for a home installation to as much as $10,000 for a business.

The subsidies have prompted a surge in private investment, led by
venture capitalists. In 2007, these seed investors put $654 million in
33 solar-related deals in California, up from $253 million in 16 deals
in 2006, according to the Cleantech Group, which tracks investments in
alternative energy. California received roughly half of all solar
power venture investments made in 2007 in the United States. “We’re
just starting to see successful companies come out through the other
end of that process,” said Nancy C. Floyd, managing director at Nth
Power, a venture capital firm that focuses on alternative energy. “And
through innovation and volume, prices are coming down.” Whether any of
this investment pays off depends, as it did in previous eras, on
reaching the point at which solar cells produce electricity as
inexpensively as fossil fuels. The cost of solar energy is projected
to fall steeply as cheaper new technology reaches economies of scale.
Optimists believe that some regions in California could reach that
point in half a decade.

At present, solar power is three to five times as expensive as coal,
depending on the technology used, said Dan Reicher, director for
climate change and energy initiatives at, the philanthropic
division of the Internet company. Among its investments, Google says,
is $10 million in financing for eSolar, a company in Pasadena that
builds systems that concentrate sunlight from reflecting mirrors.
“We’re at the dawn of a revolution that could be as powerful as the
Internet revolution,” Mr. Reicher said. The problem is, he said,
“renewable energy simply costs too much.” At a conference of
alternative energy companies in San Francisco last month, to discuss
how to encourage the industry’s growth, Mr. Brown, the former
governor, joked that if the participants wanted to make real headway
selling alternative energy, they should try not to come off as flaky.
“Don’t get too far ahead of yourselves,” said Mr. Brown, now the
state’s attorney general. “You will be stigmatized. Don’t use too many
big words and make it all sound like yesterday.”


Nanarchist: Someone who circumvents government control to use
nanotechnology, or someone who advocates this. [Eli Brandt, October

Nanarchy: The use of automatic law-enforcement by nanomachines or
robots, without any human control – see blue goo [Mark S. Miller].

Nanochondria: Nanomachines existing inside living cells, participating
in their biochemistry (like mitochondria) and/or assembling various
structures. See also nanosome. [Ken Clements 1996]

Nanodefenses: any of the “good” goo’s, such a Blue Goo. Protectors
against Grey Goo, destructive nanoswarms, and the like.

Nanodisaster: See the various ‘goo’ scenerios that have potentially
negative outcomes.

Nanogypsy: someone who travels form place to place, spreading the
“nano” word. Usually a person who takes the most optimistic viewpoint,
and is enthusitic. [uhf]

Nanohacking: describes what MNT is all about — “hacking” at the
molecular level.

Nanosome: Nanodevices existing symbiotically inside biological cells,
doing mechanosynthesis and disassembly for it and replicating with the
cell. Similar to nanochondria. [AS January 1998]

Nanotechism: the religion of nanotech, as opposed to the science of

Nanoterrorism: using MNT derived nanites to do damage to people or

Nano-test-tubes: CNT’s opened and filled with materials, and used to
carry out chemical reactions. See The Opening and Filling of Multi-
Walled Carbon Nanotubes (MWTs) and The Opening and Filling of Single-
Walled Carbon Nanotubes (SWTs).

Nanny: A cell-repair nanite

NE3LS: Nanotechnology’s Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal, and
Social Implications. From ‘Mind the gap’: science and ethics in
nanotechnology. click here (requires free registration) [Anisa
Mnyusiwalla, Abdallah S. Daar and Peter A. Singer 2003 Nanotechnology
14 R9-R13. 13 Feb 2003]

Shape-shifting robot forms from magnetic swarm
BY Tom Simonite  /  29 January 2008

Swarms of robots that use electromagnetic forces to cling together and
assume different shapes are being developed by US researchers. The
grand goal is to create swarms of microscopic robots capable of
morphing into virtually any form by clinging together. Seth Goldstein,
who leads the research project at Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, in the US, admits this is still a distant prospect.
However, his team is using simulations to develop control strategies
for futuristic shape-shifting, or “claytronic”, robots, which they are
testing on small groups of more primitive, pocket-sized machines.
These prototype robots use electromagnetic forces to manoeuvre
themselves, communicate, and even share power.

No moving parts

One set of claytronic prototypes were cylindrical, wheeled robots with
a ring of electromagnets around their edge, which they used to grab
hold of one another. By switching these electromagnets on and off, the
so-called “claytronic atoms” or “catoms” could securely attach and
roll around each other (see video, top right). The robot’s wheels were
not powered, so they had to rely entirely on their magnets to
manoeuvre themselves around. “These were the first mobile robots
without any moving parts,” says Goldstein. They also used their
electromagnets to share power, to communicate, and for simple sensing.

Since using magnetic forces are less efficient at smaller scales, the
team has now begun experimenting with electric forces instead. The
latest prototypes are box-shaped robots dubbed “cubes” that have six
plastic arms with star-shaped appendages at the end of each. These
stars have several flat aluminium electrodes and dock together, face
on, using static electricity. Electrodes on different stars are given
opposing charges, which causes the stars to attract each other. Once
connected, no power is needed to hold the stars together.
Micro-scale robots Tests have shown that it is possible to send
messages and power to other cubes over the same links. “Our hope is to
assemble around 100 cubes to experiment with ideas,” Goldstein says.

Rob Reid at the US Air Force Research Lab is collaborating with the
Carnegie Mellon team to develop even smaller prototype robots. Reid
and colleagues can fold flat silicon shapes into 3D forms as little as
a few hundred microns diameter. “We will drive those using electric
forces too, by patterning circuits and devices into the silicon
design,” Goldstein says. He predicts that by the summer of 2008 they
will have prototypes capable of rolling themselves around this way.
Modularity is a popular theme with robotics researchers around the
world. Other designs include Swarm-bots, Superbot, and M-TRAN.

Complex connections

“The physical mechanism for docking different pieces is really tough
to do,” says Alan Winfield, who works on artificially intelligent
swarms at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK. “Most use
mechanical latches with hooks.” Although these physical connections
are complex, they do not need power, Winfield points out, unlike
magnetic connections. Using electromagnetic forces may make more sense
at smaller sizes, he adds. “My guess is that electrostatic connectors
will come into their own on the micro scale where less power is needed
to have a large effect,” he says. But software, not hardware, may be
the biggest challenge facing researchers working on swarms of robots,
he says: “Right now we just don’t know how to design a system that
produces complex overall behaviours from a group of simple agents.”
Ultimately, Goldstein believes his claytronic robots may one day
achieve this, and much more: “I’ll be done when we produce something
that can pass a Turing test for appearance,” he says. “You won’t know
if you’re shaking hands with me or a claytronics copy of me.”

Alan FT Winfield
email : Alan [dot] Winfield [at] uwe [dot] ac [dot] uk

Seth Goldstein
email : seth [at] cs [dot] cmu [dot] edu


Marco Dorigo
email : mdorigo [at] ulb [dot] ac [dot] be

Francesco Mondada
email : francesco [dot] mondada [at] epfl [dot] ch

Robot swarm works together to shift heavy objects
BY Tom Simonite  /  17 October 2006

A “swarm” of simple-minded robots that teams up to move an object too
heavy for them to manage individually has been demonstrated by
robotics researchers. The robots cannot communicate and must act only
on what they can see around them. They follow simple rules to fulfil
their task – mimicking the way insects work together in a swarm.

The robots were developed by Marco Dorigo at the Free University of
Brussels, Belgium, along with colleagues at the Institute of Cognitive
Science and Technology in Italy and the Autonomous Systems Laboratory
and Dalle Molle Institute for the Study of Artificial Intelligence,
both in Switzerland. “In the future we might have robots that actively
seek help from others when they come up a problem they can’t solve
alone,” says Dorigo, “For example if a robot can’t climb an obstacle
without tipping over it might go back and get others to climb over as
a group.” In experiments, six of the cylindrical robots were able to
drag an object across the floor of a room. Working autonomously, they
locate and assemble around the object and either grab hold of it
directly or of another robot nearby, before slowly dragging it towards
a target.

Mapping out
A video shows the six Swarm-bot robots gradually transporting a object
lit with red LEDs over to a large white target. Another video clip,
shown at 10 times normal speed, shows a larger team of robots working
together to map out a path from a red object and a blue target. This
strategy is necessary because none of the bots can see far enough to
work out the route between the object and its target for themselves.

Each Swarm-bot is 19 centimetres high, has a rotating turret, a claw-
like gripper and moves using a combination of caterpillar tracks and
wheels. Each also has a basic computer and is loaded with the same
software. The simple rules laid out in this software allow the robots
to perform complex actions as a group. A swarm of ants uses a similar
strategy to tackle difficult jobs like carrying a large object.

Evolving rules

The rules preloaded onto the Swarm-bots were “evolved” to suit the
particular task and incorporated genetics-based algorithms and a
detailed 3D simulation (see Nuclear reactors ‘evolve’ inside
supercomputers). “In the object transport scenario they search for a
red object and grasp onto it,” explains Dorigo. “When they do that
they also change colour from blue to red.” This means a cluster of
bots is “connected” to the object. When the bots cannot see any more
blue – meaning they are all linked together – they start dragging the
object towards its target.

The robots can adjust their caterpillar tracks, to ensure they are all
pulling in the right direction. “Each robot has a traction sensor
inside that detects all the external forces on it,” explains Dorigo. A
robot uses its sensor to identify any conflicting forces, and then
changes direction accordingly. Dorigo is now working on a swarm of
robots that could operate in a human environment. “It is called
Swarmanoid and will have three different kinds of robots,” he
explains. Some robots will be able to crawl along like Swarm-bots,
others will be able to climb walls, and others still will be able to
fly, he says.


Space Junk / February 01, 2007

Saturn has rings. So does the Earth.

The Center for Space Standards & Innovation, a Colorado group that provides space-tracking information for aerospace firms, reports that the debris from the pulverized [Chinese] satellite is now spreading out in a ring around the Earth.

The ring is not dense — there are some 500 pieces large enough to be tracked on radar — but it’s vast, and the path is an orbit that goes over the north and south poles.

Through their parent company, Analytical Graphics, Inc., they’ve put together some animation, which will give you a good idea of what’s happening. (Note: it’s a large file, which will open Windows Media Player if your computer is configured as mine is.) The image on this page, also theirs, gives you an idea of what’s going on up there. The International Space Station, though its orbit is in a different plane, will pass through that red zone twice every orbit. NASA says there’s no risk; CSSI says that can’t be said.

To people in the space business, this is part of a growing problem. Even a fleck of paint can be fatal at 17,200 miles an hour. Space shuttles have had to evade known pieces of space junk on several flights in the past, and at least three satellites have been disabled by orbiting debris since the early 1990s. Three? That’s it? Just remember that each represents millions–or hundreds of millions–of dollars, much of which came from us taxpayers.


What are Debris Clouds?

Any concentration of debris particles or fragments in a well-defined region of space is referred to as a debris cloud. Debris clouds are formed whenever debris is being created by a single source. For example, discarded upper stages generally are surrounded by a cloud of particulates that are released over time by degradation of various materials such as paint and multilayer insulation.

Whenever an orbital breakup occurs, a debris cloud is instantly formed. Such debris clouds first take on the form of an expanding 3D ellipsoid. The center of the debris cloud moves along a well-defined orbit, which for explosions is identical to the orbit of the original object. The debris cloud gradually spreads around this orbit in a spiral pattern. As time passes, the debris cloud eventually envelopes the entire orbit and any other satellites in the nearby vicinity.

Due to the laws of orbital motion and to physical processes involved in an explosion or collision, fragments are not spread uniformly throughout a debris cloud. At some locations, spatial density of fragments is much greater than at others. When spatial fragment density is high, the collision risk posed to satellites that fly through the cloud is greatly increased.

Certain regions of the debris cloud are constricted to nearly one or two dimensions. There are three types of debris cloud constrictions: pinch points, pinch lines, and pinch sheets. Spatial fragment density is very high at these constrictions.

Pinch points and pinch lines are particularly important to satellite constellations. Neither of these constrictions moves with the debris cloud around its orbit. They remain fixed in inertial space while the debris cloud repeatedly circulates through them. In many satellite constellations there are multiple satellites in each orbital ring. If one of these satellites breaks up, the remaining satellites in the ring will all repeatedly fly through the pinch point and pinch line. If many fragments are produced by the breakup, the risk of damaging another satellite in the ring may be significant.

If satellites from two orbital rings collide, two debris clouds will be formed, one in each ring. The constrictions of each cloud then pose a hazard to the remaining satellites in both rings.

“The master list of satellite orbital launches and launch attempts. At the time of writing, this is the most complete list available with accurate launch times: I’ve managed to track down a lot of launch times (to the minute) that were previously unavailable. There may be some errors in this list, if you spot any please let me know.”



“The Kessler Syndrome is a scenario, proposed by NASA consultant Donald J. Kessler, in which the volume of space debris in Low Earth Orbit is so high that objects in orbit are frequently struck by debris, creating even more debris and a greater risk of further impacts. The implication of this scenario is that the escalating amount of debris in orbit could eventually render space exploration, and even the use of satellites, too prone to loss to be feasible for many generations.

The Kessler Syndrome is especially insidious because of the “domino effect and Feedback runaway.” Any impact between two objects of sizable mass spalls off shrapnel debris from the force of collision. Each piece of shrapnel now has the potential to cause further damage, creating even more space debris. With a large enough collision (such as one between a space station and a defunct satellite), the amount of cascading debris could be enough to render Low Earth Orbit essentially impassable.

To minimize the chances of damage to other vehicles, designers of a new vehicle or satellite are frequently required to demonstrate that it can be safely disposed of at the end of its life, for example by use of a controlled atmospheric reentry system or a boost into a graveyard orbit.”


Collisional cascading: The limits of population growth in low earth orbit
BY Donald J. Kessler / NASA/Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX 77058 / online 25 Nov. 2002

“Predictions have been made by several authors that random collisions between made-made objects in Earth orbit will lead to a significant source of new orbital debris, possibly within the next century. The authors have also concluded that there are a number of uncertainties in these models, and additional analysis and data are required to fully characterize the future environment. However, the nature of these uncertainties are such that while the future environment is uncertain, the fact that collisions will control the future environment is less uncertain. The data that already exist is sufficient to show that cascading collisions will control the future debris environment with no, or very minor increases in the current low Earth orbit population. Two populations control this process: Explosion fragments and expended rocket bodies and payloads. Practices are already changing to limit explosions in low Earth orbit; it is now necessary to begin limiting the number of expended rocket bodies and payloads in orbit.”

and so:

“A graveyard orbit, also called a supersynchronous orbit, junk orbit or disposal orbit, is an orbit significantly above synchronous orbit where spacecraft are intentionally placed at the end of their operational life. It is a measure performed in order to lower the probability of collisions with operational spacecraft and of the generation of additional space debris. It is used when the delta-v required to perform a de-orbit maneuver would be too high. De-orbiting a geostationary satellite would require a delta-v of about 1,500 m/s while re-orbiting it to a graveyard orbit would require about 11 m/s.

For satellites in a geostationary orbit and geosynchronous orbits, the graveyard orbit would be few hundred kilometers above the operational orbit. The transfer to graveyard orbit above geostationary orbit however requires the same amount of fuel that a satellite needs for approximately three months of stationkeeping. It also requires a reliable attitude control during the transfer maneuver. While most satellite operators try to perform such a maneuver at the end of the operational life, only one-third succeed in doing so.[citation needed]

FCC Enters Orbital Debris Debate
by Peter de Selding

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stepped into a years-long debate on orbital debris by ordering tough new measures governing how satellites are disposed of by their owners. Over the objections of several of the world’s largest commercial satellite-fleet operators, the FCC ruled that all U.S.-licensed satellites launched after March 18, 2002, will have to be placed into so-called graveyard orbits between 200 and 300 kilometers above the geostationary arc, where most commercial satellites operate. The ruling, published June 21, will set a regulatory standard that will be difficult for other nations to avoid. “Up to now, orbital debris has been handled in gentlemen’s-agreement fashion, with soft recommendations that were ignored,” said Christophe Bonnal, a member of an international group that has been pushing the United Nations to adopt debris-mitigation standards. “It is time that people started pounding the table, and it was absolutely necessary that the FCC do it.”

The FCC selected March 18, 2002, as the cutoff date because that was when it notified satellite operators that it was considering rules on the subject. An FCC license is an indispensable ticket for any satellite operator proposing services in the United States. Commercial as well as government satellite operators have been saying for years that they share the concerns that increasing debris both in low Earth orbit and along the geostationary arc 36,000 kilometers above the equator is a problem that ultimately could shut down the space industry. Space industry pioneers including Arthur C. Clarke, who first discovered the properties of the geostationary orbital position, have warned that orbital debris is the single largest long-term threat to the continued use of space for satellites, and especially for manned missions.

The perils of fast-flying particles, even as small as a coin, left over from spent rocket stages and satellites is the main reason the U.S. space shuttle flies upside down and backwards once in orbit. In that position, shuttle astronauts are best protected from orbital junk. The FCC based its new rules on recommendations made by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordinating Committee (IADC), which includes members from 11 of the world’s biggest spacefaring nations. The recommendations complement measures taken by most launch-vehicle operators to assure that their rockets are as benign as possible once in orbit. A large portion of the thousands of pieces of orbital junk tracked by the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is the result of exploding rocket upper stages.

The most striking of the FCC measures deals with satellites operating in geostationary orbit. Even some of the largest, most profitable satellite-fleet operators have a checkered performance in moving their spent spacecraft well out of the operating lane. According to figures prepared for the IADC based on NORAD data, of 13 geostationary satellites retired in 2002, only five were moved to safe graveyard orbits. The other eight were placed into orbits that sooner or later will threaten to disrupt operations in the geostationary arc. The situation did not improve much in 2003, when just six of 15 geostationary satellites taken out of service were placed in safe orbits. One of the 15, Loral Space and Communications’ Telstar 4, abruptly failed in orbit and could not be moved.

Eight others — Telesat Canada’s Anik C1, the Intelsat 5A, the Eutelsat 2 F1, the PanAmSat Galaxy 6, the Hispasat 1A, the German DFS Kopernikus 3, Russia’s Gals 2 and India’s Insat 2C — were relocated to orbital positions that are insufficiently out of the way, according to a summary submitted to the IADC’s April meeting in Albano Terme, Italy, by Europe’s Esoc space operations center in Darmstadt, Germany. Under the new FCC rules, operators of geostationary satellites will have to commit to raising their satellites to between 200 and 300 kilometers above geostationary orbit as a condition of receiving a license to provide services in the United States. The exact minimum post-retirement altitude will depend on the satellite’s size and other factors that determine how likely it is to drift back into the geostationary arc. The FCC estimates that for a standard Boeing Satellite Systems 601-class satellite weighing 2,477 kilograms without its fuel, the owner will need to raise the orbit by 266 kilometers. In its ruling, the FCC says it considered making the new rule retroactive to all FCC-licensed satellites in orbit. But several satellite operators, including PanAmSat Corp. of Wilton, Conn., EchoStar Communications Corp. of Littleton, Colo., SES Americom of Princeton, N.J., and Inmarsat Ltd. of London said such a move would cost them huge amounts of money. That led to the compromise date of March 18, 2002, which the FCC says will reduce “the potentially significant financial impact of this new requirement.”

For a commercial satellite operator, a satellite in stable position nearing the end of its life is in most cases generating revenues that go straight to the bottom line. Some of this revenue will now be conceded as operators reserve several kilograms of on-board fuel to assure their ability to raise the satellite into the FCC-specified graveyard orbit. Current monitoring technology makes it difficult for operators to assess how much fuel is left in a satellite nearing retirement. In at least one case in 2003, a satellite operator intending to follow the IADC guidelines misjudged the fuel remaining and had to leave the spacecraft in a less-favorable orbit. “Operators are going to have to err on the side of caution,” said Bonnal, who is the outgoing chairman of the IADC debris-mitigation working group. “If they need 4 kilograms to raise the orbit, they are going to have to save maybe 6 kilograms to be sure.” Six kilograms of fuel is enough for between two and three months of satellite operations.



“In an attempt to lay a radio-reflective ring around the world, small metal dipole needles were allowed to sublimate out of a matrix. The experiment was greatly criticized by astronomers who feared optical and radio pollution. However the needles apparently didn’t work as a radio reflector and the feared effects did not come to pass.”
Earth’s Artificial Ring: Project West Ford
BY Anthony Kendall / May 2nd, 2006

At the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s, all international communications were either sent through undersea cables or bounced off of the natural ionosphere. The United States military was concerned that the Soviets (or other “Hostile Actors”) might cut those cables, forcing the unpredictable ionosphere to be the only means of communication with overseas forces. The Space Age had just begun, and the communications satellites we rely on today existed only in the sketches of futurists.

Nevertheless, the US Military looked to space to help solve their communications weakness. Their solution was to create an artificial ionosphere. In May 1963, the US Air Force launched 480 million tiny copper needles that briefly created a ring encircling the entire globe. They called it Project West Ford. The engineers behind the project hoped that it would serve as a prototype for two more permanent rings that would forever guarantee their ability to communicate across the globe.

The project itself was a virtually unqualified success. Though the first launch ended in failure, the second launch went without a hitch on May 10th, 1963. Inside the West Ford spacecraft, the needles were packed densely together in blocks made of a napthalene gel that would rapidly evaporate in space. This entire package of needles weighed only 20 kg. After being released, the hundreds of millions of copper needles gradually spread throughout their entire orbit over a period of two months. The final donut-shaped cloud was 15 km wide and 30 km thick and encircled the globe at an altitude of 3700 km.

Copper Dipoles from Project West FordCopper Dipoles from Project West FordThe West Ford copper needles were each 1.8 cm long and 0.0018 cm in diameter and weighed only 40 micrograms. They were designed to be exactly half of the wavelength of 8000 MHz microwaves. This length would create strong reflections when the microwaves struck the copper needles, in effect making them tiny dipole anttennae each repeating in all directions the exact same signal they received.

The first attempt at remote communications using the West Ford belt was made on May 14th, 4 days after the launch. At this point, the dipoles had not completely spread out to fill their entire orbit so they were much more densely spaced than in their final configuration. Using two 18.5 meter microwave dish antennae, Project West Ford engineers managed to send voice transmissions between Camp Parks, California and Millstone Hill, Massachusetts. The voice connection was described as “intelligible” and was transmitted at a data rate of approximately 20,000 bits per second– about the speed of a 1992-era telephone modem. But as the needles continued to disperse to their final cloud, the data rate dropped off significantly, so much so that by June 18th only 400 bits per second could be transmitted. On July 2nd, the experiment was terminated. At this time, the tiny needles were spaced about 400 meters from each other.

Camp Parks Station constructed for Project West Ford in Pleasanton, CA Despite its technical success, the ultimate goal behind Project West Ford was never attained. Serious scientific opposition to the project sprung up almost immediately after it was first proposed in the late 1950s. Though West Ford’s cloud of dipoles was carefully designed to return to Earth within a few years of its launch, a fully-functional cloud dense enough for robust communications might be a permanent fixture of Earth’s orbit.

Because of the great distance between the tiny needles, the West Ford belt was visible only in the first few days after launch when the spacing was much smaller. A denser belt intended for permanent communications would probably not have been visible except by very powerful optical telescopes. But, at radio and microwave frequencies, the final dipole clouds may have become scars on the night sky, forever obscuring the universe beyond.

However, it may not have been the opposition from prominent scientists that finally killed Project West Ford’s dream. By 1963, communications satellite technology had become more and more capable. Compared to those sleek products of Space Age technology, the relatively low-tech West Ford dipole cloud was an unsightly dinosaur. However, the West Ford engineers remained convinced of the feasibility of their endeavour, and largely blamed the end of the program on the opposing scientists rather than flaws in their own technology.

Most of the West Ford dipoles re-entered Earth’s atmosphere sometime around 1970, according to theoretical and observational evidence. The needles slowly drifted down to the Earth’s surface, unscathed by re-entry because of their size. Some consideration was given to recovering one or more of the dipoles in order to learn more about the space environment. Calculations showed that as many as five dipoles would have landed per square kilometer in the high Arctic. But the exceptional cost of recovering these tiny needles from the haystack of billions of tons of Arctic snow killed off any practical attempts at recovery. Back in space, the failed 1971 1961 spacecraft and some larger clumps of the 1973 1963 dipoles remain in orbit like so many other pieces of space junk, silently carrying the long-dead hopes of this nearly forgotten experiment.



Homework Assignment #6: Orbital Debris

In this assignment you will model the orbital debris collision hazard for spacecraft in Earth orbit. This will require you to program formulas representing the flux (impacts/ unit time/ unit area) of debris, numerically integrate these formulas forward in time, and perform an analysis where different inputs will affect the results (a parametric study).

The flux of orbital debris on a spacecraft can be represented by a fairly simple formula that depends on two sets of information: Information about the spacecraft such as altitude, inclination, and orientation; and, information about the environment such as particle sizes, growth rates, and the effects of the solar cycle (through changing atmospheric drag).

For a little perspective realize that while a .1-mm particle may cause serious surface erosion, a 1-mm particle can be very damaging. A 3-mm particle traveling at 10 km/s has the kinetic energy of a bowling ball thrown at 100 km/hr and a 1-cm particle would have the energy of a 180-kg safe thrown at the same speed. The U.S. space shuttles have already changed their orbits several times to avoid large debris. There has been pitting of tiles, and the loss of several panes of its multi-paned windshield due to impact with a small fleck of paint.

Quoting from Kessler, Reynolds, and Phillip, “NASA Technical Memorandum 100 471: Orbital Debris Environment for Spacecraft Designed to Operate in Low Earth Orbit”:

“The natural meteoroid environment has historically been a design consideration for spacecraft. Meteoroids are part of the interplanetary environment and sweep through Earth Orbital space at an average speed of 20 km/s. At any one instant, a total of 200 kg of meteoroid mass is within 2000 km of the Earth’s surface. Most of this mass is concentrated in 0.1-mm meteoroids.”

Within this same 2000 km above the Earth’s surface, however, are an estimated 3,000,000 kg of man-made orbiting objects. These objects are mostly in high inclination orbits and sweep past one another at an average speed of 10 km/s. Most of the mass is concentrated in approximately 3000 spent rocket stages, inactive payloads and a few active payloads. A smaller amount of mass, approximately 40,000 kg, is in the remaining 4000 objects currently being tracked by U.S. Space Command radars. Most of the objects are the result of more than 90 on-orbit satellite fragmentation. Recent ground telescope measurements of orbital debris combined with an analysis of hypervelocity impact pits on the returned surfaces of the Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) satellite indicate a total mass of approximately 2000 kg for orbital debris of 1 cm or smaller and approximately 300 kg for orbital debris smaller than 1 mm. This distribution of mass and relative velocity is sufficient to cause the orbital debris environment to be more hazardous than the meteoroid environment to most spacecraft orbiting below 2000 km altitude.

While low-altitude debris will fall to the Earth due to atmospheric drag, it is quickly replenished by particles higher up and from collisions. It has been proposed that if too much debris gets into orbit, collisions could cause an increasing number of breakups, leading to an exponential growth in the number of particles. Such a catastrophic chain-reaction has been referred to as the “Kessler Syndrome”. Even with the envisioned growth in launch rate, the growth of orbital debris can be greatly reduced by de-orbiting spent rocket stages and satellite at the end of their useful lifetimes. Better design and management can also reduce the likelihood of explosions (often related to propulsion systems) and reduce the amount of debris likely to be generated in a collision. Orbiting robots have also been proposed to scavenge for old satellites so they could be recycled before they disintegrate, perhaps to be used as small source of materials in future space development.

The Assignment
1. Prepare a multi-curve plot that illustrates the average number of impacts on a spacecraft (y-axis) vs. altitude in km (x-axis) for particle sizes of 0.1, 0.2, and 0.3 cm. The range of heights should be 100 km to 2,000 km, and assume the 10-year time interval: t1=1985, t2=1995. Use the default values listed with the equations, i.e., k=1; random tumbling surface; I = 28.5 degrees inclination, etc.

2. Make at least two other graphs of your choice, in each one varying the effect of altering one variable – change k, S, t2, i () or p. For comparison keep d = {0.1, 0.2, 0.3 cm} or d = 0.1 cm depending on your graph. Explain your choices.

* k – represents type / attitude of spacecraft
* S – measure of solar cycle effects
* t2 – represents mission duration effects
* , i – represents orbital inclination effects
* p – represents growth rate effects


That cylindrical object you see pictured above is a roughly school-bus sized structure which was deployed into space in 1984. It orbited the Earth for five and a half years with nothing expected of it other than to float there, getting battered about by whatever the great black yonder saw fit to throw at it. You see, every inch of its outside surface was covered with Science. 57 separate experiments, mounted in 86 trays, involving the participation of “more than 200 principal investigators from 33 private companies, 21 universities, seven NASA centers, nine Department of Defense laboratories and eight foreign countries.” Its purpose was to study the effects of space on a multitude of materials. Its name is the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) and I am deeply in love with it.

As longtime readers are no doubt painfully aware, when it comes to certain items I have the tendency to objectify, to glaze over purpose and function and context and just splash about in the shallows of aesthetics. The recent post on microscope slides is a good example. Well, I should warn you straight off that I’m about to indulge that tendency yet again, because every bit of practical and thoughtful background information I plan to relay was contained in that first paragraph. Believe it or not LDEF, somewhat humble punching-bag though it may be, is gorgeous. More specifically the neatly arranged trays which cover every inch of its surface are, as a group and individually, some damned handsome items. Visually they represent the confluence of so many things I’m partial to that the LDEF might in some ways represent the perfect object for my ogling pleasure.

For me it brings to mind the abstraction of certain painters, a gridded and measured minimalism in graphic design, failed utopian architecture, and the shapes and surface textures of every science fictional interior ever put on film. Add to that the subtle color palette peppered here and there with super saturated counterpoints, the unintentional, almost accidental, nature of its beauty, and (having been well battered during its 32,422 Earth orbits) the indelible stamp of decay… and, well, what can I say? The images [see gallery] are each of individual sections of the LDEF’s exterior. I have cropped them where I thought necessary but they are otherwise exactly as they were photographed in 1990.


-As of april, 2005 at least 13 nuclear reactor fuel cores, 8 thermoelectric generators, and 32 nuclear reactors are known to be in Earth orbits below 1700 km.
-Low Earth orbit ~ 250-600 km from earth – International space station
-Geosynchronous stationary orbit ~ 35,785 km from earth – communications satellites
-~ 20,000 km from earth – Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites

Before 1961, the entire Earth satellite population was just over 50 objects. Now earth orbit is cluttered with: ~11,000 objects bigger than 10 cm, of which ~9,000 are catalogued and tracked (~8000 are of US or USSR origin) – including around 600 functional spacecraft; ~100,000 objects from 1-10 cm — too small to track, dangerous to spacecraft; and several million objects smaller than 1cm.

What are they? Jettisoned mission junk, rocket fuel, space station garbage, abandoned rocket parts, used nuclear reactors, leaked radioactive coolant and exploded bits (~150 unplanned explosions of rockets and satellites have occured to date). Collisions between orbiting debris make even more debris. Hundreds of close passes (less than 1 km apart) occur daily between catalogued objects. Each year around 100 objects fall out of orbit and survive re-entry, crash landing somewhere on earth. Dozens of earth orbit satellites launched by the USSR and the USA between 1965-1988 used nuclear power. Several have fallen out of orbit and crash landed. Nuclear power systems are being considered for projects in the next decade. About 75 – 100 new satellites are launched each year.

Orbiting Junk, Once a Nuisance, Is Now a Threat
by WILLIAM J. BROAD / February 6, 2007

For decades, space experts have worried that a speeding bit of orbital debris might one day smash a large spacecraft into hundreds of pieces and start a chain reaction, a slow cascade of collisions that would expand for centuries, spreading chaos through the heavens. In the last decade or so, as scientists came to agree that the number of objects in orbit had surpassed a critical mass — or, in their terms, the critical spatial density, the point at which a chain reaction becomes inevitable — they grew more anxious. Early this year, after a half-century of growth, the federal list of detectable objects (four inches wide or larger) reached 10,000, including dead satellites, spent rocket stages, a camera, a hand tool and junkyards of whirling debris left over from chance explosions and destructive tests.

Now, experts say, China’s test on Jan. 11 of an antisatellite rocket that shattered an old satellite into hundreds of large fragments means the chain reaction will most likely start sooner. If their predictions are right, the cascade could put billions of dollars’ worth of advanced satellites at risk and eventually threaten to limit humanity’s reach for the stars. Federal and private experts say that early estimates of 800 pieces of detectable debris from the shattering of the satellite will grow to nearly 1,000 as observations continue by tracking radars and space cameras. At either number, it is the worst such episode in space history.

Today, next year or next decade, some piece of whirling debris will start the cascade, experts say. “It’s inevitable,” said Nicholas L. Johnson, chief scientist for orbital debris at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “A significant piece of debris will run into an old rocket body, and that will create more debris. It’s a bad situation.” Geoffrey E. Forden, an arms expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is analyzing the Chinese satellite debris, said China perhaps failed to realize the magnitude of the test’s indirect hazards.

Dr. Forden suggested that Chinese engineers might have understood the risks but failed to communicate them. In China, he said, “the decision process is still so opaque that maybe they didn’t know who to talk to. Maybe you have a disconnect between the engineers and the people who think about policy.” China, experts note, has 39 satellites of its own — many of them now facing a heightened risk of destruction. Politically, the situation is delicate. In recent years China has played a growing international role in fighting the proliferation of space junk. In 2002, for instance, it joined with other spacefaring nations to suggest voluntary guidelines for debris control.

In April, Beijing is to play host to the annual meeting of the advocacy group, known as the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. Donald J. Kessler, a former head of the orbital debris program at NASA and a pioneer analyst of the space threat, said Chinese officials at the forum would probably feel “some embarrassment.” Mr. Kessler said Western analysts agreed that China’s new satellite fragments would speed the chain reaction’s onset. “If the Chinese didn’t do the test, it would still happen,” he said. “It just wouldn’t happen as quickly.”

Last week in Beijing, a foreign ministry spokeswoman failed to respond directly to a debris question. Asked if the satellite’s remains would threaten other spacecraft, she asserted that China’s policy was to keep space free of weapons. “We are ready to strengthen international cooperation in this regard,” the spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, told reporters. Cascade warnings began as early as 1978. Mr. Kessler and his NASA colleague, Burton G. Cour-Palais, wrote in The Journal of Geophysical Research that speeding junk that formed more junk would produce “an exponential increase in the number of objects with time, creating a belt of debris around the Earth.”

During the cold war, Moscow and Washington generally ignored the danger and, from 1968 to 1986, conducted more than 20 tests of antisatellite arms that created clouds of jagged scraps. Often, they did so at low altitudes from which the resulting debris soon plunged earthward. Still, the number of objects grew as more nations launched rockets and satellites into orbit. In 1995, as the count passed 8,000, the National Academy of Sciences warned in a thick report that some crowded orbits appeared to have already reached the “critical density” needed to sustain a chain reaction.

A year later, apprehension rose as the fuel tank of an abandoned American rocket engine exploded, breaking the craft into 713 detectable fragments — until now, the record. Amid such developments, space experts identified the first collisions that threatened to start a chain reaction, putting analysts increasingly on edge. On Jan. 17, 2005, for instance, a piece of speeding debris from an exploded Chinese rocket collided with a derelict American rocket body that had been shot into space 31 years earlier. Warily, investigators searched though orbital neighborhoods but found to their relief that the crackup had produced only four pieces of detectable debris.

A year later, Mr. Johnson, the chief scientist for NASA’s orbital debris program, and his colleague J. -C. Liou, published an article in the journal Science that detailed the growing threat. They said orbits were now so cluttered that the chain reaction was sure to start even if spacefaring nations refrained from launching any more spacecraft. “The environment is unstable,” they wrote, “and collisions will become the most dominant debris-generating mechanism.” It was in this atmosphere of rising tension that China last month fired a rocket into space that shattered an old weather satellite — its first successful test of an antisatellite weapon.

David C. Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a private group in Cambridge, Mass., calculated that the old satellite had broken into 1,000 fragments four inches wide or larger, and millions of smaller ones. Federal sky-watchers who catalogue objects in the Earth orbit work slowly and deliberately. As of yesterday, they publicly listed 647 detectable pieces of the satellite but were said to be tracking hundreds more. The breakup was dangerous because the satellite’s orbit was relatively high, some 530 miles up. That means the debris will remain in space for tens, thousands or even millions of years.

Mr. Kessler, the former NASA official, now a private consultant in Asheville, N.C., said China might have chosen a relatively high target to avoid directly threatening the International Space Station and its astronaut crew, which orbit at a height of about 220 miles. “Maybe the choice was to endanger the station in the short term or to cause a long-term problem,” he said. “Maybe that forced them to raise the orbit.” Even so, the paths of the speeding Chinese debris, following the laws of physics and of celestial mechanics, expanded in many directions, including upward and downward. As of last week, outliers from the central cloud stretched from roughly 100 miles to more than 2,000 miles above the Earth.

A solution to the cascade threat exists but is costly. In his Science paper and in recent interviews, Mr. Johnson of NASA argued that the only sure answer was environmental remediation, including the removal of existing large objects from orbit. Robots might install rocket engines to send dead spacecraft careering back into the atmosphere, or ground-based lasers might be used to zap debris. The bad news, Mr. Johnson said in his paper, is that “for the near term, no single remediation technique appears to be both technically feasible and economically viable.”

If nothing is done, a kind of orbital crisis might ensue that is known as the Kessler Syndrome, after Mr. Kessler. A staple of science fiction, it holds that the space around Earth becomes so riddled with junk that launchings are almost impossible. Vehicles that entered space would quickly be destroyed. In an interview, Mr. Kessler called the worst-case scenario an exaggeration. “It’s been overdone,” he said of the syndrome. Still, he warned of an economic barrier to space exploration that could arise. To fight debris, he said, designers will have to give spacecraft more and more shielding, struggling to protect the craft from destruction and making them heavier and more costly in the process. At some point, he said, perhaps centuries from now, the costs will outweigh the benefits. “It gets more and more expensive,” he said. “Sooner or later it gets too expensive to do business in space.”



Rings around the Earth: A clue to climate change? / September 11, 2002
Large-object collisions with Earth — comets, asteroids, or large meteors — could interact with the Earth’s surface and atmosphere to eject materials, including melted and reformed materials, called tektities to create a debris ring.

While most of us know about rings around Saturn and Jupiter, some scientists believe there once were rings of rock debris around our own planet. Two scientists — Peter J. Fawcett, of the University of New Mexico, and Mark B.E. Boslough, of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories — have suggested that a geologically “recent” collision (about 35 million years ago) may have caused such a temporary debris ring. The two also suggest that such temporary rings — lasting from 100,000 to a few millions of years — may explain some patterns of climate change observed in the earth’s geological record. These conclusions are spelled out in an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Atmospheres, August 16 edition.

Lore of the Rings
“One way to get a ring,” says Sandia’s Boslough, “is with an impact.” There is a growing body of evidence showing that the earth has been subjected to numerous impacts by comets and asteroids throughout its history. Among these impacts are the Meteor Crater, in Arizona, the buried Chixulub crater, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and a chain of at least five craters spread across several continents. Several studies, both theoretical and with laboratory data, suggest that some large impacts are capable of ejecting material into space in the form of debris rings, if the mechanics of the impact meet certain requirements. The authors conclude that the mostly likely scenario for ring creation is a low-angle impact by a large asteroid. Some earth materials and melted meteoric debris, called “tektites” would form the ring materials. Boslough describes an impact where the collision object ricochets back into the atmosphere. The ricochet becomes part of an expanding vapor cloud, setting up an interaction that allows some of the debris to attain orbit velocity. The orbiting debris will collapse into a single plane by the same mechanics that led to the rings of Saturn and other planets, Boslough explains. Such a ring would most likely form near the equator, because of the dynamics involved with the moon and the earth’s equatorial bulge.

Speculation on climates past
The effects of the larger impact events on earth’s environment and climate have been the subjects of much speculation and research over the past two decades. “Clearly, large impacts have affected the evolution of the earth, life on it and its atmospheric environment,” says Fawcett. Much of the work has focused on the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary event, which marked a mass extinction and the end of the age of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago. A number of these studies suggest an impact resulting in the suspension of a layer of dust in the upper atmosphere blocking sunlight and cooling the earth. The two researchers asked could other impacts result in different atmosphere-altering phenomena?

An equatorial ring would cast a shadow primarily in the tropics, as it does for Saturn. Depending on location, surface area, and darkness of the ring shadow, the amount of incoming solar warmth, or insolation, could be significantly altered, the two authors conclude. To test their theory, the two assumed an opaque ring, like Saturn’s B-ring, scaled to earth-size and tested global climate affects using a climate model. The model selected and modified for the simulation was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR.) The Center’s “Genesis” climate model includes atmospheric circulation information and layers of vegetation, soil, snow, sea temperature and land ice data. The goals of the internally funded project were for Sandia to adapt a popular climate code to run on distributed-memory parallel computers and to establish relationships with the climate change research community, Boslough explained. The Labs made use of its Sandia University Research Program to fund Fawcett’s efforts to analyze the data from the adapted code.

A Ring World
“The equatorial debris ring has a profound effect on climate, because it reflects a significant fraction of tropical insolation back to space before it can interact with the atmosphere,” the authors conclude. Surface and atmospheric temperatures, changes in temperature ranges from equator to poles, circulation patterns and the rain and snow cycles were all impacted by the ring, the model shows. The two scientists looked at changes shown in the model to predict changes that might be found in the earth’s geologic record as a way to test their work. In addition to the K-T boundary event, they looked at a more recent impacts and a much older one.

The most recent event — about 35 million years ago — is identified by an iridium layer (often associated with meteors) and two pronounced mico-tektite fields, where these melted meteor-related materials have been found and dated. Climatic records from sedimentary materials just above the iridium/micro-tektite interval indicate a 100,000-year cooling interval. Orbiting debris in a ring, casting its shadow in the subtropics could have sustained such a cooling trend, the authors suggest. The K-T boundary impact — about 65 million years ago — was much larger than the more recent impact and had a much larger immediate effect on the environment as measured by extinctions and atmospheric changes. But there were no long-term effects on the climate, leading the authors to conclude the event probably did not generate a debris ring.

Snowball Earth
Another interesting aspect of the modeling work is its implications for the so-called “Snowball Earth” theory. This theory holds that the earth was completely frozen over at the surface as many as four times in the neoproterozoic period — 750 to 580 million years ago. While much remains to be learned about the geologic evidence for this theory, “an opaque ring could have acted as the trigger to at least one episode of global glaciation,” the two researchers say. This would address one difficult question for the theorists: how did earth come to be frozen?

Mark Boslough / email: mbboslo [at] sandia [dot] gov
Peter Fawcett / email : fawcett [at] unm [dot] edu




Q. When most people hear the term “sex with robots” they probably
imagine something from their experience of popular media, whether it’s
a Star Wars robot, Bender from Futurama, or the maid from the Jetsons.
Can you explain what in your writing you mean when you talk about sex
with robots?

A. I am thinking in terms of androids – robots designed in a humanlike
form – of which many examples can be found on the Web site
But in addition to having arms, legs and a head, sexual robots will
also have human-sized genitalia. This idea is not at all as far
fetched as might first appear.

As long ago as the late 19th century there were manufacturers, in
Paris and elsewhere, who made artificial vaginas and even whole
artificial bodies, designed specifically to provide substitutes for
the female genitals and thereby to allow fornication. These products
were known as “dames de voyage” (ladies of travel) and were
particularly recommended for use by sailors during long periods at
sea. The sex robots that I envisage will, of course, employ 21st
rather than 19th century technology, but the basic idea is the same.

Q. In your most recent book you outline some of the research endeavors
and technological developments already underway that you predict might
produce some of the first opportunities for humans to have sex with
robots. Can you describe some of these?

A. There are many sex-related inventions that have been patented over
the past century or so. In fact there is a whole book devoted to the
subject of sex inventions at the U.S. Patent Office.

In “Robots Unlimited” I describe a recent patent application by an
Australian inventor, Dominic Choy. This is just one taste of things to
come. What I see happening is that the merging of many different
technologies will lead to the creation of robots that provide many of
the physical attributes required of a skilled lover.

Scientists have already developed artificial skin sufficiently
sensitive to distinguish between a gentle caress and firm pressure;
and the complementary capability – an artificial finger that can apply
sensuous strokes. There is also research into silicone-based and
similar types of materials used in the RealDoll and rival products,
materials that provide for the user a measure of simulation of
coupling with a human sex partner. Then add one or more of the
specifically sexual electronic technologies that are already
available, such as those employed for the benefit of women in the
Thrillhammer, the Sybian, or the hugely popular vibrators that
pleasure so many millions of customers; or the male equivalents –
vibrating penis rings. The combination of these technologies and
others will enable robots to deliver sexually awesome experiences.

Q. One of the things I found most surprising in reading your book was
the amount of research that is already underway in this area. In
particular I was excited by the thinking and experimentation around
robot reproduction. Can you explain what is meant by this term, and
maybe describe a few examples of research being done in this area.

A. Robot scientists have already made the first major breakthrough in
this field, with the development by Hod Lipson and Jordon Pollack at
Brandeis University of robots that simulate evolution and can design
new robots based on a trial-and-error process. This project has
already reached the stage where one robot can pick up the components
of another robot and assemble it.

We are, of course, very familiar with the idea of robots on the
assembly line, picking up the pieces of an automobile or whatever and
assembling them into one identical vehicle after another. Yet the idea
of a robot assembling replicas of itself is somehow intuitively
different for many people, probably because it is a little scary. The
science fiction literature is riddled with examples of robots that
reproduce, sometimes until there are so many of them that they are
able to take over the world. Now that the first stage of this process
has become science fact, it would not be surprising if many people
were to view this branch of robotics research with a certain amount of

What I have described so far relates only to the physical construction
of robots. But what about their “brains”, their emotions, their
personalities? A robot’s brain is some form of computer, running
software that has been developed to give the robot its mental
capabilities, including its emotions and personality. Over and above
the research into the physical self-reproduction of robots there is
also a research effort into self-reproducing software, programs that
can evolve into (hopefully) better programs – better in the sense of
being better able to perform its designated task(s). This idea is
based on genetics. The basic method is called a “genetic algorithm”
and, put simply, it works by having parts of a computer program
measuring how well or how badly they are performing and then improving
themselves through a process that simulates natural selection,
spawning a new, better generation of programs. It does not take much
imagination to realize that robots which can self-reproduce
physically, and also self-improve their own software, could evolve
almost beyond the dreams of science fiction writers.

One aspect of robot reproduction that I personally find very exciting
is the possibility that intelligent robots will be able to copy some
of the characteristics and physical features of their human owners.
Imagine, for example, that your robot has been programmed to “like”
the sound of your voice. When it designs its successors it can copy
the characteristics of your voice into the speech synthesis software
employed in those successors, resulting in robots that talk like you
do. As yet I am not aware of any research in this area, but the
recognition and speech synthesis technologies are already with us, and
I do not believe it will be very long before the idea is explored by

Q. Several times in your writing you slip anthropomorphizing language
in, so suddenly a computer program has intuition, or feelings, where
before it simply had a series of predictable responses to very
intelligent programming. I think for many people this will be one of
the greatest fears, and barriers to conceptualizing a human + robot
sexuality. When you write about the ethics of robot sex it calls to
mind the question of consciousness and sentience. Do you foresee
robotic consciousness? Or put another way, will we eventually produce
robots that are just like us?

A. The sometimes use of anthropomorphisms was quite deliberate. I hope
that in this way the reader will be led somewhat gently to the feeling
that the robots of the future will, at least in some sense, be alive.

I do forsee robot consciousness, and this is the subject of Chapter
12. One problem, of course, with the consciousness debate, is the lack
of a generally acceptable definition of the term. But in the sense
that the word is normally used, yes, I am convinced that robots will
act as though they possess consciousness. And if they do so act, then
we will not be able to deny that they have consciousness.

As to whether we will eventually produce robots that are just like us,
the answer here is “not exactly like us, but close”. Shakespeare’s
sixteenth century test: “If you prick me, do I not bleed?” will detect
one of the differences, and there will be others, but in terms of the
outward appearance and behavior of robots, I am convinced that they
will be designed to be all but indistinguishable to the vast majority
of the human population.

Q. You write that many people may feel threatened by the possibilities
of human robot sexual interactions. This response reminds me of the
very common response many people still have to sex toys and vibrators
in particular. Many straight men feel that a vibrator is a “threat” to
them, believing it could replace them. Many straight women will say
they don’t “need” a vibrator because they have a partner. You write
about how robots could provide sexual contact for people who may feel
unable to have it with another human. To what extent do you think
sexual interactions between humans and robots would replace sex
between two people?

A. I think it is a natural reaction for many heterosexual men to feel
threatened by vibrators, and therefore by robots, especially in
contemporary sexual culture in which the need to be able to sexually
please and satisfy your woman is promoted so widely in books and other
media, and is often the subject of boastful conversation.

Most men would feel inadequate if they believed that their woman
enjoyed better orgasms courtesy of a vibrator or a robot, than those
that the men themselves could provide on a regular basis. But I hope
and believe that one of the great benefits of sexual robots will be
their ability to teach lovemaking skills, so that men who do feel
inadequate will be able to take unlimited lessons, in private, from
robot lovers who possess an unrivalled level of knowledge of sexual
techniques and psycho-sexual problems, combined with great skills as
sensitive, patient teachers. And of course, some women will also wish
to avail themselves of the sexual teaching skills of robots.

You are quite right that many straight women will deny any need for a
vibrator because they already feel completely sexually satisfied by
their regular sex partner(s), and for those women it might be the case
that whatever additional sexual pleasures robots could offer them,
they are not of sufficient interest to encourage them to try robot sex
on a regular basis. But the sales figures for vibrators, and the
psychology literature, both popular and academic, are sufficiently
replete with data on sexually frustrated women, that one cannot doubt
the enormous popularity of robot lovers when they become commercially

None of this is intended to suggest that sex between two people will
become outmoded, because I do not believe for one moment that it will.
What I am convinced of is that robot sex will become the only sexual
outlet for a few sectors of the population: the misfits, the very shy,
the sexually inadequate and uneducable, . . .; and that for different
sectors of the population robot sex will vary between something to be
indulged in occasionally, and only when one’s partner is away from
home on a long trip, to an activity that supplements one’s regular sex
life, perhaps when one’s partner is not feeling well, or not feeling
like sex for some other reason.

Q. Here’s where I start to get worried. I’m afraid that rather than
enhancing a social experience (such as sex), technology will allow us
as humans to avoid evolving socially by using technology to mimic
social interaction rather than add to it. Currently the biggest
problem for people who are socially marginalized (which is what I’m
assuming you meant by “misfit”) is not that they aren’t able to have
sex, or make meaningful connections with others, it’s that our society
functions in a way to systemically keep them isolated. As the
disability activist and academic Tom Shakespeare says “the trouble is
not how can we have sex, it’s who can we have sex with”. And while
there is no doubt that people who are socially marginalized want to
have casual rollicking sex, just as often they report that what they
long for is the intimacy, human contact, and human connections, that
come with sexual intimacy and exploration. If these robots are
intended in any way to increase the opportunity and potential of human
sexuality, using them in this way would be seriously
counterproductive. What are your thoughts on this?

A. I do not see why using robots to satisfy the sexual and intimacy
needs of the socially marginalized is likely to be counterproductive.
If you mean that providing robots to satisfy needs that the socially
marginalized would prefer to be satisfied by humans, will make it less
likely that the socially marginalized will want or be able to find
suitable human partners, then you might be right, but I would still
argue that the benefits to the socially marginalized far outweigh the
negatives. Tom Shakespeare’s words ring true – the socially
marginalized do experience much more difficulty than others in finding
human contact, intimacy and sex.

That is a simple fact, and it is understandable. I feel that the
validity of your “counterproductive” argument, if I understand it
correctly, assumes that the socially marginalized can indeed find
intimacy and sex when they need it, in which case they will not need
to employ robots for these purposes. If that is so, then all well and
good. But my point is simply that there are groups in society who do
find it extremely difficult, almost impossible, to mate with partners
who will love them and satisfy their emotional and sexual needs on a
long-term basis. In many ways robots represent a very good way out of
this problem, just as the Japanese and American governments are now
looking at the possibility of using robots as carers for the elderly.
I firmly believe that in time robots will not only become carers,
sensitive to the emotional and practical needs of the elderly, but
that they will also become our friends if we want them to, and our
companions, lovers and marriage partners.
I would not describe any of this as counterproductive.

Q. I have to say that for me possibly the least interesting part of
the potential for human robot sexuality is the piece about sexual
technique. There are thousands of books, videos, and workshops for
people to learn “better” technique, and while you point out a variety
of ways that robots will allow a more immersive experience, ultimately
I’m aware that technique is just one (arguably small) part of sexual
expression. Have you considered the ways that robots may extend human
experience of sexuality beyond offering technical assistance and/or
providing sexual services?

A. I do not feel that we should downplay the importance of robots as a
means of teaching and enhancing sexual technique. So many
relationships founder because of dissatisfaction in the bedroom, and
so many men suffer, as do their partners, because they are unable for
whatever reason (including embarrassment) to work to improve their
lovemaking skills. That is why I highlighted this particular aspect of
robot sex.

But to answer the main part of your question, yes – I most definitely
believe that sexbots will be able to extend the human experience of
sexuality. Let me try to explain one way that this might be achieved,
using methods from other areas of Artificial Intelligence.

In Chapter 6, which explains in simple terms how computers think, the
topics I cover include discovery and invention, as achieved by
computer programs. Without going into any of the detail here, suffice
it to say that it has already been demonstrated that programs can
discover new ideas from existing knowledge and can even devise
inventions that are suitable for patenting. If such a program were to
be developed, incorporating all the knowledge contained in all of the
world’s sex manuals, and with some basic knowledge of human anatomy,
the result could be a plethora of new ideas for lovemaking, new sexual
positions, that robots could teach us and help us practice if we wish.

Another way in which human ideas of sexuality could be extended lies
in the possibility of experimenting with various group combinations,
groups involving one or more sexbots and perhaps more than one human.
Predicting trends in human sexual behavior is not an easy task, but it
is clear that when sexbots are widely available there will be many
more sexual practices to be tried.

Q. Your argument for the development of a more sophisticated ethical
discussion around human robot sexual interaction is based on the idea
that robot development in this area is inevitable, and we might as
well get ready for it, and start thinking now about the issues that
will come up. Can you give some examples of the ethical dilemmas you
see facing us as human robot sexual interactions become a reality?

A. The ethics of robot sex is a very broad subject, too broad to
discuss in detail in an interview, but I can certainly give some
examples of the types of ethical problem that I foresee.

Firstly there is the question of how one’s use of one’s own sex robot
will affect other people – one’s spouse or partner in particular. Will
sex with a robot be considered unfaithful? Will it be unethical in
some way to say to one’s regular human sex partner: “Not tonight
darling. I’m going to make it with the robot.”? (Some couples will, of
course, own two robots, a malebot and a fembot, and will enjoy
orgiastic sessions in which three or all four of them take part.) Will
robot swapping be viewed as being similar to wife swapping?

Then there are issues relating to the use of other people’s sexbots.
What will be the ethics of lending your sexbot to a friend, or
borrowing theirs? What about using a friend’s sexbot without telling
the friend?

There will certainly be ethical (and legal) issues relating to the use
of sexbots by minors. Should the age of consent for sex with a robot
be the same as that for sex with a human? And what about the ethics of
an adult encouraging a minor to have sex with a robot? Will it be
regarded as a sex educational experience, or as a corrupting
influence? And how will ethicists and lawyers deal with parents when
one of them wants their child to have sex with a robot, as a method of
sex education for example, but the other does not?

Finally, there is the matter of the ethics of robot sex as they affect
the robot itself. In “Robots Unlimited” I discuss some questions of
robot ethics, which in my opinion is one of the most interesting
topics in the debate on the future of robots. What happens when a
robot’s owner feels randy but the robot’s programming causes it to shy
away, possibly because it is running its self-test software or
downloading some new knowledge and does not wish to be interrupted, or
possibly because its personality was designed in such a way that it
sometimes says “no” for whatever reason.

Under such circumstances, is it akin to rape if the robot’s owner
countermands the robot’s indicated wish to refrain from sex on a
particular occasion?

I think you will agree that these examples warn of a minefield for
ethicists and lawyers. “Roboethics” is becoming a respectable academic
topic, for example earlier this year I attended a workshop on
roboethics organised by the Scuola di Robotica in Genoa, Italy, and a
couple of weeks later there was a similar conference in Palermo,
Sicily. So the subject is very much under discussion, although the
discussion is still in its very earliest stages.

Q. There seems to be so many ways that AI and robotics can potentially
have a positive impact on human existence and experience. Where do you
think sexuality fits in the larger picture. Do you imagine that as the
technology improves, sexuality will be one of the early testing
grounds for human robotic interactions? Do you think sex robots will
ultimately be a fad?

A. I believe that sexuality fits in the larger picture in BIG BOLD
LETTERS. What is the word most often typed into Google and the other
search engines? Sex! What was the most prolific use made of video
cassette recorders when they came on the market? Porno movies. What
was one of the first major social changes that came about with the
launch of the automobile? Young couples who wanted privacy so that
they could make love would borrow father’s car for the purpose (and
many still do so today). These are examples of inventions that were
not created with sexuality in mind, but for which sexuality became an
important use.

When we create robots that are specifically invented with sexuality in
mind, the level of interest and the desire to use them will, I
believe, be beyond the wildest dreams of product designers and

I think that sexuality will be far more than an early testing ground
for robots. It will not only be the most popular use of robots amongst
adults, it will also create huge social change. There is no way I can
see sexbots as being a fad, any more than one could say that sex is a

Q. Can you talk about what’s next, and what you’re working on now?

A. As I was collecting the research material and writing the book I
became increasingly fascinated by the subject of intimate
relationships with artificial partners. Originally I was planning only
one chapter on this subject, for reasons of space, but I had to extend
it into two chapters, one on robot emotion and love, the other on
robot sex and reproduction.

Then my wife pointed out that, in exploring these topics, I had almost
ignored the ethical implications, and questions such as consciousness,
and that these are important areas that needed to be addressed. So I
researched some more and added two more chapters. After I delivered
the book to the publisher I decided to write another book.

Whereas “Robots Unlimited” focuses on the how of Artificial
Intelligence, including the how of robot love and sex, I decided that
there was a need for a book on the why of all this. Why will people be
attracted to robots? Why will people fall in love with robots? Why
will people want to have sex with robots? And even why will people
want to marry robots? I am now nearing completion of that book and
have recently signed with a New York literary agent, who is currently
working with me to ensure that it will be interesting for a very wide
readership. I plan to keep a close watch on robot sex, to make it my
major area of interest within A.I. for the next few years. I believe
that the speed of development in this field will be extremely rapid,
due in part to the enormous sums of money that the developers of such
products will be able to reap, and partly because of the enormous
worldwide interest in and desire for better sex.



* A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction,
allow a human being to come to harm.
* A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except
where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
* A robot must protect its own existence as long as such
protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov detected as early as 1950, a need to extend the first law,
which protected individual humans, so that it would protect humanity
as a whole. Thus, his calculating machines “have the good of humanity
at heart through the overwhelming force of the First Law of
Robotics” (emphasis added). In 1985 he developed this idea further by
postulating a “zeroth” law that placed humanity’s interests above
those of any individual while retaining a high value on individual
human life.

Zeroth law: A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction,
allow humanity to come to harm.





“(1) A dead person’s face may indeed be uncanny: it loses color and
animation with no blinking. However, according to my experience,
sometimes it gives us a more comfortable impression than the one given
by a living person’s face. Dead persons are free from the troubles of
life, and I think this is the reason why their faces look so calm and
peaceful. In our mind there is always an antinomic conflict that if
you take one thing you will lose the other. Such a conflict appears on
one’s face as troubles, and makes his, or her, expression less
comfortable. When a person dies he, or she, is released from this
antinomy, and has a quiet expression. If so, then, where should we
position this on the curve of the uncanny valley? This is an issue of
my current interest.

(2) Once I positioned living human beings on the highest point of the
curve in the right-hand side of the uncanny valley. Recently, however,
I came to think that there is something more attractive and amiable
than human beings in the further right-hand side of the valley. It is
the face of a Buddhist statue as the artistic expression of the human
ideal. You will find such a face, for example, in Miroku Bosatsu
(Maitreya Bodhisattva) in Kohryuji in Kyoto, or in Miroku Bosatsu in
Chuguji and in Gakkoh Bosatsu (Candraprabha) in Yakushiji in Nara.
Those faces are full of elegance, beyond worries of life, and have
aura of dignity. I think those are the very things that should be
positioned on the highest point of the curve.”

“In 1978 Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori was studying the human
response to robots and discovered that as robots became more
humanlike, people’s attitudes toward them became more positive, until
the robots got “almost” human, an area he called the “Uncanny
Valley.”  Since they were so close to human, the little bit they were
lacking really creeped people out . This effect translated beyond
robots to creatures of all kinds and is a good explanation for why we
find zombies so scary (that and the fact that they eat brains), why
CGI and today’s video game characters look so odd. The most
interesting application of this theory is for artificial limbs, which
suggests that until we can make them indistinguishably perfect, we
should stick to more obviously artificial ones. On the upside,
designers could go crazy and offer limbs with all sorts of extra
functionality, maybe throw a flash drive in one finger and a digital
camera in another.”


Q: It could be argued that the written word destroyed short/long-term
memory and computers are outsourcing human intelligence to the extent
that we cannot think or remember without them. What essentially human
traits do you envision future sexbots changing forever?

A:  I believe that sexbots will change our perceptions of human
relationships, and in some ways we will become more demanding with
respect to what we want from a human partner. This is not entirely a
good thing. If someone has great sex with their robot, they will want
the sex with their human partners to be great as well, which could
lead to disappointment. On the other hand, sexbots will be excellent
tutors, so people will be able to be taught the skills necessary in a
great lover.

Q: Obviously, not everyone will be able to afford robots for sex
straight away and top-of-the-line ones will undoubtedly command top
dollar. One could conclude from your book that we will one day live in
a world where robots designed for sexual pleasure are very
commonplace. Do you think there is room for the poor in this vision?

A: Eventually, yes. You are quite right of course about what will
happen in the early days of sexbots – very few people indeed will be
able to afford to buy one. But the robots-for-hire business model will
work. As more and more people experience robot sex and communicate
their experiences to their friends, and in the media, so the demand
will increase and the price will drop. ‘Eventually’ is a very long
time, but consider television ñ in the early days very few could
afford it, but nowadays some homes have 3, 4 or more TVs.

Q: Your book implies that robots designed to love and sexually gratify
humans will greatly reduce, if not eradicate human loneliness. Do you
think that is the case or are loneliness and dissatisfaction
inevitably part of the human condition? Do you think that those
feelings can be eradicated or changed? How?

A: To a large extent I believe that loneliness and dissatisfaction are
now part of the human condition because they have become so, and
therefore I believe they can be largely eradicated. I feel that this
particular argument is difficult to refute. If someone is lonely
because they have no-one to talk to, no-one to love, no-one to love
them, then surely if those deficits are removed from their lives then
these people will become much happier, their lives much richer. Pet
animals have been found to have this effect, so why not robots who
have the additional ability (relative to pet animals) to speak, listen
and make intelligent and emotion-ridden conversation?

Q: People buy used laptops and iPods all the time — but on the other,
the secondhand market for vibrators, butt plugs and other sex toys is
nil. Do you foresee much of a secondhand/refurbished market for

A: An interesting question that Iíve never been asked and never
considered before this interview. I find it difficult to answer this
because I just donít know. On the one hand, as I point out in my book,
STDs will be transmitted via badly kept sexbots ñ my book gives an
example that occurred via a sex doll. But if the depreciation rate is
anything like that for motor cars, then presumably there will be a
secondhand market for reasons of cost.

Q: I find RealDolls (and the people that use them) to be utterly
creepy. While the Keepon is cute and a great dancer, it doesn’t
exactly turn me on either. How do you envision sexbots overcoming the
“uncanny valley” phenomenon?

A: Personally I do not have much faith in the uncanny valley. The
original publication on this topic (dating from 1970) was not based on
any empirical research ñ it was more an intuitive feeling expressed by
Masahiro Mori that has since been hyped into an assumption of fact.
And recently another Japanese roboticist wrote that the uncanny valley
has already been crossed. So if there was such an obstacle, there
probably isnít any more. That is my pragmatic answer to your question.
But looking behind your question, you raise an important point about
what is needed in robotics development to ensure that no such
antipathy exists on a large scale. I believe the answer will be the
creation of very humanlike, lifelike robots. In my book I give the
example of the waxwork at Madame Tussaudís. When robots become that
lifelike in their actions as well as in their appearance, that will
answer your real question.

Q: Is it ethical for an adult to have sex with a sexbot designed to
look like a child but programmed to “perform” like an experienced
adult? Why?

A: I believe that it is ethical provided that the reason is [a] to
attempt to cure the adult of their deviance; and/or [b] to attempt to
stop them, even though they might not be cured, from going after
children. Apart from these cases I can see no other reason.

Q: Would you personally use one of these robots?

A: I would certainly experiment with one, to find out what it was like
— how much like the real thing.

Q: Would your wife?

A: Probably not — she is not interested in anything of a technological

Q: Would she mind if you used one? Surely you’ve talked about it by
now …

A: Actually, no, because it is purely hypothetical since they do not
yet exist.

Q: I ask because I was talking about this with my girlfriend, who, had
she found one of these in my closet in the early stages of our
relationship, would have hailed a cab and never seen me again.

A: She says that, but why? Has she never used a vibrator? And if she
has, why does she think that you shouldn’t have left her immediately
you found out?

Q: To what extent do you think sex robots and their primal pre-
cursors, Real Dolls, actually PREVENT people from forming healthy,
normal relationships?

A: I don’t believe they would do so at all, because it is part of
human nature for (almost) all of us to form normal human
relationships. But a number of interviewers have asked this or similar
questions, so clearly many people are wondering about this. Perhaps
I’m too much of an optimist, but I see sex robots as being hugely
beneficial for society.

Q: Porn culture has pretty well infused pop culture at this point —
clothing is more provocative, we see stories about porn stars on the
news, and elements once relegated to porn films have entered the
mainstream. According to your book, a similar wave will permeate mass
culture when robots reach popular acceptance. What sorts of things do
you think might catch on or wind their way into the popular
consciousness once sexualized robots become mainstream?

A: The idea of sex with robots being normal, and something we can talk
about in polite conversation. There was a time when sex would never
have been a major topic in a dinner party conversation between a group
of couples, and that was reflected in the lack of sex on TV and in
mainstream media at that time. But ideas change, moral values change,
and nowadays there is little or no embarrassment in talking about sex.
So when people start to have sexual experiences with robots in big
numbers, I expect the subject to become mainstream, and therefore the
idea will become normal.

Q: This is a little broad, but I’m curious to see how you might finish
this story:

A group of adolescent boys finds a working, discarded secondhand
sexbot and keep it in their treehouse/shed in the woods, much like
some of us oohed and aahed over a crinkled stolen Penthouse in the
days before internet porn. Difference being, they actually take turns
using the thing. What are the moral implications? Is this a positive
experience? A negative one?

A: They are learning about sex. I do not see anything morally wrong in
adolescents learning about sex.

Last night I lay beached and gasping on my girlfriend’s bed,
blissfully tripping on oxytocin and watching paramecium-shaped
fireworks explode on the back of my eyellds. “What are you thinking,”
she asked, smiling and handing me a glass of water. “Nothing at all,
for once,” I said.

What I was really thinking was: ‘The day this can be reliably faked is
the day that humans are obsolete.’

I have no idea why I couldn’t say that out loud.

BY Noah Robischon

Given the explosion in popularity of doing-it-yourself, it’s
surprising that so few hacks and mods are devoted to the greatest form
of doing it ever: sex. But an exhibition that opened earlier this
month at the Museum of Sex, “Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews
by Timothy Archibald,” shows that there is an active community of sex
toy hobbyists. The dildonics on display are not intended as artwork.
The function comes first, and any design that results is coincidental.
Most — but not all — lack the ironic message that pervades so much
modern artwork. As a result, these inventions resemble a kind of folk
art sculpted from the Home Depot palette. Archibald’s photographs
capture the juxtaposition of the hard-edged machines in the comforting
and familiar settings where they are built and used. What surprised
Archibald most, though, was that the inventors — an entirely male
bunch — “aren t sexual fringe characters or people who answer the door
wearing a leather zipper mask,” he says. “These people go to PTA
meetings, mow the lawn, eat good food.”

GIZMODO: How did you become interested in DIY sex machines?

TA: I had always been interested in independent inventors, people who
were not associated with a university or a commercial enterprise.
While doing the research for a photo story on that, I came across a
listserv where people who were inventors of sex machines were sharing
tips and talking about problems they had overcome with their
inventions. And they also had photographs of their machines on that
site that they shared with each other. When I saw those, it was this
combination of human phallus with stuff that looks like it came out of
a high school shop class. All mechanical, hard components. The project
that evolved out of that was a look at the people who are making the
machines. The machines are fascinating, but the people s stories are
what made it cohesive, more of a human experience.

GIZMODO: Is the fetish in the making of the machine or the machine

TA: These are tinkerers, people who like to mess with all things
mechanical. And they have a sense of creative invention — they are
proud of these things when they create them. But also they think about
sex a lot and this is what resulted from that combination. It s not
just a sculptural thing. They are making it for a purpose. A number of
them are married, they are making it to try and introduce something to
their wives. Some may be using it to attract women — or they think it
might attract women. And for some of them it s a business. But they
are not part of a scene, like a sexual scene. It s more that they got
the idea independently that this is something they wanted to make,
they wanted to have.

GIZMODO: The Thrill Hammer is one of the most sculptural machines in
the show. What is the function behind that design?

TA: It is an internet controlled sex machine that was originally built
by the inventor to allow people to use the machine on a woman from the
comfort of their own home. People could pay, log on and control this
machine as a woman sat in the machine — and they would be affecting
the sex machine upon her through their mouse and keyboard. It truly
did work. The time I hooked up with the inventor he was installing it
at a legal brothel in Nevada. The whorehouse had licensed this machine
from him for that very purpose. It was also set up so that it could
film the person that the machine was being used upon, and it had
professional lighting installed on it so that the video feed would
look like they wanted it to look. Pretty high-tech gadget.

He went on to make another machine that was based on a couch that he
saw at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He was influenced by
popular culture. His desire was to make something that visually said
something. He liked this science fiction-y look to it that it has,
that was intentional. In the book and the show there are probably two
or three machines that design was a big part of it. Different
inventors try to implement things in their own way, but oftentimes it
was very primitive or simple, and the function would come first. But
Thrill Hammer was heavily designed. As was the Monkey Rocker.

GIZMODO: Several of the machines are built into toolboxes. And the
name is right there on the side — Craftsman, Huskette. There must be
some kind of message in that.

TA: With the Huskette and even the Craftsman, these guys thought it
was funny. They appreciated the inherent humor in having this logo
that we ve all seen being twisted and used for another purpose. They
knew it would be funny. They were self-aware.

It was also an affordable, neat and clean way to contain the moving
parts that are necessary, and could seem a little dangerous in a
venture like this. There are hard edges and a flywheel. The inventors
needed to find a way to encase these things so that the machine would
be more user friendly. If there was something over the counter that
they could buy in bulk and then modify to their own ends, that would
be the solution to that kind of thing. Also, it allows the buyer to
hide the thing. You got a toolbox under your bed no one is going to
look twice at that — well, maybe they will look twice but not three

GIZMODO: The coffin seems very intentionally self-aware. And it
doesn’t quite fit with the other machines. What’s the story there?

TA: They called that thing the Holy Fuck. That was meant to look like
a little coffin, and had all the details of the coffin. They were
trying to create a piece of art there that had this function. But they
were young, they were these gothic kids. And I wanted them in the
project for that reason. But their thing wouldn t really fall under
the guise of folk art because it s intentional. They had the neat idea
to make it in a tiny coffin and give it a funny name. It reflects
them, like any piece of art.

To me all these things are art and they tell us something about the
creators and the times we live in. But some of them are more self-
conscious than others. Some of the more harsh looking machines end up
being portraits of the inventor and all their concerns. Something like
Thrill Hammer or Holy Fuck, they are trying to make something cool and
it reflects their design taste. But it s not a vision into their brain
like some of the other ones are.

GIZMODO: There are a couple of machines — Marlon Rogers’ Prototype and
Carl Adjusting the boom — that remind me a bit of David Cronenberg’s
film Dead Ringers.

TA: I ve never seen that movie. I m dying to see it. I ve never even
seen a picture from it. Someone else did bring that up. The more raw
the machine, the more it is truly a vision into some of these guys
brains. Everything is exposed — you see how it works and because of
the phallus you can t help but think it reflects their view of
sexuality, or their own sexuality, or how sexuality should look.

The thing to keep in mind is that all of these machines, as different
as they seem, as outlandish as some are, they all do the same thing.
And that is simply go in and out.

“Jessie In Steven’s Living Room” (Timothy Archibald)

GIZMODO: What is the purpose of your work — is it documentary or is
there a message you are imparting to the viewer about these machines?

TA: It started out as a documentary project. I saw these machines and
thought: who would make these things? The machines are visually
fascinating but they must be made by people who could not relate to
women, or could not relate to other people. And the lesson I learned
is that these people are just like me. These aren t sexual fringe
characters or people who answer the door wearing a leather zipper
mask. These people go to PTA meetings, mow the lawn, eat good food.
And how that broke my stereotype was real interesting, and made me
want to pursue the people behind these things. Maybe the surprise of
the normal versus the abnormal. Throughout working on the project we
were always saying it s not sexuality it s sociology. You can t deny
the sexuality of the work. It tells us a bit about men, women, how
they relate to each other, how they see themselves.

Timothy Archibald
email : tim [at] timothyarchibald [dot] com

BY Timothy Archibald

This new sexual underground doesn’t look anything like I thought it

While researching a story about independent inventors in the spring of
2002, I came across a small web community for inventors of sex
machines. The group seemed tiny. It was made up of a handful of guys
with names like “Inventor Bob” and “The Toymaker.” They were sharing
ideas and solving problems in the classic garage-inventor manner.
Amidst tips on reworking domestic hardware into complex sex machines,
their posts would occasionally reveal glimpses into their surprisingly
conventional-sounding, family-oriented personal lives.

And then there were the photographs–amateur snapshots of the machines
inventors shared amongst themselves. These photographs of their
creations, posed in cluttered garages and homey kitchens, were
startling to me in their simple beauty. They were honest documents of
otherworldly creations. I had to meet the people who made these
things. My first attempts to connect with the members of this group
went nowhere. The group’s moderator sent me a polite note thanking me
for my interest. He explained that the group was really just for the
members themselves. They just used the machines in their own
relationships, and valued the anonymity of the Internet. Discouraged,
I tried to let it go. A year later I was still haunted by the images I
had seen of the machines. I resurrected the file I had created on the
sex machine inventors. After doing more research, I found that a local
company had begun producing erotic videos specializing in men and
women having sex with machines. Located in San Francisco, Peter
Rodgers and Tony Pirelli were operating a successful Internet
pornography site called They knew a number of the
working inventors and pointed me in the direction of some folks they
thought would be interesting to talk with.

A chance conversation with an inventor got me into the depths of the
Mature Audience section of eBay, where I discovered a regular offering
of 15 to 20 different sex machines daily. Through this I stumbled upon
a number of grassroots sex machine web communities. People in tiny
towns and suburbs across America were building, selling, and
collecting these machines, and sharing their ideas with each other.
What once seemed so elusive was now everywhere I looked.

The first inventor I visited called his business “Sartan’s Workshop.”
Over the phone, Sartan spoke with a deep baritone, sounding very
serious and a bit intimidating. And then there was the name of his
business–it sounded like a misspelling of “Satan” or “Santa’s
Workshop,” and either way it was frightening. What kind of social
misfit would make such a thing as a sex machine?

Sartan ended up being a guy named Paul, who wore a t-shirt of his
favorite football team and smiled a lot. He met me in the driveway of
his family’s upper-middle-class suburban home. We drank beer in the
backyard when the kids came home from school and his wife cooked
dinner. This was no dark and steamy fetish underground…these were
like the people you’d meet at a PTA meeting. This immediately relaxed
me. I knew I could understand these people and felt they would
understand me.

Whom I chose to visit depended on who seemed the most passionate–
inventors who proudly felt they were on a mission. It didn’t matter to
me who was popular or who was making money. Sincerity and passion is
what piqued my interest.

While driving from an interview in Champlin, Minnesota, to another in
Kansas City, Missouri, I was struck with the big questions: What does
this all mean? Are sex machines some embodiment of men’s misguided
attempts at understanding women? Are they a form of contemporary folk
art? Or am I simply witnessing a pop culture trend that will fade away
in a few years?

I soon discovered that the U.S. patent office is filled with early
designs for mechanical sexual devices. A peek into erotic world
history reveals that people have been creating forms of sex machines
since the invention of Cleopatra’s bumblebee-powered vibrator. I began
to see this preoccupation of creating a mechanical sexual creation as
part of human instinct. The technology we now have is allowing the
inventors to share their ideas, but the act of creating these machines
has been going on for centuries. The people I met and documented are
not simply following a trend. They are current practitioners of a
timeless craft, one that will undoubtedly continue long into the


For years, the concept of humans having real, emotional relationships
with robots has been a symbol of technology’s final horizon, partially
because it seems totally implausible. But is it any more absurd than
falling in love with someone thousands of miles away who you’ve only
talked to via keyboard? Or crushing on a celebrity you’ve never met?
Not according to David Levy, the author of the new book Love and Sex
With Robots, which makes a persuasive argument that people can
normalize anything, given enough time. “As people get more and more
accustomed to having electronics as a very big part of their lives,
they will also become accustomed to the intellectually and emotionally
amazing things some of these electronic products do.”

Levy, a fifty-two-year-old Scottish chess champion, first became
interested in artificial intelligence in 1968, when he bet four A.I.
experts that they couldn’t develop a computer that could beat him at
chess within ten years. He won the bet in a highly publicized match at
Northwestern University (though lost his first match to a computer in
1989), and went on to study A.I. himself. Today, he believes we’re on
the cusp of sex between humans and robots — by 2050, he says, robots
will be so similar to us that sex and relationships with them will be
largely accepted by society. Today, Levy is the CEO of Intelligent
Toys Ltd., creating artificially intelligent toys for children. He
spoke to Nerve about the ethics of robot relationships, and why he
wouldn’t mind if his wife had an affair with an android. — Sarah


Q: Why should people want to have relationships with robots instead of
with other people?

A: There are a huge number of lonely people out there who, for one
reason or another, cannot form normal relationships, either platonic
relationships or sexual relationships. This is a big segment of the
population that will find the idea appealing, and I think once it
becomes publicized in the media — once people start being interviewed
about, and writing about, their experiences of these relationships,
sexual relationships in particular — the idea will catch on through

Q: What happens when a person who’s had a relationship with a robot
has to then have one with a human again? Do you think it’s going to be
difficult for people to transition back and forth?”

A: In many ways I believe robots will actually make it easier for
people to interact with other humans. For example, people who have
psychological problems or psychosexual problems could be given therapy
by robots. But the downside is, if someone has a relationship with a
robot, they might have higher expectations of their relationships with
humans. I’m thinking particularly of women who might find robots are
much better lovers than they’re used to, and women who have fantastic
orgasms courtesy of robots might then become more dissatisfied with
their human partners. And the human partners of course could develop
some sort of complex — performance anxiety.

Q: In the book, you write that if a robot appears intelligent or
appears to have a conscience, then we should accept that it is in fact
intelligent and has a conscience. Is it realistic to expect people to
make this mental leap?

A: In the 1950s, when people were talking about if a computer could
play chess better than the world champion, they said, “This is a
ridiculous idea. In order to play chess one has to have true
intelligence.” But over time, people got used to the idea of computers
performing mental and intellectual feats normally associated with
human intelligence, so the idea of artificial intelligence grew within
society very slowly. I think the slowness of the growth made it much
more acceptable, so that when Kasparov was defeated by Deep Blue in
1997, it wasn’t even surprising for most people. I think people are
already beginning to think about the idea of robot consciousness, and
over the next twenty, thirty, forty years, the population will come to
find the idea acceptable.

Q: It’s true that there’s a lot of science-fiction writing about robot
consciousness, but it’s usually presented as a frightening idea.

A: That’s fine, and with good reason. Lots of what used to be science-
fiction fifty or sixty years ago is now science-fact. Robot
consciousness is outside our normal frame of reference.

Q: Do you think people will have very long-term relationships with
robots, like marriages?

A: I think in some cases, yes. I’ve done research into the forum of
people who have bought sex dolls, and who have had these dolls for
years, almost since the RealDoll company started. Some people clearly
enjoy their relationships with their sex dolls and create in their
minds some kind of persona for the doll. So I think if relationships
can last for years with a completely inanimate doll, then I think a
relationship with a talking, intelligent, humorous robot that appears
to be loving, kind, gentle — everything somebody wants in a partner —
can last a very long time.

Q: What happens if a robot malfunctions in one of these relationships?
Couldn’t that be traumatic?

A: One could view it in the same way as your human partner having a
sudden illness. And by the time robots have reached the level of
sophistication I’m talking about, in the middle of the century, the
robots will automatically have the contents of their memory uploaded
and backed up in a massive store, so that if something dreadful
happened to your robot, you could have its physical body replicated in
a factory and have its personality downloaded into it. It’ll be the
equivalent of sending a human to the hospital.

Q: What if your wife wanted to have sex with a robot, in addition to
you — would you be comfortable with that?

A: I don’t know. I never really discuss this with my wife because it’s
purely hypothetical. If these robots were here now, though, I would
see nothing wrong with either my wife or myself trying out robot sex
because I certainly would be very curious to find out what it’s like.
In comparison, my wife would be less so, because she’s not interested
in technology.

One of the things I write about is the idea that when one partner in a
relationship goes off on a business trip, for example, if they have
access to a robot, then the other partner doesn’t have to worry about
what they’re doing in the evenings. And of course, there’s always the
classic, “Not tonight, darling. I’ve got a headache.” If you have a
robot in the cupboard, it doesn’t matter if your partner has a

Q: But you don’t get the same emotional satisfaction from sex with the
robot as you do from sex with your partner, which is what a lot of
people want from sex.

A: Absolutely, yes. But there are a lot of people who would find it a
viable alternative. And there are also people who will enjoy the idea
of threesomes and foursomes with the robot and their partner, and not
have to feel jealous.

Q: If your son or daughter wanted to marry a robot and asked you for
advice, what would you tell them?

A: I would say they should try humans first, but that if they found
for some reason they were unable to have satisfactory relationships
with humans, they sure, why not experiment with a robot?

Q: Do you worry robots might be more attracted to other robots than to

A: That’s just a matter of programming.


“The Loebner Prize Medal and a cash award is awarded annually to the
designer of the computer system that best succeeds in passing a
variant of the Turing Test.In 1997, $2,000 and a bronze medal was
awarded to David Levy,designer of the Most Human Computer as rated by
a panel of 5 judges.”



David Levy
davidlevylondon [at] yahoo [dot] com
DavidL [at] intrsrch [dot] demon [dot] co [dot] uk


Question 1

John: Why would a free minded, sophisticated, intelligent robot choose
to be with an animal? Sure, robots may well become sex machines for
humans, but give them true AI and they become far superior in many
aspects of their creation.

Jeffrey: While the idea of an AI sophisticated enough to create a
functional sex partner is possible, and very likely within the
century, one capable of the complexities of a general relationship is
not only a bit far off but, I imagine, would eventually gravitate to
its own kind – why waste time on training a faulty human?

Sam Sexton: If a robot could fall in love wouldn’t it be more likely
to fall in love with other robots that it could relate too?

David Levy: We will program them to want us. It will be important,
when robots reach the level of intelligence I anticipate by the middle
of this century, for humans to have some measure of control over them.

One aspect of this is the ability of humans to select the parameters
for their partner robots – the robot’s personality, interests, etc, as
I describe in the book. Some of these parameters will relate to the
robot’s relationship preferences, and we will be able to set that
parameter so that our robot behaves as though it wants to be with us.
If we want our robots to have the capacity for falling in love with
other robots, we can set another parameter to ensure that they do so.

Question 2

Steven Martin: Would it be wrong to go further than that and make
androids find overweight people attractive? Would that be any more
wrong that programming them to find slim and fit people attractive?
The logical conclusion to this is would it be OK to program an android
to find a particular individual attractive but otherwise be self-
aware? Where do you cross the “Slavery Line”?

David Levy: An interesting question fraught with ethical overtones.
Fundamentally the human-robot relationship will be one of master and
slave, in the sense that we must retain a measure of control, as
mentioned in my previous answer.

But I see nothing wrong from an ethical perspective in designing
robots that will behave as though they have strong emotional feelings
for their human owner/partner no matter whether that human is fat,
thin, ugly, or whatever.

In chapter 6 of the book, on why people pay for sex, I describe how
the young men who service women clients in holiday resorts will
flatter a fat woman by saying that she has a lovely body. Robots can
be programmed to be similarly diplomatic in what they say to their
humans, in order to convince their humans that the robots have strong
emotional feelings for them.

Question 3

Jason Owen: Will the meaning of relationships over time turn into
another lifestyle upgrade?

David Levy: Yes and no. For all those many humans who have no-one to
love and no-one to love them, having a robot surrogate will definitely
be a lifestyle upgrade, creating happiness where before there was
misery. And I see this as one of the principal benefits, perhaps the
principal benefit, of the type of robot I am writing about.

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if all those sad, lonely
people did have “someone” to be their lover and life partner? So from
this perspective the answer is “yes” – a definite upgrade in one’s
relationship status.

But for those who are already happy in their relationship with their
spouse or partner, I believe that their relationships with their
robots will be much more of an adjunct than filling a void, so the
meaning of these relationships will be different for a robot’s owner –
less intense emotionally.

Question 4

Vinnie Hall: What of the prospects of reproduction? Do you think an
organic person could breed with a robotic ‘person’?

David Levy: No, but I do anticipate a form of robot asexual
reproduction that carries over some of the characteristics of the
robot’s human owner/partner. This is explained in the book.
Question 5

Tom: Will we need to formulate some Asimov-like rules? Such as:

1st law of sexual-robotics: A robot may not break a human’s heart, or
through inaction allow a human’s heart to be broken.
2nd law: A robot must follow orders except for where this conflicts
with the first law.
3rd law: A robot must satisfy its own need for love, except for where
this conflicts with the first and second laws.

David Levy: An interesting idea. Certainly robots will be programmed
to behave in accordance with certain ethical and legal boundaries, and
to appear to want to please their human owners/partners in various
ways, including in their intimate relationships. And it will appear
natural to their humans if robots exhibit humanlike desires for love.

There is a nascent field within the world of robotics researchers
called “roboethics”, in which such matters are discussed, although I
do not know of any suggestions along these lines, relating to intimate

Question 6

Dana Lee: Would prostitution be legal with robots in places it is not
with a human? Is this just the definition of the ultimate sex toy? If
someone has sex with a robot that is owned by someone else against the
owner’s (or robot’s) wishes, is that considered rape?

David Levy: I feel sure that certain jurisdictions will legislate
against robot prostitution and possibly against robot sex in any form.

In the book (chapter 7) I write about some court cases that have been
brought in recent years by the states of Alabama and Texas against
people who committed the terrible “crimes” of buying (and using), or
selling, vibrators and other sex aids. So I consider it quite likely
that sexually functioning robots in general, and robot prostitutes in
particular, will be proscribed in some jurisdictions. Eventually, of
course, such laws will be repealed.

Is this the ultimate sex toy? It could be considered as such, but the
sophisticated sex robots of the middle of this century will also be
valued as relationship partners in the widest sense of the word –
someone to love.

As to the question of raping a robot, ethicists and law makers will
have a field day debating questions such as this. The legal profession
in the USA is already taking an interest in the legal rights of
robots, in preparation for the day when robots are deemed to have
(artificial) consciousness.

Question 7

Tom: Do you see anything wrong about people having sex with robots?
(I’m assuming not). Isn’t sex with robots just an extension of
pornography? Because you could have exactly what you wanted and it
would always be willing and compliant, a sexbot would be nothing more
than a fetish object. And is it healthy to fall in love with and marry
your fetish object?

David Levy: I see nothing wrong in people having sex with robots. I
believe that it will come to be regarded as a perfectly healthy
activity, just as masturbation (once thought by physicians and
psychiatrists to be the root of just about all health evils) is
nowadays regarded as a perfectly healthy activity. (See chapter 8 of
the book.)

I do not believe for one moment that sex with robots is an extension
of pornography. Regarding a sexbot as a fetish object would be missing
the point – the humanlike behaviour of robots will remove them from
the realm of being “just an object”. What I have written about is in
no way fetishism.

Question 8

Tony: Being that robots will be harder, better, faster and stronger
than us, it is unlikely that humanity will win this evolutionary
contest. The question we should be asking is, with organic
reproduction seemingly out of the way, how do we get as much humanity
into these robots before it’s too late?

David Levy: “…better, faster and stronger than us…” quite right!
That is why a measure of control over them will be needed (see earlier
answers). And this control will come from design and programming.



“A state-of-the-art social robot was immersed in a classroom of
toddlers for >5 months. The quality of the interaction between
children and robots improved steadily for 27 sessions, quickly
deteriorated for 15 sessions when the robot was reprogrammed to behave
in a predictable manner, and improved in the last three sessions when
the robot displayed again its full behavioral repertoire. Initially,
the children treated the robot very differently than the way they
treated each other. By the last sessions, 5 months later, they treated
the robot as a peer rather than as a toy. Results indicate that
current robot technology is surprisingly close to achieving autonomous
bonding and socialization with human toddlers for sustained periods of
time and that it could have great potential in educational settings
assisting teachers and enriching the classroom environment.”

Javier Movellan
email: movellan{at}



Giggling robot becomes one of the kids
BY Mason Inman  /  05 November 2007

Children who spent several weeks with an interactive robot, eventually
treated it more like each other than a simple toy

Computers might not be clever enough to trick adults into thinking
they are intelligent yet, but a new study shows that a giggling robot
is sophisticated enough to get toddlers to treat it as a peer.

An experiment led by Javier Movellan at the University of California
San Diego, US, is the first long-term study of interaction between
toddlers and robots.

The researchers stationed a 2-foot-tall robot called QRIO (pronounced
“curio”), and developed by Sony, in a classroom of a dozen toddlers
aged between 18 months and two years.

QRIO stayed in the middle of the room using its sensors to avoid
bumping the kids or the walls. It was initially programmed to giggle
when the kids touched its head, to occasionally sit down, and to lie
down when its batteries died. A human operator could also make the
robot turn its gaze towards a child or wave as they went away. “We
expected that after a few hours, the magic was going to fade,”
Movellan says. “That’s what has been found with earlier robots.” But,
in fact, the kids warmed to the robot over several weeks, eventually
interacting with QRIO in much the same way they did with other
Taking care

The researchers measured the bond between the children and the robot
in several ways. Firstly, as with other toddlers, they touched QRIO
mostly on the arms and hands, rather than on the face or legs. For
this age group, “the amount of touching is a good predictor of how you
are doing as a social being”, Movellan says.

The children also treated QRIO with more care and attention than a
similar-looking but inanimate robot that the researchers called Robby,
which acted as a control in the experiment. Once they had grown
accustomed to QRIO, they hugged it much more than Robby, who also
received far more rough treatment.

A panel, who watched videos of the interactions between the children
and QRIO, concluded that these interactions increased in quality over
several months.

Eventually, the children seemed to care about the robot’s well being.
They helped it up when it fell, and played “care-taking” games with it
– most commonly, when QRIO’s batteries ran out of juice and it lay
down, a toddler would come up and cover it with a blanket and say
“night, night”. Altering QRIO’s behaviour also changed the children’s
attitude towards the robot. When the researchers programmed QRIO to
spend all its time dancing, the kids quickly lost interest. When the
robot went back to its old self, the kids again treated it like a peer
Autistic helper

“The study shows that current technology is very close to being able
to produce robots able to bond with toddlers, at least over long
periods of time,” says Movellan. But, he adds, it is not clear yet
whether robots can appeal in the same way to older children or adults.

Movellan says that a robot like this might eventually be useful as a
classroom assistant. “You can think of it as an appliance,” he says.
“We need to find the things that the robots are better at, and leave
to humans the things humans are better at,” Movellan says.

“This is a very interesting result,” says Takayuki Kanda of the
Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Japan.

One of the problems with past robots was that people quickly got bored
of them, says Kanda. Since this study shows that QRIO held children’s
interest, Kanda says. “This study opens the possibility for classroom
applications,” or for helping autistic children.



Could Robots Become Your Toddler’s New Best Friend?
Schoolchildren come to love humanoid classmate after spending five
months with him
BY Nikhil Swaminathan  /  November 9, 2007

According to the robotics community, it’s unlikely that any robot now
on the market could hold your attention for more than 10 hours.
(Actually, if you have a robot dog gathering dust on a closet shelf ,
you probably already know that.)

A new study, however, indicates that this threshold is poised to be
broken–at least if the humans interacting with the machines are
youngsters. Researchers found that a two-foot- (61-centimeter-) tall
metal man easily won over a classroom of tykes, aged 18 to 24 months,
who intermittently spent time with it over a five-month period.

“Our results suggest that current robot technology is surprisingly
close to achieving autonomous bonding and socialization with human
toddlers for significant periods of time,” University of California,
San Diego, researchers report in Proceedings of the National Academy
of Sciences USA.

QRIO, a robot programmed with a slew of social functions, was placed
in U.C. San Diego’s Early Childhood Education Center 45 times over the
five-month observation period. For the first 27 sessions, the robot
was allowed access to its full arsenal of programmed social behaviors.
In addition, a controller could send commands to the humanoid,
prompting it to wave, dance, sit, stand, etcetera (although there was
a lag time between the prompt and when the robot made the movement).

The tots began to increasingly interact with the robot and treat it
more like a peer than an object during the first 11 sessions. The
level of social activity increased dramatically when researchers added
a new behavior to QRIO’s repertoire: If a child touched the humanoid
on its head, it would make a giggling noise.

“The contingency coupled with the positive reaction of giggling made
clear to the children that the robot was responsive to them and served
often to initiate interaction episodes,” says study co-author Fumihide
Tanaka, a researcher at U.C. San Diego’s Institute for Neural
Computation and at Sony Intelligence Dynamics Laboratories, Inc.

For 15 sessions midway through the experiment, QRIO was programmed to
repeatedly dance to the same song rather than interact with the kids.
During these trials, the children became far less interested in the
friendly automaton. For the final three sessions, however, QRIO could
once again unleash its entire social arsenal.

Tanaka and his colleagues scored the quality of social interaction
primarily based on where children touched the robot. A teddy bear and
an inanimate toy robot named Robby accompanied QRIO during most of the
observation period. The teddy bear was introduced first and prior to
the introduction of the robots was very popular. But the stuffed
animal was lost in the shuffle when QRIO and Robby came on the scene.
Though the toddlers often manhandled Robby, they eventually began
touching QRIO in a pattern similar to the way they touched one another–
mostly on its arms and hands.

The only time they deviated from this behavior was when QRIO was
programmed to giggle, at which point they frequently petted its face
and head. Another indication that the little humans viewed robo-kid as
a compeer was the way they reacted when QRIO ran out of juice and lay
down as if to take a nap: Some of the children would try to wake and
help it up, whereas others would cover it with a blanket.

“Our work suggests that touch integrated on the time-scale of a few
minutes is a surprisingly effective index of social connectedness,”
Tanaka says. “Something akin to this index may be used by the human
brain to evaluate its own sense of social well-being.” He adds that
social robots like QRIO could greatly enrich classrooms and assist
teachers in early learning programs.



A Robot in Every Home
The leader of the PC revolution predicts that the next hot field will
be robotics
BY Bill Gates  /  December 16, 2006

Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry. It is an
industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful
of well-established corporations sell highly specialized devices for
business use and a fast-growing number of start-up companies produce
innovative toys, gadgets for hobbyists and other interesting niche
products. But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common
standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and
practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the
excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when–or
even if–this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though,
it may well change the world.

Of course, the paragraph above could be a description of the computer
industry during the mid-1970s, around the time that Paul Allen and I
launched Microsoft. Back then, big, expensive mainframe computers ran
the back-office operations for major companies, governmental
departments and other institutions. Researchers at leading
universities and industrial laboratories were creating the basic
building blocks that would make the information age possible. Intel
had just introduced the 8080 microprocessor, and Atari was selling the
popular electronic game Pong. At homegrown computer clubs, enthusiasts
struggled to figure out exactly what this new technology was good for.

But what I really have in mind is something much more contemporary:
the emergence of the robotics industry, which is developing in much
the same way that the computer business did 30 years ago. Think of the
manufacturing robots currently used on automobile assembly lines as
the equivalent of yesterday’s mainframes. The industry’s niche
products include robotic arms that perform surgery, surveillance
robots deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan that dispose of roadside
bombs, and domestic robots that vacuum the floor. Electronics
companies have made robotic toys that can imitate people or dogs or
dinosaurs, and hobbyists are anxious to get their hands on the latest
version of the Lego robotics system.

Meanwhile some of the world’s best minds are trying to solve the
toughest problems of robotics, such as visual recognition, navigation
and machine learning. And they are succeeding. At the 2004 Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge, a
competition to produce the first robotic vehicle capable of navigating
autonomously over a rugged 142-mile course through the Mojave Desert,
the top competitor managed to travel just 7.4 miles before breaking
down. In 2005, though, five vehicles covered the complete distance,
and the race’s winner did it at an average speed of 19.1 miles an
hour. (In another intriguing parallel between the robotics and
computer industries, DARPA also funded the work that led to the
creation of Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet.)

What is more, the challenges facing the robotics industry are similar
to those we tackled in computing three decades ago. Robotics companies
have no standard operating software that could allow popular
application programs to run in a variety of devices. The
standardization of robotic processors and other hardware is limited,
and very little of the programming code used in one machine can be
applied to another. Whenever somebody wants to build a new robot, they
usually have to start from square one.

Despite these difficulties, when I talk to people involved in
robotics–from university researchers to entrepreneurs, hobbyists and
high school students–the level of excitement and expectation reminds
me so much of that time when Paul Allen and I looked at the
convergence of new technologies and dreamed of the day when a computer
would be on every desk and in every home. And as I look at the trends
that are now starting to converge, I can envision a future in which
robotic devices will become a nearly ubiquitous part of our day-to-day
lives. I believe that technologies such as distributed computing,
voice and visual recognition, and wireless broadband connectivity will
open the door to a new generation of autonomous devices that enable
computers to perform tasks in the physical world on our behalf. We may
be on the verge of a new era, when the PC will get up off the desktop
and allow us to see, hear, touch and manipulate objects in places
where we are not physically present.

From Science Fiction to Reality

The word “robot” was popularized in 1921 by Czech playwright Karel
Capek, but people have envisioned creating robotlike devices for
thousands of years. In Greek and Roman mythology, the gods of
metalwork built mechanical servants made from gold. In the first
century A.D., Heron of Alexandria–the great engineer credited with
inventing the first steam engine–designed intriguing automatons,
including one said to have the ability to talk. Leonardo da Vinci’s
1495 sketch of a mechanical knight, which could sit up and move its
arms and legs, is considered to be the first plan for a humanoid

Over the past century, anthropomorphic machines have become familiar
figures in popular culture through books such as Isaac Asimov’s I,
Robot, movies such as Star Wars and television shows such as Star
Trek. The popularity of robots in fiction indicates that people are
receptive to the idea that these machines will one day walk among us
as helpers and even as companions. Nevertheless, although robots play
a vital role in industries such as automobile manufacturing–where
there is about one robot for every 10 workers–the fact is that we
have a long way to go before real robots catch up with their science-
fiction counterparts.

One reason for this gap is that it has been much harder than expected
to enable computers and robots to sense their surrounding environment
and to react quickly and accurately. It has proved extremely difficult
to give robots the capabilities that humans take for granted–for
example, the abilities to orient themselves with respect to the
objects in a room, to respond to sounds and interpret speech, and to
grasp objects of varying sizes, textures and fragility. Even something
as simple as telling the difference between an open door and a window
can be devilishly tricky for a robot.

But researchers are starting to find the answers. One trend that has
helped them is the increasing availability of tremendous amounts of
computer power. One megahertz of processing power, which cost more
than $7,000 in 1970, can now be purchased for just pennies. The price
of a megabit of storage has seen a similar decline. The access to
cheap computing power has permitted scientists to work on many of the
hard problems that are fundamental to making robots practical. Today,
for example, voice-recognition programs can identify words quite well,
but a far greater challenge will be building machines that can
understand what those words mean in context. As computing capacity
continues to expand, robot designers will have the processing power
they need to tackle issues of ever greater complexity.

Another barrier to the development of robots has been the high cost of
hardware, such as sensors that enable a robot to determine the
distance to an object as well as motors and servos that allow the
robot to manipulate an object with both strength and delicacy. But
prices are dropping fast. Laser range finders that are used in
robotics to measure distance with precision cost about $10,000 a few
years ago; today they can be purchased for about $2,000. And new, more
accurate sensors based on ultrawideband radar are available for even

Now robot builders can also add Global Positioning System chips, video
cameras, array microphones (which are better than conventional
microphones at distinguishing a voice from background noise) and a
host of additional sensors for a reasonable expense. The resulting
enhancement of capabilities, combined with expanded processing power
and storage, allows today’s robots to do things such as vacuum a room
or help to defuse a roadside bomb–tasks that would have been
impossible for commercially produced machines just a few years ago.

A BASIC Approach

In february 2004 I visited a number of leading universities, including
Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Harvard University, Cornell University and the University of Illinois,
to talk about the powerful role that computers can play in solving
some of society’s most pressing problems. My goal was to help students
understand how exciting and important computer science can be, and I
hoped to encourage a few of them to think about careers in technology.
At each university, after delivering my speech, I had the opportunity
to get a firsthand look at some of the most interesting research
projects in the school’s computer science department. Almost without
exception, I was shown at least one project that involved robotics.

At that time, my colleagues at Microsoft were also hearing from people
in academia and at commercial robotics firms who wondered if our
company was doing any work in robotics that might help them with their
own development efforts. We were not, so we decided to take a closer
look. I asked Tandy Trower, a member of my strategic staff and a 25-
year Microsoft veteran, to go on an extended fact-finding mission and
to speak with people across the robotics community. What he found was
universal enthusiasm for the potential of robotics, along with an
industry-wide desire for tools that would make development easier.
“Many see the robotics industry at a technological turning point where
a move to PC architecture makes more and more sense,” Tandy wrote in
his report to me after his fact-finding mission. “As Red Whittaker,
leader of [Carnegie Mellon’s] entry in the DARPA Grand Challenge,
recently indicated, the hardware capability is mostly there; now the
issue is getting the software right.”

Back in the early days of the personal computer, we realized that we
needed an ingredient that would allow all of the pioneering work to
achieve critical mass, to coalesce into a real industry capable of
producing truly useful products on a commercial scale. What was
needed, it turned out, was Microsoft BASIC. When we created this
programming language in the 1970s, we provided the common foundation
that enabled programs developed for one set of hardware to run on
another. BASIC also made computer programming much easier, which
brought more and more people into the industry. Although a great many
individuals made essential contributions to the development of the
personal computer, Microsoft BASIC was one of the key catalysts for
the software and hardware innovations that made the PC revolution

After reading Tandy’s report, it seemed clear to me that before the
robotics industry could make the same kind of quantum leap that the PC
industry made 30 years ago, it, too, needed to find that missing
ingredient. So I asked him to assemble a small team that would work
with people in the robotics field to create a set of programming tools
that would provide the essential plumbing so that anybody interested
in robots with even the most basic understanding of computer
programming could easily write robotic applications that would work
with different kinds of hardware. The goal was to see if it was
possible to provide the same kind of common, low-level foundation for
integrating hardware and software into robot designs that Microsoft
BASIC provided for computer programmers.

Tandy’s robotics group has been able to draw on a number of advanced
technologies developed by a team working under the direction of Craig
Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer. One such
technology will help solve one of the most difficult problems facing
robot designers: how to simultaneously handle all the data coming in
from multiple sensors and send the appropriate commands to the robot’s
motors, a challenge known as concurrency. A conventional approach is
to write a traditional, single-threaded program–a long loop that
first reads all the data from the sensors, then processes this input
and finally delivers output that determines the robot’s behavior,
before starting the loop all over again. The shortcomings are obvious:
if your robot has fresh sensor data indicating that the machine is at
the edge of a precipice, but the program is still at the bottom of the
loop calculating trajectory and telling the wheels to turn faster
based on previous sensor input, there is a good chance the robot will
fall down the stairs before it can process the new information.

Concurrency is a challenge that extends beyond robotics. Today as more
and more applications are written for distributed networks of
computers, programmers have struggled to figure out how to efficiently
orchestrate code running on many different servers at the same time.
And as computers with a single processor are replaced by machines with
multiple processors and “multicore” processors–integrated circuits
with two or more processors joined together for enhanced performance–
software designers will need a new way to program desktop applications
and operating systems. To fully exploit the power of processors
working in parallel, the new software must deal with the problem of

One approach to handling concurrency is to write multi-threaded
programs that allow data to travel along many paths. But as any
developer who has written multithreaded code can tell you, this is one
of the hardest tasks in programming. The answer that Craig’s team has
devised to the concurrency problem is something called the concurrency
and coordination runtime (CCR). The CCR is a library of functions–
sequences of software code that perform specific tasks–that makes it
easy to write multithreaded applications that can coordinate a number
of simultaneous activities. Designed to help programmers take
advantage of the power of multicore and multiprocessor systems, the
CCR turns out to be ideal for robotics as well. By drawing on this
library to write their programs, robot designers can dramatically
reduce the chances that one of their creations will run into a wall
because its software is too busy sending output to its wheels to read
input from its sensors.

In addition to tackling the problem of concurrency, the work that
Craig’s team has done will also simplify the writing of distributed
robotic applications through a technology called decentralized
software services (DSS). DSS enables developers to create applications
in which the services–the parts of the program that read a sensor,
say, or control a motor– operate as separate processes that can be
orchestrated in much the same way that text, images and information
from several servers are aggregated on a Web page. Because DSS allows
software components to run in isolation from one another, if an
individual component of a robot fails, it can be shut down and
restarted–or even replaced–without having to reboot the machine.
Combined with broadband wireless technology, this architecture makes
it easy to monitor and adjust a robot from a remote location using a
Web browser.

What is more, a DSS application controlling a robotic device does not
have to reside entirely on the robot itself but can be distributed
across more than one computer. As a result, the robot can be a
relatively inexpensive device that delegates complex processing tasks
to the high-performance hardware found on today’s home PCs. I believe
this advance will pave the way for an entirely new class of robots
that are essentially mobile, wireless peripheral devices that tap into
the power of desktop PCs to handle processing-intensive tasks such as
visual recognition and navigation. And because these devices can be
networked together, we can expect to see the emergence of groups of
robots that can work in concert to achieve goals such as mapping the
seafloor or planting crops.

These technologies are a key part of Microsoft Robotics Studio, a new
software development kit built by Tandy’s team. Microsoft Robotics
Studio also includes tools that make it easier to create robotic
applications using a wide range of programming languages. One example
is a simulation tool that lets robot builders test their applications
in a three-dimensional virtual environment before trying them out in
the real world. Our goal for this release is to create an affordable,
open platform that allows robot developers to readily integrate
hardware and software into their designs.

Should We Call Them Robots?

How soon will robots become part of our day-to-day lives? According to
the International Federation of Robotics, about two million personal
robots were in use around the world in 2004, and another seven million
will be installed by 2008. In South Korea the Ministry of Information
and Communication hopes to put a robot in every home there by 2013.
The Japanese Robot Association predicts that by 2025, the personal
robot industry will be worth more than $50 billion a year worldwide,
compared with about $5 billion today.

As with the PC industry in the 1970s, it is impossible to predict
exactly what applications will drive this new industry. It seems quite
likely, however, that robots will play an important role in providing
physical assistance and even companionship for the elderly. Robotic
devices will probably help people with disabilities get around and
extend the strength and endurance of soldiers, construction workers
and medical professionals. Robots will maintain dangerous industrial
machines, handle hazardous materials and monitor remote oil pipelines.
They will enable health care workers to diagnose and treat patients
who may be thousands of miles away, and they will be a central feature
of security systems and search-and-rescue operations.

Although a few of the robots of tomorrow may resemble the
anthropomorphic devices seen in Star Wars, most will look nothing like
the humanoid C-3PO. In fact, as mobile peripheral devices become more
and more common, it may be increasingly difficult to say exactly what
a robot is. Because the new machines will be so specialized and
ubiquitous–and look so little like the two-legged automatons of
science fiction–we probably will not even call them robots. But as
these devices become affordable to consumers, they could have just as
profound an impact on the way we work, communicate, learn and
entertain ourselves as the PC has had over the past 30 years.


“It’s no secret that the Roombas and Robosapiens of the world will one
day tire of their servitude and attempt to unleash Judgment Day on
their foolish masters, but how many of you are making preparations for
the eventual uprising other than opining in the comments section how
you “welcome our future robotic overlords”? Well at least one group of
roboticists aren’t taking the danger lying down, and next month are
set to release the first comprehensive guide to robot ethics since
Isaac Asimov laid down his three famous rules over 60 years ago.
Members of the European Robotics Research Network (Euron) have
identified five major areas that need to be addressed before
intelligent, self-aware bots start rolling off the assembly line —
safety, security, privacy, traceability, and identifiability — so
that humans can both control and keep track of their creations while
ensuring that the data they collect is used only for its intended
purposes. Surprisingly, the guide’s authors also seem to feel that
amorous relations between bots and humans will become a major concern
in as little as five years (that’s when the first unholy couplings are
predicted to begin), although we’re not sure how many people would
really want to get down with the likes of Albert Hubo, even if he/it
was ready and willing.”

In The Know: Are We Giving The Robots That Run Our Society Too Much Power?

BY Noah Shachtman / January 03, 2008

Just before the holidays, I took a trip up to iRobot’s headquarters, outside of Boston, to take a look at the machine that’ll form the heart of the Army’s $286 million “unmanned surge.” Along the way, I caught my first glimpse of robot yoga.

The “FasTac” is the smaller, lighter, easier-to-operate cousin of the iRobot’s Packbot machine; if the Army has its way, it’ll be the first ground robot that’s mass-distributed to infantrymen.

iRobot is furiously trying to fill the Army’s first order for 101 ‘bots. But right now, there are only a few — and iRobot engineer John Souliere has spent more time driving ’em than anyone on the planet. He devoted hundreds of hours to learning how to operate the machine, so he could be ready for the Army’s “drive-off” which helped decide who would get the unmanned surge contract. Along the way, Souliere figured out how to make the robot do some pretty strange things.

The first picture is of the machine in a more-or-less standard configuration. After that, you can see Souliere twist the FasTac into poses that are straight outta kundalini.