Report: Robotic tech is potential wild card in U.S. security

Service robotics is identified as one of the six potentially most disruptive civil technologies with the greatest possibility of affecting the United States' security interests through 2025, according to a report by the National Intelligence Council.

The council is a group of senior intelligence analysts that advises the director of national intelligence. It hired SRI Consulting Business Intelligence, of Menlo Park, Calif., and Croydon, England, to prepare the report.

Disruptive technologies are defined as those with the potential to cause impact or change, in this case to either enhance or degrade national security.

Robotic technologies are already being used in civil and defense applications using artificial intelligence and behavioral programming, and the building blocks for disruptive robot systems are likely to be in place by 2025, the report states. The global market for non-industrial robotics could reach $15 billion by 2015.

Potentially disruptive applications include new uses in domestic and defense settings that are likely to have far-reaching implications, the report states. For example, sensors, actuators, power systems and software will have a significant impact when used to augment military troop performance.

Robotic technology is an active area for federal contractors, especially for military applications.

Robotics might also be used for the care and rehabilitation of elderly patients, which could lead to more obesity among patients and displace caregivers who serve that population. However, researchers must continue to press ahead on artificial intelligence and human/robot interaction to avoid falling behind Japan and Korea, the report states.

Despite the potential, there is uncertainty about how the technology will develop. Without significant and timely advances, robots could be too expensive and the industry could become static. Conversely, robots might become popular in homes, which would result in more funding and advancements.

In the most disruptive scenario, robots would be used to care for the elderly and perform many jobs, which would have a negative impact on employment and social stability.
The other five potentially disruptive civil technologies are:
  • Biogerontechnology. Technologies to extend the productive life span of humans and slow the aging process have the potential to cause economic and social change.
  • Energy storage materials. Advances in batteries, fuel cells and other storage tools have the potential to reduce demand for fossil fuels.
  • Biofuels and bio-based chemicals. They also have the potential to reduce demand for fossil fuels.
  • Clean coal technologies. The drive for such technologies is increasing, but the results are uncertain.
  • The Internet of things. The use of the Internet to distribute and control things remotely has the potential to be disruptive. By 2025, Internet nodes could reside in food packages, furniture, paper documents and other items, the report states.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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