April 12, 2008

Robot Swarms and Enterprise Architecture

In the not-too-distant future, battlefield engagements will involve swarms of robots overcoming traditional warfighters.

This notion is no longer only the domain of Hollywood writers and producers for movies like iRobot, Battlestar Galactica, and the Terminator. The vision is becoming a reality and potentially a devastating one for our adversaries.

The Gulf Times, 8 April 2008, reports: “Robot Troops on the March.”

Now ground, air, and sea-based robots of all kinds are playing an increasing role in warfare. Pilotless robots are used for reconnaissance, targeting, and missile guidance. Some of them can even destroy targets. Ground-based robots are used for mine clearing and breaching barriers. Many of them are armed and can be used in warfare in high-risk urban environments."

“There will be a time when robots will become the best value for the money. When this happens, a couple of battalions will be able to destroy an enemy tank division.”

What’s the vision or target architecture for robots to fight?

“Each robot will be armed with two-guided missiles and a machine gun [or two]. Equipped for a total of 1,200-2,400 robots controlled by 200-300 operators from a distance of several kilometers, these two battalions will be able to inflict heavy losses on enemy divisions, and destroy most of their tank and infantry combat vehicles.”

Similarly in the air and at sea: “enemy aircraft will be destroyed not by fighters, but by [swarms] of pilotless flying vehicles controlled from flying command posts.” [And] “Nuclear-powered submarines…will encounter the massive use of relatively compact underwater robots capable of carrying torpedoes.”

What are the primary benefits to robotic warfare?

  1. Minimal loss of human life, at least on the robot side of the battlefield
  2. Minimal financial cost in losing relatively inexpensive robots.
  3. Stealth and precision of robots

What are the major limitations?

  1. Robots do not have “high-level artificial intellect” that enables prompt reactions to ever changing situations. “This is why remote controlled rather than fully autonomous robots are used.”
  2. Robots’ optical systems are inferior to the human eye-brain coordination.

I find this target architecture for the military to be on one hand fascinating and on the other hand frightening.

The potential of robotics for both helping and hurting people is enormous.

ComputerWorld, 12 April 2008, reports that "Robots are really an evolution of the technology we have now...they are evolving into something you will engage with and will serve you in your life somehow."

Robots can work on the assembly line and produce the goods we need to survive; they can work jobs that are dangerous and dirty; and they can provide caretaking tasks and alleviate suffering and the physical demands on people. David Levy, a British Artificial Intelligence specialist even goes so far to predict that by the year 2050, humans will have not only emotional relationships with robots, but even love and intimacy. (OK, this is a little extreme!)

At the same time, robots are inanimate machines, without dictates of conscience or emotion; they can kill people or destroy things without hesitation or remorse. The clincher is that both these potential uses for robots (good and bad) are in the making and will come to fruition. The potential benefits as well as devastation to humanity are enormous.

Reflecting on this, I believe that EA plays an important role in ensuring that IT projects (like robots in warfare) are implemented with careful thought as to the potential consequences and managing the risk of these.

How can EA help with this?

Robots are a target architecture with commercial and military applications. Robots can be used in both positive and negative ways. In a sense, robots are like nuclear energy, which can be used to power the country or for developing weapons of mass destruction.

These targets architectures need to be planned and governed effectively to ensure safety and security. Through planning you develop the requirements, use cases, and develop the technologies, and through governance you make certain that they are implemented responsibly and effectively.

The EA functions of planning and governance are mutually reinforcing and self-correcting. EA plans are a strategic information asset for enhancing governance, while IT governance is the enforcement mechanism for EA plans. In this way, governance can be a counterbalance to planning, so that plans are thoroughly vetted and rationalized. Through governance, we enhance the organization’s decisions and plans and ensure that they are making the “right” investments, that they are wisely selected, implemented, and controlled.

So for example, with robotics, the planning element of EA provides the goals, objectives, and strategies for robotics in the target architecture, while the governance aspect of EA would ask relevant questions about the benefits, risks, strategic alignment, and architecture and ensure a clear way ahead.

EA planning is strategic, while EA governance is tactical.


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