WASHINGTON – The Defense Department is considering whether it is unethical to not use robots in combat soon because they could keep troops out of the line of fire, a top official at the Army Training and Doctrine Command said Thursday.

“Is it immoral not to rely on certain robots to execute on their own… given that a smart weapon can potentially limit collateral damage?” Tony Cerri, director of Data Science, Models and Simulations at TRADOC asked an audience at The Atlantic Festival.

Cerri said Defense Department policy requires a human presence during use of smart weapons, but allowing robots or other smart technology tools are “being discussed” as the ethical path to prevent troops’ deaths or injuries.

Ethics is one of the DoD’s six core values alongside duty, integrity, honor, courage and loyalty. And Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired general, is eager to employ virtual reality technology quickly, Cerri said.

“General Mattis is known for morality and ethics,” said Cerri, so he wants infantry soldiers to fight “25 bloodless battles” before a combat zone.

“[Mattis] is frustrated because we’re not moving quick enough for him,” said Cerri.

But Cerri is hopeful for DoD support for virtual reality because he believes it can improve the world’s view of U.S. military operations by shining light on its core values.

“Our algorithms reflect our national ethics and our national morality.”

When asked for an example of “ethical” or “moral” virtual reality, he referred to a private exercise run by his program in which algorithms were used to project timeframes that would limit collateral damage during combat.

“Every decision to pair a target with a shooter also had an algorithm to limit collateral damage,” said Cerri.

Cerri said the Pentagon’s attention to ethics is going to be what sets the U.S. apart from the other countries, especially China and Russia, by limiting collateral damage during combat.

“It’s something we think is going to differentiate us from the Chinese or Russians,” said Cerri. “The Chinese don’t have the same concept of human life that we do.”

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