Renowned Scientists Warn Against Killer Robots

“Military Artificial Intelligence Arms Race Could Soon Develop if Preventative Measures are not Taken.”

Many people don’t realize that (as far as we know) the current generation of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) are in fact, flown by rated pilots; only by a (hopefully) secure data link from several hundred miles away. Flesh and blood hands still pickle the bombs and missiles off those drones. Interruption of that data link or some other sort of fault triggers a return to base order; some of the only real automation on the current series of UCAVs.

MQ-9 Reaper armed with AGM-114 Hellfires and Small Diameter Bombs

MQ-9 Reaper armed with AGM-114 Hellfires and Small Diameter Bombs

The future, however, may not be so cut and dry with every technically advanced country in the world as well as their less developed neighbors wanting their own remotely piloted weapons. In fact, in a scene right out of the periphery, industrious rebels cobbled together their own improvised SWORDs-style combat robots. During the Libyan civil war of 2011, Rebel engineering students and mechanics used such common place items as Power Wheels kids toys, iPhones, RC Car servos and  Bluetooth rigs (Plus PKM machineguns and rocket launchers of course) to build and adapt their own remotely-guided weapons platforms. But I digress.

Libyan Improvised Fire Support Robot. Putting your USB-controlled Nerf launcher to shame

Libyan Improvised Fire Support Robot. Putting your USB-controlled Nerf launcher to shame

According to this article by CNN Money, a group of academics numbering Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak, Demis Hassabis, and Stephen Hawking have approached the Buenos Aires  International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence with a letter urging caution against a possible global arms race of autonomous combat robots.

Various types of cruise missiles that carry independently guided submunitions, The naval CWIS, Goalkeeper close-range self-targeting rotary cannons, ‘Trophy‘ vehicle-deployed anti-missile arrays, and Israeli “Iron Dome” anti-missile-interceptors all have a rather strong degree of autonomy in both targeting and deciding when to fire. The reason is, of course, that human beings don’t have the capability of controlling or reacting rapidly enough to engage missiles, rockets, and even mortar and artillery shells.

CIWS AMS tracking and firing.

CIWS AMS tracking and firing.

But the software also sets a troubling precedent to many people. Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Watch created this report that urged the banning of fully autonomous weapons entirely. The report outlined that modern laws just weren’t worded to handle these potential loopholes. “These weapons have the potential to commit criminal acts — unlawful acts that would constitute a crime if done with intent — for which no one could be held responsible,”

Indeed, even private citizens have been building and flying their own automated drones. The commercially available Ardupilot series of processor cards are GPS and gyro navigated autopilot systems for light, RC toy-style UAVS and ground vehicles. These drones can carry an array of cameras, with direct feeds to a laptop control station. They can also be programmed with multiple waypoints to navigate to and perform specific functions. These home brew drones sometimes even carry airsoft guns or fireworks for amusement or sport purposes.


Photo courtesy of Frederic Reblewski


The time is rapidly approaching when just about anyone can have access to autonomous robots for uses good and bad from the national to personal level. And only time will tell whether there will be a golden age for artificial intelligence, or whether we have just opened another of Pandora’s weapon lockers.

Well bargained, and done.

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