NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Countries are rapidly developing "killer robots" - machines with artificial intelligence (AI) that independently kill - but are moving at a snail's pace on agreeing global rules over their use in future wars, warn technology and human rights experts. From drones and missiles to tanks and submarines, semi-autonomous weapons systems have been used for decades to eliminate targets in modern day warfare - but they all have human supervision. Nations such as the United States, Russia and Israel are now investing in developing lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) which can identify, target, and kill a person all on their own - but to date there are no international laws governing their use. "Some kind of human control is necessary ... Only humans can make context-specific judgements of distinction, proportionality and precautions in combat," said Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Now do the same with tanks, helicopters and biped/quadruped robots. Welcome to the not-so-distant future of LAWs, or lethal autonomous weapon systems. A conclusion reached at the UN conference on regulating LAWs in warfare that took place this August in Geneva was that, instead of outright banning them, the topic should be revisited in November. The stall was initiated by the U.S., Russia, Israel, South Korea and Australia. Until the revision meeting one thing is sure -- AI-controlled robotic warfare isn't too far off.
It is a terrifying vision of the future of battle. Called RoBattle, this heavy duty combat and support robot is strapped with a'robotic kit' consisting of vehicle control, navigation, RT mapping and autonomy, sensors and mission payloads. In addition to ambushing and attacking on command, this combat ready platform, developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), can raise its body four feet in the air to tackle obstacles or crouch down 23 inches to hide from enemies. It may be focused on the sky, but Israel Aerospace Industries has stepped down on land to develop the newest member of its unmanned ground robotic systems family. RoBattle is a combat and support robot equipped with a'robotic kit' of vehicle control, navigation, RT mapping and autonomy, sensors and mission payloads RoBattle, is an semi-autonomous combat and support robot designed to assist ground soldiers in the field.
Allowing machines to select and target humans sounds like something out of an apocalyptic sci-fi movie. But as we enter another decade, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we're teetering on the edge of that dangerous threshold. Countries including China, Israel, South Korea, Russia and the United States are already developing and deploying precursors to fully autonomous weapons, such as armed drones that are piloted remotely. These countries are investing heavily in military applications of artificial intelligence with the goal of gaining a technological advantage in next-generation preparedness for the battlefield. These killer robots, once activated, would select and engage targets without further human intervention.
Chinese military contractors have already started to sell dangerous, autonomous killer robots to customers in the Middle East. For instance, a Chinese company called Ziyan is actively marketing its Blowfish A3 -- an autonomous helicopter-like drone armed with a machine gun -- to international buyers, according to Defense One. While several countries have been working towards this tech for years, this news means we're finally, and unfortunately, living in the era of killer robots. While Ziyan works to sell its autonomous killbots to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the Chinese government is already entrenched in the killer robot trade. "As we speak, the Chinese government is already exporting some of its most advanced military aerial drones to the Middle East, as it prepares to export its next-generation stealth UAVs when those come online," said Defense Secretary Mark Esper, per Defense One.