While True ‘Killer Robots’ Are Still Years Away, The Race Has Already Begun
With the advent of autonomous and semi-autonomous weapons systems and their proliferation on the battlefield over the past decade, a “robot” arms race is an inevitability. While truly autonomous weapons are currently limited by legal constraints and technical obstacles, what will the near-future look like when advances in AI and robotics make self-governing weapons a reality?
LONDON – Russia’s latest “Zapad” military exercise just took place on NATO’s eastern border. Tens of thousands of soldiers participated in the massive four-yearly war games that are both a drill as well as a show of strength for the West. Next time around, in 2021, those troops might be sharing their battle space with a different type of force: self-driving drones, tanks, ships and submersibles.
Drone warfare is hardly new — the first lethal attack conducted by an American unmanned aerial vehicle took place in Afghanistan in October 2001. What is now changing fast, however, is the ability of such unmanned systems to operate without a guiding human hand.
That’s a truly revolutionary shift — and one every major nation wants to lead. Critics have long feared countries might be more willing to go to war with unmanned systems. Now, some see a very real risk that control might pass beyond human beings altogether.
Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has long warned that humanity might be on the verge of some cataclysmic errors when it comes to artificial intelligence. Last month, he ramped that up with a warning that the development of autonomous weapons platforms might provoke a potentially devastating arms race.
As if to reinforce Musk’s point, Russian President Vladimir Putin told students shortly thereafter that he believed the technology would be a game changer, making it clear Russia would plow resources into it. “The one who becomes leader in this will become ruler of the world,” Putin was quoted as saying.
China too is pushing ahead, believed by some experts to now be the global leader when it comes to developing autonomous swarms of drones.
Read More: Brace for the coming robot arms race