World Wary as Bombs, not Humans, Pick Whom to Kill

  • On a bright fall day last year off the coast of southern California, an Air Force B-1 bomber launched an experimental missile that may herald the future of warfare.
  • Initially , pilots aboard the plane directed the missile, but halfway to its destination, it severed communication with its operators.
  • Alone, without human oversight, the missile decided which of three ships to attack, dropping to just above the sea surface and striking a 260-foot unmanned freighter.
  • Warfare is increasingly guided by software.
  • Today , armed drones can be operated by remote pilots peering into video screens thousands of miles from the battlefield.
  • Some scientists say , arms makers have crossed into troubling territory: They are developing weapons that rely on artificial intelligence, not human instruction, to decide what to target and whom to kill.
  • As these weapons become smarter and nimbler, critics fear they will become increasingly difficult for humans to control -or to defend agains.
  • And while pinpoint accuracy could save civilian lives, critics fear weapons without human oversight could make war more likely , as easy as flipping a switch.
  • Britain, Israel and Norway are already deploying missiles and drones that carry out attacks against enemy radar, tanks or ships without direct human control.
  • After launch, so-called autonomous weapons rely on artificial intelligence and sensors to select targets and to initiate an attack.
  • Britain's Brimstone missiles, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight.
  • The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets.
  • Armaments with even more advanced self-governance are on the drawing board, although the details usually are kept secret.
  • Steve Omohundro, a physicist and artificial intelligence specialist at Self-Aware Systems, a research centre in Palo Alto, California said:An autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place,they can respond faster, more efficiently and less predictably .
  • Concerned by the prospect of a robotics arms race, representatives from dozens of nations will meet in Geneva to consider whether development of these weapons should be restricted by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
  • Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, last year called for a moratorium on the development of these weapons.
  • The Pentagon has issued a directive requiring high-level authorization for the development of weapons capable of killing without human oversight.
  • Some scientists say:fast-moving technology has already made the directive obsolete,