Weapons that Choose Their Own Kill Targets are Wave of Future…and Already in Use

Thursday, November 13, 2014
Joint Strike Missile that selects and attacks targets without human control (graphic: Konsberg Defence Systems)

Military developers in the United States and other Western countries are readying a whole new kind of weaponry that removes human control from targeting decisions.


At least three nations (Britain, Israel and Norway) have deployed missiles that can destroy enemy positions without any guidance from human operators. The autonomous weapons use artificial intelligence and sophisticated software to choose targets.


“An autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place,” Steve Omohundro, a physicist and artificial intelligence specialist at the California-based Self-Aware Systems, told The New York Times. “They can respond faster, more efficiently and less predictably.”


That last part about less predictably worries many who fear autonomous weapons will make warfare more likely or destructive.


British leaders have already approved the use of “fire and forget” Brimstone missiles that reportedly can blow up tanks— and allegedly not civilian automobiles—located in the same area.


Norway has the Joint Strike Missile, called a “killer robot” by critics, which can identify and lock in on targets without human control.


The Pentagon is testing the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, built by Lockheed Martin that can fly on its own for hundreds of miles, but officials won’t say whether it’s able to attack on its own. U.S. defense policy forbids autonomous warfare.


“It will be operating autonomously when it searches for the enemy fleet,” Mark A. Gubrud, a physicist and a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, told the Times. “This is pretty sophisticated stuff that I would call artificial intelligence outside human control.”


Discussions are already underway at the international level to ban killer robots. Representatives from several dozen governments are meeting this week in Switzerland to debate whether to add autonomous weapons to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill (by John Markoff, New York Times)

Fully Autonomous Weapons (Reaching Critical Will)

Computing Experts from 37 Countries Call for Ban on Killer Robots (by Nsharkey, International Committee for Robot Arms Control)

U.N. Convenes to Discuss Danger of Killer Robots while Nobel Laureates Urge They Be Banned (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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