(The Guardian) – Autonomous machines capable of deadly force are increasingly prevalent in modern warfare, despite numerous ethical concerns. Is there anything we can do to halt the advance of the killer robots? The video is stark. Two menacing men stand next to a white van in a field, holding remote controls.


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They open the van’s back doors, and the whining sound of quadcopter drones crescendos. They flip a switch, and the drones swarm out like bats from a cave. In a few seconds, we cut to a college classroom. The killer robots flood in through windows and vents. The students scream in terror, trapped inside, as the drones attack with deadly force.

The lesson that the film, Slaughterbots, is trying to impart is clear: tiny killer robots are either here or a small technological advance away. Terrorists could easily deploy them. And existing defenses are weak or nonexistent. Some military experts argued that Slaughterbots – which was made by the Future of Life Institute, an organization researching existential threats to humanity – sensationalized a serious problem, stoking fear where calm reflection was required.

But when it comes to the future of war, the line between science fiction and the industrial fact is often blurry. The US air force has predicted a future in which “Swat teams will send mechanical insects equipped with video cameras to creep inside a building during a hostage standoff”.

One “microsystems collaborative” has already released Octoroach, an “extremely small robot with a camera and radio transmitter that can cover up to 100 meters on the ground”. It is only one of many biomimetic, or nature-imitating, weapons that are on the horizon. READ MORE

The Guardian is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as The Manchester Guardian, and took its current name in 1959. Along with its sister papers The Observer and The Guardian Weekly, the Guardian is part of the Guardian Media Group, owned by the Scott Trust.