Over the weekend, experts on military artificial intelligence from more than 80 world governments converged on the U.N. offices in Geneva for the start of a week’s talks on autonomous weapons systems. Many of them fear that after gunpowder and nuclear weapons, we are now on the brink of a “third revolution in warfare,” heralded by killer robots — the fully autonomous weapons that could decide who to target and kill without human input. With autonomous technology already in development in several countries, the talks mark a crucial point for governments and activists who believe the U.N. should play a key role in regulating the technology.
The meeting comes at a critical juncture. In July, Kalashnikov, the main defense contractor of the Russian government, announced it was developing a weapon that uses neural networks to make “shoot-no shoot” decisions. In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense released a video showing an autonomous drone swarm of 103 individual robots successfully flying over California. Nobody was in control of the drones; their flight paths were choreographed in real-time by an advanced algorithm. The drones “are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” a spokesman said. The drones in the video were not weaponized — but the technology to do so is rapidly evolving.
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