Picture a desert battlefield, scarred by years of warfare. A retreating army scrambles to escape as its enemy advances. Dozens of small drones, indistinguishable from the quadcopters used by hobbyists and filmmakers, come buzzing down from the sky, using cameras to scan the terrain and onboard computers to decide on their own what looks like a target. Suddenly they begin divebombing trucks and individual soldiers, exploding on contact and causing even more panic and confusion.
This isn’t a science fiction imagining of what future wars might be like. It’s a real scene that played out last spring as soldiers loyal to the Libyan strongman Khalifa Hifter retreated from the Turkish-backed forces of the United Nations-recognized Libyan government. According to a U.N. group of weapons and legal experts appointed to document the conflict, drones that can operate without human control “hunted down” Hifter’s soldiers as they fled.
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