When Dr. Richard J. Gatling designed his gun, it was meant to save lives. The American inventor designed the rapid-fire, spring-loaded, hand-cranked weapon with the express purpose of reducing the number of people needed on the battlefields of the American Civil War, thereby preventing deaths. Instead, he unleashed a forerunner of the machine gun that would scale the level of killing by several orders of magnitude, leading eventually to the horrific suffering in the trenches of the First World War.
Is history repeating itself with the development and application of artificial intelligence in warfare? Pressure has been steadily building on governments to address the nascent field of autonomous weapons; a nebulous term, but one largely agreed to involve systems capable of killing without human intervention. Could A.I.-directed precision lead to fewer civilian casualties, and ultimately less need for human soldiers? Or will it, like the Gatling gun, herald a new scale of slaughter?
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