April 11, 2018

Meet the New Robot Army

Intelligent machines that could usher in an era of autonomous warfare are already here

By Paul Scharre

In contemporary sci-fi—HBO’s “Westworld,” for example—sentient machines take up arms against humanity. In the real world, intelligent—and increasingly autonomous—robots are being created with weapons already in hand. More than 16 countries (not to mention terrorist groups like the Islamic State) already possess armed drones. Militaries around the globe are racing to deploy robots at sea, on the ground and in the air. For now, these machines operate mostly under human control, but that may not be the case for long. This raises a question: What happens when a Predator drone has as much autonomy as a driverless car?

More than 30 nations have defensive, human-supervised autonomous weapons for situations in which the speed of engagement is too fast for people to respond. Used to defend ships and bases against rockets and missiles, these systems are overseen by humans who can intervene if necessary. South Korea has deployed a robotic sentry gun to the demilitarized zone bordering North Korea. Israel has used armed ground robots to patrol its Gaza border. Those weapons aren’t fully autonomous, but the Israeli Harpy is. A loitering munition programmed to search a wide area for enemy radars, the Harpy is able to detonate without asking permission once it acquires a target. Five countries have purchased the weapon; China has reportedly reverse engineered a version of its own. And the Harpy may be only the beginning.

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal

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