April 14, 2015

When ‘Killer Robots’ Declare War

By Alex Velez-Green

This week, nations from around the world will debate the future of lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS), or so-called “killer robots,” at the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva. As they do, they should remember that automated systems have long controlled operations across a variety of endeavors, including military ones, often with unexpected results. Some have been amusing, while others have been nearly catastrophic. This essay presents three historical case studies that underscore how LAWS could unexpectedly lead us to war.

Textbooks on insect genetic design are not typically bestsellers. Yet, on April 18, 2011, the Amazon.com price for The Making of a Fly topped $23.6 million. How could this be? The answer is a robotic price war. Unbeknownst to consumers, the pricing algorithms employed by two competing booksellers triggered a feedback loop. The first algorithm always set its price at 1.27059 times the next-most-expensive copy of the book. The second always set its price at 0.9983 times the price set by the first. An absurd price spiral ensued.

Read the full opinion piece at Defense One.

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