December 22, 2017

Why You Shouldn't Fear 'Slaughterbots'

By Paul Scharre

Killer drones in the hands of terrorists massacring innocents. Robotic weapons of mass destruction breeding chaos and fear. A video created by advocates of a ban on autonomous weapons would have you believe this dystopian future is right around the corner if we don’t act now. The short video, called “Slaughterbots,” was released last month coinciding with United Nations meetings on autonomous weapons. The UN meetings ended inconclusively, but the video is getting traction. It’s gotten over 2 million views and has sparked dozens of news stories. As a piece of propaganda, it works great. As a substantive argument for a ban on autonomous weapons, the video fails miserably.

Obviously, a world in which terrorists can unleash swarms of killer drones on innocent civilians would be terrible, but is the future the video depicts realistic? The movie’s slick production quality helps to gloss over its leaps of logic. It immerses the viewer in a dystopian nightmare, but let’s be clear: It’s very much science fiction.

The central premise of “Slaughterbots” is that in the future militaries will build autonomous micro-drones with shaped charges that can fly up to someone’s head and detonate an explosive, killing the person. In the film, these “slaughterbots” quickly fall into the hands of terrorists, resulting in mass killings worldwide.

Read the full op-ed in IEEE Spectrum.

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