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Should We Really Worry About Killer Robots?

Back in 1942, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov published a short story entitled Runaround. Some believe it was the first time that the term “robotics” was used – and certainly the first time that the idea of robots killing humans was introduced.

Fast-forward to today, and some of the most renowned and respected names in science and technology are issuing stark warnings about the progress of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). They include Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak.

In fact, some of the predictions from these brilliant minds are reminiscent of the Terminator movies.

A recent open letter signed by them and over 1,000 other leading experts in the field of AI spelled out the dangers of an arms race to build lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). In other words, killer robots.

But how seriously should we take their warnings?

Fantasy Is Fast Becoming Reality

Many scoff at such a forecast, saying that Terminator robots are still science fiction.

They’re right – for now, at least. Such advances in AI are probably still decades away.

But nevertheless, technology is moving faster than many think…

  • British-based BAE Systems (BAESY) has developed an unmanned combat air vehicle called Taranis. It flies autonomously and identifies targets.
  • Israel goes a step further with its Harpy anti-radar drone, which loiters in the sky before identifying and then destroying targets.
  • Northrop Grumman (NOC) developed an autonomous drone that can land on an aircraft carrier. The goal is to turn it into a type of strike aircraft.

In addition, it’s no secret that militaries around the world are actively working on more advanced robotic technology. Indeed, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s research division, organizes the annual Robotics Challenge – the world’s biggest robotics competition.

Heck, DARPA itself is working on two projects that one day may lead to killer robots.

The first is Fast Lightweight Autonomy (FLA) – a tiny “robocraft” that will maneuver autonomously at high speed in urban areas and inside buildings.

The second is Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) – autonomous aerial vehicles that will be able to carry out “all steps of a strike mission” when communication with human commanders is impossible.

Despite the ominous predictions of doom, there’s logic in the Pentagon’s thinking. After all, the advantages of robots over human soldiers are obvious.

The Pros and Cons of Military Robots

For a start, robots don’t need food, clothing, or sleep.

There are no human emotions involved, either, such as fear or rage.

They can move faster and be more accurate.

And, most importantly when it comes to the military, it would reduce human casualties. The destruction of a robot means nothing when compared to a human life.

But of course, there’s the other side of the equation…

For instance, robots can malfunction. When this happens during a mission, the consequences could be unfortunate. But what happens if a malfunctioning robot kills innocent civilians? Talk about opening an ethical can of worms.

Then there’s the other robot arms race that’s well underway – the defense against robots.

Unlike human soldiers, robots may be stopped by an electronic pulse bomb, a computer virus, or other novel defenses being developed.

Ultimately, there’s no need to worry about robots slaying you in the middle of the night anytime soon. For the foreseeable future, this fear is likely to remain in the world of science fiction, as we continue to see more robots created for good, rather than evil.

But in light of the fears of many scientists and tech experts, it makes sense to keep tabs on developments as robotic technology and LAWS continue to advance.

Good investing,

Tim Maverick

Tim Maverick

, Senior Correspondent

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