The Nine Types of Killer Robots to Worry About Right Now

Death machines are coming by land, sea and air

August 31, 2016 9:00 am

Your Skynet future is here. Be afraid.

For a longform piece published today by Buzzfeed, writer Sarah A. Topol visited the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, a group of 121 countries that signed an agreement to restrict weapons that are too cruel for war and “affect civilians indiscriminately.”

Basically, they were talking about killer robots.

It’s a hair-raising piece, made all the more worrisome by the willingness of pretty much every country (outside of Mexico, who get a special shout-out) to pursue a program of deadly autonomous weapons. Worse? The technology for all these LAWS (lethal autonomous weapons system) pretty much exists already.

“There are really no technological breakthroughs that are required,” explains UC-Berkeley Professor Stuart Russell in the article. “Every one of the component technology is available in some form commercially … It’s really a matter of just how much resources are invested in it.”

With that in mind, here are nine types of killer robots to keep an eye out for. And no, this is not The Onion.

Tiny Drones
The first example cited (by Russell) is an imaginary scenario where millions of one-inch quadcopters could be mass-ordered from China and equipped with tiny explosive charges. Fitting “three million” of them in a semi-tractor-trailer, they could be coded to seek out certain targets — say, random civilians — and let loose in a city like New York.

Sentry Guns
If you’ve seen Aliens, you know these. South Korea already has a motion tracking SGR-A1 on its border with North Korea, a black swiveling box armed with a machine gun and grenade launcher that apparently has an automatic mode to target anyone fleeing the country.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Larger kamikaze military drones like Israel’s Harpy and Harop devices. The Harpy is cheerfully dubbed a “fire and forget” weapon that attacks foreign targets (supposedly radar sites) and “loiters” above enemy territory.

Fighter Jets
In development from Northrop Grumman, the X-47B is a carrier-based fighter that flies pre-programmed missions and can refuel in mid-air. “It looks like something from Independence Day,” as Topol notes. The Taranis is the UK’s version, which takes off from land.

Iron Man
Maybe you do have to worry about humans after all. As Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work told the Washington Post, the DOD’s new technological goals (dubbed the Third Offset) is not “killer robots that roam the battlefield.” Says Work: “I think more in terms of ‘Iron Man’ — the ability of a machine to assist a human, where the human is still in control in all matters, but the machine makes the human much more powerful and much more capable.” Unfortunately, the same people in that article mentioned the Department’s research into swarms of killer drones and ….

Autonomous Ships
Like an already-existing, A.I.-assisted 132-foot destroyer dubbed Sea Hunter that doesn’t need a crew (it does, however, require “human supervision”).

Police Robots
We all know about the remote-controlled robot strapped with explosives that helped kill a sniper in Dallas. But that was human controlled. Topol suggests a scenario where a robotic weapon is programmed to target someone like Osama bin Laden in a building. “You tell the weapon to go into the building, but you don’t know what’s inside,” she says. “What if [bin Laden] runs in and grabs a human shield? How big will the explosion be? What if someone else gets injured? Take it another step back: What if you know he’s in the city and you tell the weapon to hunt him in the city?”

Russia’s Armata T-14 tank features an unmanned, remote-controlled turret that eventually, according to the article, will not require crew members to operate.

“Get Off My Lawn” Drones
Autonomous hexacopters like CUPID that could protect your property and fully comply with “stand your ground” laws … all while delivering 80,000 volts to your chest.

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