Status of Development

Reality, Not Science Fiction

A common misconception about lethal autonomous weapons is that they are far in the future and not a reality. The term “killer robots” is excellent short form to clearly and concisely communicate what these systems are. It can also conjure up ideas of “The Terminator,” a self-aware, anthropomorphized, conscious robot assassin, which can fuel the assumption that these weapons are science fiction. The reality is that weapons that can autonomously select, target, and kill humans are already here.

 A 2019 review of arms manufacturers entitled, “Slippery Slope: The era of killer robots is upon us” noted that “Turkey’s state-owned arms manufacturer produces the Kargu, a kamikaze drone that can select targets based on facial recognition.” and “The ‘Mini Harpy’ from Israel can also independently detect, attack and destroy enemy targets.” Furthermore, near term development and deployment of lethal autonomous weapons has been noted to be central to the military thinking of the United States, Russia and China amongst others.

These weapons systems are also already showing signs of proliferation. In November 2019, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper warned that Chinese weapons manufacturers were already selling drones to the Middle East “advertised as capable of full autonomy, including the ability to conduct targeted strikes.” Exported cheap drones with a high level of autonomy were used extensively in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has prompted speculation about the imminent role of small, exported, fully autonomous weapons such as those seen in Slaughterbots in conflict zones worldwide. There has been so much interest in this area, 2021 has been dubbed “the year the small drone arms race heats up.

The age of lethal autonomous weapons is here. Which is why we must TAKE ACTION