Will "slaughterbot" systems terrorize civilians? Image: Ban Lethal Autonomous Weapons

“Slaughterbots” – a warning

Policy • regulations • airspace Security • law enforcement • countermeasures

A coalition of watchdog groups attending the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meeting in Geneva the week of November 13 has presented a short film depicting a dystopian near-future where tiny autonomous “killer drones” are used in terror attacks and assassinations.

The film begins with the CEO of a fictional startup, “Morgan Sinclair” of “StratoEnergetics”, extolling the virtues of automated drones which chase down humans by face recognition before killing them with an explosive blow to the head. “Smart weapons consume data,” says the smug entrepreneur, demonstrating how datamining for human targets in social media and other sources can enable the lethal drones to hunt people.

A data breach results in the firm’s artificial intelligence (AI) becoming available on the Internet and rogue groups targeting politicians, minorities, and university students with swarms of tiny drones. Drone-free cage-like “safe zones” are shown to be no protection against the deadly flying robots, against which counter-measures are ineffective.

AI and robotics researchers have expressed concern that their work could be used in so-called lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) that once launched can self-select targets and apply lethal force without meaningful human control.

The film ends with a warning from a computer science professor, Stuart Russell, that such killer drones could be developed if action is not taken now to ban such weapons, which have been compared to biological agents or blinding lasers, both of which are forbidden under international treaties:

This short film is more than just speculation. It shows the results of integrating and miniaturizing technologies that we already have… [AI]’s potential to benefit humanity is enormous, even in defense. But allowing machines to choose to kill humans will be devastating to our security and freedom. Thousands of my fellow researchers agree. We have an opportunity to prevent the future you just saw, but the window to act is closing fast.

The film, produced by Space Digital in MediaCityUK (Manchester) and directed by Stewart Sugg for Boston-based Future of Life Institute, was shot in Edinburgh and Hertfordshire University and has had over a million views.