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As British General predicts robots fighting for the army in just over a decade, AOAV examines the dangers of robotic warfare and its potential impact on civilians

The recent announcement by senior British military official Gen Collins that robots may be fighting for the country on battlefields by 2030 is a concerning development. While the idea of autonomous robots killing humans may have once seemed like science fiction, it is now a reality, as drones and unmanned vehicles are already being used in warfare.

The use of autonomous or semi-autonomous drones in warfare arguably poses a significant danger to civilians. These machines can hunt down, target and kill humans without the need for direct human input, and the morality of killing a civilian becomes distanced by the computer’s use. The conflict in Ukraine has already shown that fully autonomous robots may soon become a reality, and the pace of scientific development in this area is likely to increase.

The use of AI-enabled strike drones, such as the Kalashnikov ZALA and the Lancet, by the Russian Army in Ukraine is particularly worrying. These drones have some autonomous capability and can independently find and destroy a target. The Kargu-2 attack drone, which can be operated both autonomously and manually and uses machine learning and real-time image processing, has also been used for the first time in combat.

Even more concerning is the recent use of AI-guided drone swarms. While drones are typically guided by a human operator, drone swarms are controlled by artificial intelligence, representing a step forward in military technology. However, the deployment of these drones raises questions about the potential for civilian casualties and the lack of human oversight in the decision-making process.

It is important to note that autonomous drones or robots cannot actually think for themselves. Instead, they are programmed with a large number of alternative responses to the different challenges they may encounter in performing their mission. While NATO has stated that the technology for autonomous drones is largely developed, there are currently no approved autonomous drone systems in operation. The limiting factor is not the technology, but rather the political will to develop or admit to having such politically sensitive technology.

The development of autonomous robots for warfare represents a significant danger to civilians. The lack of human oversight in the decision-making process and the potential for errors in programming could lead to unintended casualties. It is essential that policymakers and military officials take into account the ethical implications of such technology and ensure that measures are in place to prevent harm to innocent civilians.