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Pentagon Moving Towards AI-Controlled Lethal Autonomous Weapons

Last Updated on November 23, 2023 by SPN Editor

The Pentagon is advancing towards the implementation of AI-controlled lethal autonomous weapons capable of autonomously eliminating human targets. This progression signifies a notable transformation in warfare, prompting crucial ethical and legal debates.

The U.S. Defense Department has made significant strides in employing artificial intelligence (AI) to equip unmanned combat platforms with autonomous operation capabilities. The initial version of directive 3000.09, titled “Autonomy in Weapons Systems,” was issued in 2012. Since then, the Pentagon has been eager to expedite the deployment of AI-controlled lethal autonomous weapons.

The U.S., among other countries, is opposing the introduction of new regulations for AI-controlled lethal drones. The development of these so-called “killer robots” by the U.S., China, and others has raised concerns among critics about machines making life-and-death decisions on the battlefield.

The prospect of deploying AI-controlled drones, capable of autonomously deciding to target humans, is nearing reality. Lethal autonomous weapons, which can select targets using AI, are under development by several countries, including the U.S., China, and Israel.

The use of these “killer robots” is seen as a troubling development by critics, as it delegates life and death decisions on the battlefield to machines without human intervention.

Several governments are urging the UN for a binding resolution to limit the use of AI killer drones. However, the U.S., along with a group of nations including Russia, Australia, and Israel, is resisting such a move, favoring a non-binding resolution instead of using lethal autonomous weapons.

Alexander Kmentt, Austria’s chief negotiator on the issue, described this as “one of the most significant inflection points for humanity,” raising fundamental security, legal, and ethical questions about the role of humans in the use of force.

The Pentagon is planning to deploy swarms of thousands of AI-enabled drones. In an August speech, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Kathleen Hicks, stated that technologies like AI-controlled drone swarms would enable the U.S. to counter the numerical advantage of China’s People’s Liberation Army in weapons and personnel.

Frank Kendall, the Air Force secretary, emphasized that AI drones will need to have the capability to make lethal decisions under human supervision.

The New Scientist reported in October that AI-controlled drones have already been deployed on the battlefield by Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion, though it’s unclear if any have resulted in human casualties.

The U.S. is a significant contributor to the development of lethal autonomous weapons. Other key players include China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, South Korea, and India, each with varying degrees of autonomy, lethality, and deployment in their robotic systems.

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