The MQ-1 Predator is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which the United States Air Force describes as a MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) UAV system. It can serve in a reconnaissance role and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The aircraft, in use since 1995, has seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, and Yemen. It is a remote-controlled aircraft.
Human-controlled military drones like the Predator will soon give way to killer automated robotics. (Photo Credit: CC BY/jamesdale10/Fotopedia)

The new American way of war is here, according to the Washington Post. Unmanned Predator drones piloted via remote control have already made a huge impact in the Middle Eastern theater, but now the U.S. Armed Forces have taken the next step in the evolution of warfare. New killer military drones – aka “Terminators” – are completely autonomous.

Automated death

In the 1985 Nebula and Hugo award-winning science fiction novel “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, young Ender Wiggin repels an alien invasion of Earth via the use of a fleet of military drones under his remote control. Card’s prescient vision of war via remote control was well ahead of its time in 1985. Now a human pilot via remote control isn’t even needed. Aerial Terminator prototypes are becoming increasingly able to hunt, identify and kill enemy targets based upon computations performed at the software level.

As Georgia Tech Research Institute scientist Dr. Charles Pippin told the Post, time is of the essence on the field of battle.

“You can imagine real-time scenarios where you have 10 of these things up in the air and something is happening on the ground and you don’t have time for a human to say, ‘I need you to do these tasks,’” Pippin said. “It needs to happen faster than that.”

Automated drones already in use

While full functionality of the U.S. military’s autonomous attack drone fleet could be as far as two decades away, aerial automated robotics have already been deployed in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and other potential battle areas worldwide. According to sources, the U.S. military is actively funding a number of associated research projects involving autonomous combat machines and facial-recognition programs that can pick out terrorism suspects at a great distance, swoop in and deliver a missile payload.

Discrimination and proportionality in killing

Critics of automated robotics and current cutting-edge military technology like Predator drones say that such warfare is “too antiseptic” and should not be legal when deployed against terrorism suspects in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, countries that are not at war with the U.S. Once killer military drones are made autonomous, such “lethal autonomy” will no doubt stoke a firestorm of global controversy. It may also run afoul of the Geneva Conventions’ requirements that “belligerents use discrimination and proportionality” in killing, something autonomous drones may be hard-pressed to accomplish.

“The question is whether systems are capable of discrimination,” said International Committee for Robot Arms Control co-founder Peter Asaro. “The good technology is far off, but technology that doesn’t work well is already out there. The worry is that these systems are going to be pushed out too soon, and they make a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes are going to be atrocities.”

Beware the Firebird drone

Sources

“Ender’s Game” Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ender%27s_Game

International Committee for Robot Arms Control: http://www.icrac.co.uk/

New York Times: http://nyti.ms/8yfNSP

RQ-11 Raven Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AeroVironment_RQ-11_Raven

Washington Post: http://wapo.st/nGNlSp

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