Panel: Time Is Running Out to Address Killer Robot Threat

The rise of autonomous war machines is outpacing policies and technological countermeasures, weapons and robotics experts warned last week at theWorld Economic Forum.

Autonomous weaponry potentially is a US$20 billion industry that has taken root in 40 countries, saidBAE Systems Chairman Roger Carr.

He was one of four panelists at the session titled “What If: Robots Go to War?” The other panelists were Angela Kane, senior fellow at theVienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation; robot ethics expert Alan Winfield; and Stuart Russell, a computer science professor atUC Berkeley.

Lethal autonomous robotics, or LARs, have “no emotion or sense of mercy,” Carr said.

The panel stressed the need for human operators to oversee LARs, which can’t fully comply with laws limiting all-out war.

The next 18 months or so will be critical, warned Kane, because some actors will use the technology irresponsibly and possibly even maliciously.

The First Autonomous Weapon

Whilekiller robots very well may be an existential threat to humanity, autonomous weapons already have been used on a large scale.

The U.S. is believed to be the first country to have launched an autonomous weapon, according to Richard Stiennon, chief research analystIT-Harvest. That weaponized artificial intelligence, Stuxnet, was designed to take down power plants and other large-scale industrial sites.

“The only reason we haven’t seen this yet in the private cybercrimes space is that traditional attacks, such as spearfishing and man in the middle, … are a lot less expensive and take a lot less work,” he told TechNewsWorld.

States actively researching or testing autonomous weapons include China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, the UK and the U.S., according to theCampaign to Stop Killer Robots.

Nation-State Involvement

The sophistication of cyberattacks seems to be moving at “warp speeds,” said Brian Arellanes, CEO ofITSourceTek.

“One of the things we’ve realized, in sitting on different panels and engaging the community, is that there are nation-states that are heavily funding these hacker organizations,” he told TechNewsWorld. “So it’s not just one individual operating as a lone wolf anymore, though there remains that threat.”

Nation-states increasingly have been turning to hacker collectives to wage war and play spy games.

“It’s becoming a much more complex landscape, so it makes it harder, especially for private sector companies, to fight these cyberterrorists,” said Arellanes.

It’s imperative to highlight the potential for bad actors to hack and control LARs and other military equipment.

“I can’t help but think of William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer … where he described all of this in graphic detail,” IT-Harvest’s Stiennon said. “it’s quite amazing that someone who is not a technologist has the imagination to see this coming.”

Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.

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