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Slaughterbots, RoboCop, and other AI killing machines

The dystopian solution in search of a failed state

I have a friend whose life from 1988 until 2005 or so was spent protesting something called the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. CMU was, and continues to be, an important defense contractor.

When he started, the military hadn’t even settled on the nickname “drones” for the unmanned aerial vehicles CMU was helping create, but already Vincent and his compatriots were already worried about the next big thing — AI-driven weapons, robots that attacked, and killed, without any human intervention whatsoever. No one really understood that CMU was developing the technological foundation for what would eventually become armed robots, and no one seemed to pay attention when Vincent tried to make them listen.

I even made a short documentary about my friend, which you can see here:

For over a decade, defense contractors have had workable prototypes of robots that could accompany soldiers, and some of them even had .50 caliber machine guns mounted on them. But only recently has technology reached the point where the robots could operate autonomously.

For instance, Israeli defense contractor IAI has the HARPY, which is essentially a missile that can hover over an area for 9 hours, looking for ground defense radar to wipe out. The army can set it and forget it, and its robot brain does the rest.

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Artificial intelligence is getting better, cheaper — the same that can be said for most technology, really. It’s only a matter of time before these kinds of weapons appear in your neighborhood, RoboCop-style. However, there are a couple of organizations trying to do something about the menace, including Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and the Future of Life Institute (which has Elon Musk on the board, but we’ll let that slide for now). The latter made some headlines in 2017 with its short film Slaughterbots, which might have looked like a Pure Flix feature, but it did a really good job of highlighting the issue.

The campaign has recently released the sequel to Slaughterbots, titled: Slaughterbots - if human: kill(). The message is clear: If we don’t outlaw this technology, we’re going to wish things were calm and peaceful like they were in the movie RoboCop.

Watch the movie here:

And explore the issue at length here: