The pursuit for global dominance and exerting force over the less powerful have existed for as long as humankind. Wars, conflict, and civil unrest all demonstrate the want and need for change. However, as the people push back, so do the powerful. As states engage more aggressively with each other and dismiss diplomacy, the world faces a similar existential threat as it did during the Cold War. Two superpowers mobilized their state’s most remarkable minds in an attempt to show which country would have hegemony over the rest of humanity. Starting in 1945 to 1990, the Nuclear Arms Race signaled some of the darkest days of human existence.
Across all corners of the earth, individuals worried about if each day was their last, as the possibility of nuclear war was imminent. Nuclear weapons are simple weapons but with the potential to devastate all the earth and wipe out entire populations. As history has demonstrated, increased technological advancements in weapons manufacturing have not always yielded positive results.
In recent years, many countries across the globe have been working on developing partially autonomous weapons to assist in conflict. However, the genesis of lethal autonomous weapons, or more commonly known as killer robots, has brought forth the possibility for the newest global arms race, with deadly consequences. Killer robots are essentially A.I. that are weaponized to attack human targets. Countries currently developing said weapons include China, Israel, U.S., U.K., South Korea, and Russia, which could result in a robot arms race.
Why Are They Dangerous, And What Consequences Do They Hold for Humanity?
Killer robots pose an existential threat to humanity as they could lower the threshold required to go to war. With the ability to replace soldiers with robots, it is easier to justify the human cost and monetary expenses of entering combat. More importantly, like robots, these machines do not have the human instinct or the ability to decipher civilians from combatants, setting the stage for increased civilian casualties. Killer robots would be able to “play god,” deciding who lives and dies and does not guarantee the safety of comrades or civilians. Prestigious international organizations like the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have called for the ban of killer robots. Sixty-one percent of people support said ban and call to develop a treaty prohibiting its use and full development.
For example, picture a twelve-year-old boy kidnapped by Daesh from his remote village in Iraq as an Iraqi boy forced to submit to the will of Daesh militants. Suppose he is required to point a gun against a non-ISIS soldier. He is upset and afraid of his condition. He is crying and traumatized from his kidnapping and life under Daesh. How can lethal autonomous weapons like killer robots fully grasp how some people have forced combatants, especially child soldiers? Is it possible for an AI to possess intrinsically human qualities like compassion and empathy when in war? The killer robots aren’t exclusively designed for active combat. Still, they can be used as a tool for ethnic cleansing and genocide if they are programmed to have a specific target that is easy to exploit to commit genocide.
Paul Scharre, the author of “Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War,” famously wrote, “Machines can do many things, but they cannot create meaning. They cannot answer these questions for us. Machines cannot tell us what we value, what choices we should make. The world we are creating is one that will have intelligent machines in it, but it is not for them. It is a world for us.”