Are AI-Powered Robots Coming for Us?

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Friendly household robots turning on humanity is a well exhausted and still popular theme in Science Fiction. As engineers take us places we’ve never dared to imagine, the position of artificial intelligence remains a hotly debated topic in philosophy and engineering. Fearing a future where tech gadgets can independently kill has led many to ask, ‘are AI killer robots coming for us?’ The answer is, of course, no! They are already here.

Different names for killer robots include autonomous weapons systems (AWS), lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWS), slaughter bots, and more.

AI Killer Robot Definitions

Like with anything, words matter. With that being said, defining killer robots is not an easy task. This results from fields as diverse as psychology, philosophy, ethics, and engineering being a part of the broader conversation.

The United States government defines Lethal autonomous weapon systems as a “special class of weapon systems that use sensor suites and computer algorithms to independently identify a target and employ an onboard weapon system to engage and destroy the target without manual human control of the system.” In other words, LAWS are weapons capable of finding and eliminating targets without human interference anywhere in the process.

On the other hand, University of North Carolina’s Mark Gubrud thinks any technology that has a degree of independence, even a partial one, when killing is an autonomous weapon.

Fully autonomous weapons require no human input, while semi-automated weapons require some direction from a human. On the other hand, automated weapons are programmed to take predetermined actions with or without human interference.

Types of Killer Robots

There are various types of lethal autonomous weapons. Some have been in use for decades, while others are still in the research / developmental phase.


Drones are aircrafts capable of navigating the skies without crew and passengers. Also known as crewless aerial vehicles, they can be semi-autonomously controlled by a human using a remote control or fully autonomous.

Nowadays, drones can be used to perform tasks humans find extremely difficult or impossible to carry out. This includes getting aerial pictures, searching for survivors in danger zones, and more. However, battlefield UAVs are used for surveillance, intelligence gathering, and carrying bombs and missiles.

Israel was the first country to use drone technology in combat during a 1973 conflict with Egypt. Iran soon followed by using crewless aerial machines of their own. It was only after the US used the technology during the Gulf War that other countries adopted combat drones.

Popular crewless combat vehicles include:

  • Bayraktar Akıncı from Turkey.
  • CAIG Wing Loong from China.
  • Shahed 129 from Iran.
  • Elbit Hermes 450 from Israel.
  • General Atomics MQ-1 Predator from the United States.

Automated Sentry Guns

A sentry gun is an automated weapon with the ability to fire at targets detected by sensors. The Samsung SGR-A1 is one of the most well-known examples. It was developed by South Korea in partnership with Hanwha Aerospace and Korea University to assist the government in biffing up security on the North Korean border.

The Samsung SGR-A1 has a range of up to 2miles. During the day, the gun’s sensors extend for a distance of 2.5miles and 1.2miles at night. The device uses voice recognition to confirm if a person who has entered the zone is not an enemy. If the person fails to be authenticated, the weapon can raise the alarm or automatically engage using a number of projectiles.

Features on the Samsung SGR-A1 include:

  • Infrared thermographic camera.
  • Interface that accommodates mounted weapons
  • IR illuminator and a laser rangefinder for tracking targets.
  • A digital video recorder.

The Sea Hunter Warship

Sea Hunter is an autonomous water vehicle developed for military use by the United States. The pilot project cost an estimated $20 million.

The ship was the first craft to make the journey from San Diego to Hawaii without a crew on board. All the Sea Hunter’s functionalities are not yet known, but it is expected to be able to travel at high speeds, censor other submarines, avoid projectiles, and launch missiles. All of this will be automated without a single soul on board.

Deep Green System – The Future of Fully Automated War

What if some crazy person out there developed a robot that can foretell the future? That person exists – and probably works for the United States government. Deep Green is an information system that can predict future scenarios based on analyzing the current situation. The goal of this technology is to assist military leaders in decision-making.

While the possibility of a computer having that level of intelligence is astounding, the marvel is what this means if Deep Green was combined with other technologies. Just think of a sentry gun-running this kind of software. Not only would soldiers become redundant, but a general could virtually fight a war from the comfort of their kitchen.

The main components of Deep Green are:

  • Blitzkrieg, which analyses possible results of a human-made plan.
  • Crystal Ball, which Performs analysis of possible futures generated from blitzkrieg.
  • A user interface and visualization component is known as a Commander’s Associate.
  • Automated Course Of Action Generation

Many legal and ethical implications have been raised about automated weapons. While semi-automated weapons such as drones are safer because of the degree of human control, fully automated weapons remain controversial.

Many ethics scholars have raised concerns about a machine’s ability to make moral decisions. For instance, would artificial intelligence understand the moral difference between killing civilians to get to a fugitive who has murdered one person; vs. eliminating innocent people in the way of capturing a terrorist threatening to bomb an entire city?

Furthermore, the UN and Amnesty International have raised concerns regarding the possibility of dishonest countries and terrorist groups acquiring killer robots. This is to say nothing of the AI arms race that would surely ensue.

Proponents of killer robots, however, argue that AI weapons are more likely to save lives. Their favorite scenario is one where slaughter bots will only be programmed to take out soldiers. They believe a robot is less likely to kill civilians by mistake compared to humans.

Campaign To Stop Killer Robots

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is a collection of non-governmental organizations opposed to automated weapons. The movement was started in 2013. Their calls have been largely ignored by the US, Russia, South Korea, and Israel, all of whom are leading developers of automated weapons.

More than 200 tech companies and 3000 individuals have pledged not to be involved in developing killer robots. Signatories on a letter taking a stance against AI warfare in Argentina include Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Noam Chomsky, and Jaan Tallinn.

Countries that have resolved not to use AI killer robots include:

  • Egypt
  • The Vatican
  • Cuba
  • Zimbabwe
  • Uganda
  • Austria


AI killer robots are already a reality. Sentry guns and drones are making it possible to kill from a remote location. As technologies such as Deep Green are developed, we are not far from a future where an entire battle can be executed by a fully automated weapons system. It is as yet unclear what this means in terms of safety and human rights.

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