Johann Hari: The age of the killer robot is no longer a sci-fi fantasy
You can't appeal to robots for mercy or empathy - or punish them afterwards
In the dark, in the silence, in a blink, the age of the autonomous killer robot has arrived. It is happening. They are deployed. And – at their current rate of acceleration – they will become the dominant method of war for rich countries in the 21st century.
These facts sound, at first, preposterous. The idea of machines that are designed to whirr out into the world and make their own decisions to kill is an old sci-fi fantasy: picture a mechanical Arnold Schwarzenegger blasting a truck and muttering: "Hasta la vista, baby." But we live in a world of such whooshing technological transformation that the concept has leaped in just five years from the cinema screen to the battlefield – with barely anyone back home noticing.
When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, they had no robots as part of their force. By the end of 2005, they had 2,400. Today, they have 12,000, carrying out 33,000 missions a year. A report by the US Joint Forces Command says autonomous robots will be the norm on the battlefield within 20 years.