Not only humans but also autonomous machines have been fighting in war for a long time. Some machines are controlled by a remote pilot, some can search for and destroy targets by themselves. The terrifying weapon is being developed by Anduril, the military technology company founded by Oculus creator Palmer Luckey. This company has announced its first weapon system: an adaptation of its Altius drones that turn the aircraft into a “loitering ammunition”. It is a machine that flies in a certain area until it finds a target to destroy. It can be a target in the air or on the ground.
In the past, Anduril designed surveillance systems and watchtowers that were used on the US-Mexico border. Loitering ammunition has been developed since the 80s. Initially, it was about systems that had limited possibilities in terms of hitting targets – homing in on electronic or radar emissions only. Now even cheap machines have advanced technology and machine vision to allow detailed target selection. It is very difficult to know if these machines are autonomous or not. Loitering ammunition was already used 2 years ago. These killing machines were used in the civil war in Libya, and in the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. They are also used in Ukraine.
Is it an autonomous weapon?
Jack McDonald, a lecturer at the department of war studies at King’s College London, told The Verge last year, “There are people who call ‘loitering munitions’ ‘lethal autonomous weapon systems’ and people who just call them ‘loitering munitions.’ is a huge, long-running thing. And it’s because the line between something being autonomous and being automated has shifted over the decades.”
It also states: Altius drones are “autonomous,” with one operator “able to control multiple assets.” Said the company in a blog post, “Altius has demonstrated autonomous coordinated strike, target recognition and collaborative teaming.” The drones are also able to “accommodate multiple seeker and warhead options.”
“For Anduril, this is the first weapon that we are talking about developing,” the company’s chief strategy officer, Chris Brose, told Breaking Defense in an interview accompanying the announcement. “It is not the only weapon that we are developing, and it is definitely not the last weapon that we are going to develop.”
Are autonomous weapons inevitable?
Some see autonomous weapons as inevitable, but one needs to think about the fact that autonomous technology chooses which targets to strike. Technologies are constantly improving, and machines can even acquire artificial intelligence within a few years. It is a horrifying idea that lethal weapons can think for themselves and think about who to kill and what to attack. If you’ve seen the movie Terminator, you’ll remember how it turned out when the machines started thinking and took over.
Image credit: Anduril Industries