Here come the killer robots

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If you think drone warfare has created some tricky moral dilemmas, said Robert H. Latiff and Patrick J. McCloskey, just wait until we start sending robotic soldiers into battle. Early prototypes of robots that can hunt down and destroy enemies with ferocious firepower are in development, and “what now seems like the stuff of Hollywood fantasy is moving toward realization.” Soon, these lethal Terminators will be deployed in wars.

Why? For the same reason generals and politicians have grown so fond of unmanned aerial drones: They provide extended “battle reach” without putting our own soldiers at risk. Robot soldiers also cost a tenth of what humans do, and never get PTSD or require medical care. That will make them even more attractive as the Pentagon faces tighter budgets. A “moral Rubicon” lies ahead.

Will killer robots on patrol in some foreign city’s streets be able to distinguish between large children and small adults? Or between civilians and combatants? If we don’t establish moral and legal rules soon, war will evolve into “death by algorithm.”