Flashback…The Terminators: drone strikes prompt MoD to ponder ethics of killer robots

Friday, January 20, 2012
By Paul Martin

Analysis of unmanned aircraft in combat urges Britain to establish policy on ‘acceptable machine behaviour’

Richard Norton-Taylor and Rob Evans
Guardian.co.uk
Sunday 17 April 2011

The growing use of unmanned aircraft in combat situations raises huge moral and legal issues, and threatens to make war more likely as armed robots take over from human beings, according to an internal study by the Ministry of Defence.

The report warns of the dangers of an “incremental and involuntary journey towards a Terminator-like reality”, referring to James Cameron’s 1984 movie, in which humans are hunted by robotic killing machines. It says the pace of technological development is accelerating at such a rate that Britain must quickly establish a policy on what will constitute “acceptable machine behaviour”.

“It is essential that before unmanned systems become ubiquitous (if it is not already too late) … we ensure that, by removing some of the horror, or at least keeping it at a distance, we do not risk losing our controlling humanity and make war more likely,” warns the report, titled The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems. MoD officials have never before grappled so frankly with the ethics of the use of drones. The report was ordered by Britain’s defence chiefs, and coincides with continuing controversy about drones’ use in Afghanistan, and growing Pakistani anger at CIA drone attacks against suspected insurgents on the Afghan borders.

It states that “the recent extensive use of unmanned aircraft over Pakistan and Yemen may already herald a new era”. Referring to descriptions of “killer drones” in Afghanistan, it notes that “feelings are likely to run high as armed systems acquire more autonomy”.

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