US Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work shed some light Wednesday on several fantastic hi-tech military projects, many including robotic technology. However, he emphasized that the US military does not plan to allow machines to make their own decisions to fire. He implied, however, that this may change if an adversary creates such machines first.
"We might be going up against a competitor that is more willing to delegate authority to machines than we are, and as that competition unfolds we will have to make decisions on how we best can compete," he said.
Projects include inventions that were, until recently, a matter of science fiction, like unmanned jet fighters, robotic ships and autonomous trucks.
The autonomous jet, dubbed "Loyal Wingman," involves an F-16 fighter jet converted into a drone, flying along with a manned F-35.
Another project involves developing self-driving trucks to reduce human losses from roadside bombs — the cause of death for many US casualties in Middle East operations. This project faces significant challenges when it comes to off-road navigation.
"When the roads become more dangerous we will go off road, and that type of navigation is extremely difficult," Work said.
The Pentagon is also developing a swarm of micro drones assembled largely from components created by 3D printers. These swarming drones can be launched from a fighter jet at subsonic speeds and used to surveil large areas, like Middle Eastern deserts.
All this technology could be used in devices manufactured within a matter of years, not decades, say science and technology leaders, including UK physicist Stephen Hawking. While it is important that the military states that none of these devices will be granted autonomy to use weaponry, it remains to be seen whether that guarantee will be codified within the culture of war. Technology experts and activists may call for a ban on autonomous weaponry, but there remains a risk that such devices could fall into the hands of extremists. If tampered with, autonomous killing machines could inflict heavy damage among civilians.