Last year, the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board commissioned an extensive study examining scenarios of an autonomous robotic battlefield with participants drawn from the upper echelons of the consulting, defense and technical industries as well as the military and academia – needless to say, no expense was spared to examine the reality we all learned from reruns of Star Trek: "Resistance (to the robots) is futile."
The cabal of high-ranking officials, experts, and intellectuals looked to lay down the future laws of war, determine what weapons should be developed in the future, and explore the risks and limitations of the global drive towards autonomous robotic weaponry.
Autonomous was defined as a system that has "the capability to independently compose and select among different courses of action to accomplish goals based on its knowledge and understanding of the world, itself, and the situation." The group emphasized that autonomy should first be explored in non-combat military service areas given the incumbent risks associated with "autonomous weapons systems with potential for lethality."
The report, in fact, only recommended a single deadly application of artificial intelligence to start suggesting that the "US Navy and DARPA should collaborate to conduct an experiment in which assets are deployed to create a minefield of autonomous lethal Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs)."
The concept behind the single lethal application is to find a way for the US Navy to deny an enemy access to a section of the sea without risking American sailors, but the exception raises the possibility of additional lethal autonomous weapons without people in the loop – particularly if the United States' competitor peers and adversaries continue to develop such weaponry.
As it remains, there may not actually be an impending global domination of killer robots with the first uses of autonomous weapons seen to be in niche roles in order to protect the humans who deployed the weapon, but with the technology only entering this fearsome new frontier and with countries becoming increasingly wary of the political consequence of placing troops in harm’s way, it is hard not to wonder when the exception will become the rule.