Yes, China have developed autonomous killer drones

The world of warfare has always been terrifying, and a harsh reality for millions of people. With killer drones now a reality, how will weaponised robots impact the way we live – and fight?
Image of the world next to a banner about the threat of killer robots
Stop Killer Robots is campaigning to ban AI weapons. Image: Stop Killer Robots

What are drones currently used for?

Drones are controversial. There are useful applications, such as delivering emergency medical supplies. Companies such as Uber and Amazon are developing drone technology to deliver products faster.

They have even been used in firefighting, as ‘eyes in the sky’ to help with the mammoth task of controlling wildfires.

It isn’t all good. Drones have caused chaos at airports, restricting and endangering passenger aircraft. Drones shut down Gatwick airport for 30-hours last year. Ottawa airport are trialling ‘anti-drone’ technology to mitigate against this.

How are China weaponising drone technology?

As reported by Defense One, China is now exporting weaponised drones with the autonomy to take lethal action. Mark Esper, US Defense Secretary, says these are being sold to the Middle East.

It is the first time any statement has been made about Chinese lethal drone technology. This is indicative of the seriousness of the problem.

Esper reported to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence Conference that; ‘the Chinese government is already exporting some of its most advanced military aerial drones to the Middle East, as it prepares to export its next-generation stealth UAVs when those come online.’

What weaponised drones are China exporting?

Ziyan, a Chinese company, sells a helicopter drone equipped with a machine gun. The weapon is called the Blowfish A3. Ziyan states that their drone ‘autonomously performs more complex combat missions, including targeted precision strikes.’

China isn’t the only country weaponising drones. The US, whilst publicly criticising China, are in on the action too. Futurism report that the US military have already tested a similar robot manned by a .50-cal machine gun.

Going right back to 2013, the US have been using drone strikes under the banner of ‘the war on terror’. Whilst these are monitored and controlled by people, thousands of people have been killed by drone strikes. Many of them were innocent civilians.

Blowfish A3 weaponised drone
The Blowfish A3 is being exported from China to the Middle East. Image: Air Recognition

Why are drones a bigger problem than traditional weapons?

The huge problem here is lack of human involvement. Whilst tragic mistakes are still made, soldiers are generally rigorously trained and highly skilled. A robot, however, is just a machine. It follows instruction without thought or feeling.

How can a drone distinguish between a dangerous target and an innocent civilian?

MEP Bidol Valero, a member of the Security and Defence Committee said in interview with the BBC; ‘The power to decide over life and death should never be taken out of human hands and given to machines.’

Vox reports that drones would use AI and facial recognition technology to identify their targets. Relying on an algorithm to decide who lives and who dies is starkly terrifying.

What does the rest of the world make of it?

Last year the European Parliament passed a ruling which calls for ‘autonomous weapons systems’ to be banned from development worldwide. Russia and the US are not on board.

Both countries blocked the UN from proceeding with developing legislation further. The UN Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) wanted to begin negotiations to form a treaty to ban robotic weaponry altogether. They did not succeed.

Private corporations are also getting involved. Microsoft have won a US Department of Defense contract to provide the Pentagon with a huge spectrum of cloud-based services.

Tech industry leaders including Elon Musk and the DeepMind founders have pledged never to weaponise AI. However, this movement is not unanimous throughout the industry.

Defense One reports that a senior exec at NORINCO, one of China’s biggest defence companies, says that, ‘In future battlegrounds, there will be no people fighting‘.

Organisations like The Campaign To Stop Killer Robots and Amnesty International are campaigning furiously to make world leaders take preventative action.

My concern? Where one goes, another follows. Sobering stuff.

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