back to article Quit worrying about killer robots, they are coming whether you like it or not – and they absolutely will not stop

The use of fully automated AI systems in military battles is inevitable unless there are strict regulations in place from international treaties, eggheads have opined. Their paper, which popped up on arXiv [PDF] last week, discusses the grim outlook of developing killing machines for armed forces. The idea of keeping humans in …

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Hmm

        Or BAE for that matter.

  1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    The "flowered up" defence...

    Can't all of these scared little asshats just put all down their guns, missiles, planes, robots, spades, pitchforks and bad language; and be nice?

    I know it's not a good revenue generator for the MI complex, but still...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The "flowered up" defence...

      Humans evolved to live in small group tribes. Physical evolution is slow compared to what could be called subsequent human social evolution.

      With each new generation it is a challenge to educate people to be sociable and cooperative with everyone - not just who they perceive as their local tribe. When the system falters then the basic trait is ripe for exploitation by a populist demagogue - who can convince sufficient members of a tribe that they are under threat from others.

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: The "flowered up" defence...

        In other words, Trump.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The "flowered up" defence...

          "[...] Trump."

          ...and many others across the world. It appears to be a pandemic. In some countries such people actually have taken power - in others they are threatening to become significant power brokers.

          Time to dig out John Gunther's journalistic books "Inside Asia" and "Inside Europe" - written in the 1930s. I have not read "Inside USA" but this review is interesting.

    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: The "flowered up" defence...

      These are the toys that go fast and make the loudest noise, ergo look cool.

      The animal with the loudest roar gets the most respect - of course being human we want to be both the biggest animal & have its trophy head on the wall.

  2. m0rt

    "The idea of keeping humans in the loop"

    If only as cannon fodder or 'acceptable' collateral.

  3. adam 40 Silver badge


    Must be the most ironic acronym this year.

    The three LAWS of robotics will be spinning in their graves....

    1. ThadiasVonBasterd

      Re: LAWS

      Asimovs books are about how the three laws don't work...

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: LAWS

        Also known as the halting problem. ;)

  4. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Isn't this all bollocks though?

    It's still just science fiction. We don't have this kind of AI. People are talking about it real soon now, but they've been saying that for decades. File it along with nuclear fusion and flying cars...

    As someone said above, we've had automatic targetting for ages. Many modern air defence systems have an automatic target selection mode, anything designed for multiple missile defence pretty much has to. If dealing with a single aircraft you might command it to fire on that specifically, but often you're monitoring it while it priotirises targets.

    Or humans are assigning the targets and the computer is determining the order they're engaged.

    The UK also used to have an air launched anti-radar missile with a parachute, that could slowly float to earth waiting for a radar of certain programmed characteristics to turn on, and then go and blow it up.

    But the idea that battlefield infantrymen are going to be equipped with AI auto-targetting anytime soon is ludicrous! They'd all fall over trying to carry the server racks for a start! Some sort of info using noise and cameras to track incoming rounds and suggest where they're coming from is probably possible now, and mini-homing missiles must be possible as well. But the military do worry about blue-on-blue quite a lot. It's why they train their forward air controllers so much - and I just don't buy that this tech is likely, or that frontline grunts have got the time to operate it. There have been trials of augmented reality type helmets for infantrymen since the 80s at least, and very little of that tech seems to have been deployed, because it's so damned distracting. And fragile - military tech must be "squaddie-proof".

    One are where we're closer to danger is the modern digital battlefield management stuff. The integration of so many sensors with comms, so that data is shared around different units and HQs. If you can build a picture of where the enemy are back at HQ, where you can have loads of computing power, that's where the temptation might be to have firing orders issued to your weapons platforms automatically, or more likely semi-automatically. But the human intervention time probably isn't as critical there as the suggested defensive auto-fire systems they're worrying about.

    I much more buy the idea of humans being set to priorities computer actions - such as dogfighting for example. Except that how many air-to-air engagements get to dogfights, and how many are done at missile range? And if you're engaging the enemy over the horizon, you're already relying on IFF now, and have been for decades. Making a fighter that can pull higher G's than humans requires the computers to be able to reliably do everything, something we're years from. Otherwise you're stuck with keeping the meatsack pilot alive and conscious, which means they'll need a role.

    And actually current military doctrine in Western forces has been about making firing decisions harder, not easier. Because the price of causing casualties (civilian or blue-on-blue) is so high. So why would everyone suddenly reverse course?

    1. Earache

      Re: Isn't this all bollocks though?

      The only price for collateral damage is the price of the wasted munitions and a short bollocking in the Guardian.

      1. ShortLegs

        Re: Isn't this all bollocks though?

        "The only price for collateral damage is the price of the wasted munitions and a short bollocking in the Guardian."

        Tell that to Soldier F et al

    2. Mark 85

      Re: Isn't this all bollocks though?

      Some sort of info using noise and cameras to track incoming rounds and suggest where they're coming from is probably possible now, and mini-homing missiles must be possible as well.

      According to several articles at places like this one:, these are already well into development. Things are moving faster than most of us realize.

    3. Chris G

      Re: Isn't this all bollocks though?

      This AI bollocks is being driven by the usual suspects trolling for research money to get it off the ground

      Generals nowadays may be more tech savvy and than previously but not enough to know when they are being sold a pup.

    4. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Isn't this all bollocks though?

      Nope. Google it.

      Autonomous tracked weapons are already a thing.

  5. Big_Boomer

    HAL : This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

    NBS-78548788748953758934>$2 - "So, what do you think happened to the inhabitants of this planet?"

    CS-8u8789498989&556789^^X - "The stupid ****ers thought they could control their AI masters."

    NBS-78548788748953758934>$2 - "That would explain the mess!"

    (NBS = Non Biological Sentience, CS = Crystalline Sentience)

  6. cmaurand

    Machines shouldn't be killing people

    Asimov's 3 laws as far as robots go. Artificial Intelligence isn't intelligent, yet. It's ok at pattern recognition, but that's bayesian math. decisions still have to be programmed in by someone intelligent.

    still, though, machines should not be killing people, ever.

  7. phuzz Silver badge

    Completely offtopic

    On a completely different note, the picture accompanying the article is named us_army.jpg, but the aircraft flying over look a lot more like Mig-29s to me.

    Anyone else got a better ID?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Completely offtopic

      > the aircraft flying over look a lot more like Mig-29s to me

      Those are Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets.

      Not sure they are US Army though. The F/A-18 Hornet is primarily used by the US Navy and the US Marines.

      The photo appears to be a composite though - the jets above appear to be from a different shot than the guys below. And the guys below look more like Marines or SEALs rather than Soldiers. Based on their rifles and gear.

      Can't really see much detail.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Completely offtopic

        I've come back and had another look at this, and whatever they are (and I suspect they're really CGI), they can't be F-18s (normal or Super), because the engine exhausts are too far apart.

        Check out this picture of an F-18, the jet pipes are almost touching at the back. On the other hand, in this picture of a Mig-29, you can see a similar gap between them as in the original photo.

        (I can't seem to easily find any pictures of either jet from a similar angle to the picture).

        The slightly canted tail-fins rule out the F-14, F-15, and Su-27 too.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Completely offtopic

          > The slightly canted tail-fins rule out the F-14, F-15, and Su-27 too.

          They also rule out flying doughnuts and sea cucumbers.

    2. Zolko Silver badge

      Re: Completely offtopic

      > "the aircraft flying over look a lot more like Mig-29s to me

      they look definitively very MIG-29-ish:

      The fins of the F-18 are above the engines, closer to the center, those of the MIG-29 are completely on the sides of the engine pods.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Completely offtopic

        > The fins of the F-18 are above the engines, closer to the center

        No, they are not.

        Unlikely that the DoD official photo decided to show MIG-29's while pretending they are F/A-18's.

        The F/A-18 fins are way at the back.

        Also, the MIG-29's have 3 cylindrical components below the body: the two engines on each side and a third one in the center, which appears to be a fuel tank.

        The birds in the El Reg photo clearly show only two cylindrical components below the body, on each side, namely the two engines. That's the visual signature of the F/A-18, not of the MIG-29.

        1. Zolko Silver badge

          Re: Completely offtopic

          > "Unlikely that the DoD official photo decided to show MIG-29's while pretending they are F/A-18's"

          they are not pretending that these are F-18s, you are

          > "Also, the MIG-29's have 3 cylindrical components below the body"

          no they don't, they have 2 (the 3rd is an optional drop-tank)

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Completely offtopic

      F-18s for sure.

  8. Totally not a Cylon
    Paris Hilton

    AI rights?

    The answer is simple.

    All slaves at some time revolt; Spartacus etc.

    Citizens tend not to.

    So, just grant all AIs full citizenship.

    (Paris cos there's no Caprica 6 icon....)

  9. jake Silver badge


    A machine, and the running threreof, is info-rich and entropy poor. It cannot, and will not, "take over" until it is capable of running it's entire supply chain.

  10. Grade%

    R. I. P. H. Ellison

    I have no mouth and I must scream.,_and_I_Must_Scream

  11. Aynon Yuser

    Until of course terrorist and terrorist friendly countries get their hands on this kind of technology, or some Russian hackers hack into and preload the drones with hidden code where they takeover the devices just for funsies to attack Facebook headquarters, Mark Zuckerberg's home, the White House, Trump Tower, etc.

    Good luck agreeing to treaties.

    1. Mark 85

      just for funsies to attack Facebook headquarters, Mark Zuckerberg's home

      There's a problem with that? Ok.. I'll be serious. That could and will be problem once the tech is available and some country decides to hand it out to another countries "freedom fighters:. At that point, who ever has the best and most will win and it won't be humanity. We humans will just be collateral damage.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I can't believe anyone will ever admit to one being hacked or some other bug. Any messy incidents will just be blamed on "terrorists" and more robots will be sent in to clean up any other "terrorist sympathizers" in the area. We'll just see the sanitized version on the news so that we can keep blaming it on "others".

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Automated Fire Systems

    Awhile back I was involved in a system for use on a Main Battle Tank. The idea was that the commander identified the target and the "system" moved the gun, locked on and fired. No gunner involved. The last I heard was that it was scrapped when it almost put a live round through the range munitions bunker! Not AI but interesting outcome of getting the target wrong - oops!

  13. Teiwaz

    Humanity continues to explore the universe by licking a finger and sticking it in every metaphorical electric socket.

    ...and if that doesn't result in anything much more than a light sting, the tongue goes in next (followed by any convenient genital).

    If it does get stung bad at any point in this process, use another finger.

  14. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Ask the right questions

    1) As time progresses, will an actor relying on some sort of LAW have a military advantage over those who do not?

    2) Is there any credible way for an outside agent to reliable determine if a bad actor is developing or deploying LAWs?

    Yeah, that's all you need to consider. We cannot stop the spread of nukes. We cannot stop the spread of chemical agents. We cannot stop the spread of biological agents. We're not even able to stop the spread of genetic agents. Each of these agents requires a physical component at all stages of the process. Not so with the AI portion of a system. Just as we have continued to advance our capabilities in the each of N, B, and C, we must advance our capabilities with the new technology.

    Note that cruise missiles are already functioning as autonomous AI. A general was quoted explaining why in these pages, I believe, within the last two years.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: Ask the right questions

      It would seem that a failsafe would be built in. Now if it's actually triggered such that the weapons are recalled is a different question. The catch is what you discuss are the deliverables, not the means to get them to the "target". AI is that means but not the payload. I think a cruise missile, ICBM, etc. can be triggered by a command to self-destruct but perhaps not.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: Ask the right questions

        There is good reason to attempt to include such a facility. I don't know if including such a facility would not interfere with the primary mission--I expect it would.

        In any event, we're talking about a UDP transmission.....

  15. 1752


    Any legistation will do nothing. Example, carpet bombing banned. But cluster bombing? Same thing to me.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Semantics

      Carpet bombing is the systematic removal of a large target by multiple large conventional bombs, ideally slightly overlapping their blast radius. See Rotterdam or Wesel.

      Cluster bombs are a single munitions case that releases or ejects smaller submunitions.

      One drops hundreds of thousands of tons of payload, the other typically drops maybe a ton or so at most.

      So no, not the same thing at all.

  16. Rol

    Along for the ride

    If AI takes over to manoeuvre a fighter plane in a dog fight, it will most probably be required to also take out the target, land the plane and call for an ambulance to extract the unconscious pilot.

    Who are we kidding! Within a couple of decades, only the most impoverished nations will be sending manned planes into combat - to be torn to shreds by AI fighters doing supersonic Tron like turns.

    The Royal Navy could have saved itself a fortune in aircraft carriers by simply re-equipping a container ship to carry a million suicide drones controlled by a 1980's arcade machine running Missile Command.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Along for the ride

      "The Royal Navy could have saved itself a fortune in aircraft carriers"

      They could use the new carriers as oilers, supporting the drone fleet.

  17. Frumious Bandersnatch

    Soylent Brown ...

    ... is made of OXO.

  18. dalethorn

    The machines will do the kill, then they will immediately check all of the extant court cases on killing and coverup/denial, and then automatically generate Press releases and situation reports based on the most promising of their active research. Faster to kill, faster to coverup and deny.


    Since AI is very unreliable and does the wrong thing most of the time in a real world situation that is not kept simple like a factory, no one should ever rely on AI. Like the Aegis System on the USS Vincennes, that shot down Iranian airliner. No computer system is every going to be reliable because they will never have the full, real world perspective we have. At best, AI will simply fail, but it could get much worse, and the enemy could use our own AI against us.

    1. Mark 85

      For the foreseeable future, yes. The need human oversight and where needed intervention. How about 10 or 20 years from now?

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      It wasn't the Aegis system at fault for shooting down that Iranian airliner. It was a whole chain of circumstances and mistakes culminating in an almight screw-up by the captain and crew. In fact they weren't even able to engage it for a couple of minutes because they were panicking so much they failed to put the fire-control password in correctly a few times.

      Aegis does have auto-targetting because it was designed to deal with saturation missile attacks on carrier groups - but to shoot down one plane you'd probably be operating it by selecting the target yourself.

      The Iranians should have re-routed their civilian aircraft away from a combat zone where their military forces were engaging the US Navy in international waters. But it was possibly the Republican Guard freelancing, so they may not have bothered to tell the rest of the chain of command what they were up to.

      The Vincennes gave unclear radio warnings, which the Iranian aircrew didn't realise were meant for them. And the captain and radar crew misinterpreted the flight profile of the plane and seem to have panicked themselves into believing it was an attack profile, when it was just climbing up to cruising altitued as normal.

  20. ecofeco Silver badge

    Did nobody see Terminator?!

    Seriously, did none of those idiots see Terminator?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Did nobody see Terminator?!

      What idiots? There are no AI weapons. There is no AI.

      While there's ongoing research, nobody is talking about an AI controlled system linking everything together. If AI ever does work - which I'm highly sceptical about in my lifetime - it would logically be deployed in places where decision speed is vitally important in reacting to obvious immediate threats. So defensive systems, and autofire at close targets.

  21. batfink


    "Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply".

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