Human Rights Watch has issued a warning that ‘Terminator’-style killer robots could be developed in decades - and that several governments are working on the technology.
The U.S government in particular has admitted to working towards robotic weapons systems with ‘total autonomy’.
The Human Rights Watch calls on policy-makers to outlaw ‘fully autonomous weapons’ - robots that can decide to kill.
It says such weapons could be feasible “in decades”.
"Fully autonomous weapons have the potential to increase harm to civilians during armed conflict,” says Human Rights Watch
“They would be unable to meet basic principles of international humanitarian law, they would undercut other, non-legal safeguards that protect civilians, and they would present obstacles to accountability for any casualties that occur.
"Although fully autonomous weapons do not exist yet, technology is rapidly moving in that direction. These types of weaponized robots could become feasible within decades, and militaries are becoming increasingly invested in their successful development.
One in three U.S. war places is now a drone, and the U.S. has said that it aims for its forces to be 30% robotic by 2020.
“There is an ongoing push to increase UGV - unmanned ground vehicle - autonomy, with an ultimate goal of full autonomy,” said a U.S military report in 2011.
A U.S Air Force report in 2009 said, “Increasingly humans will no longer be ‘in the loop’ but rather ‘on the loop’—monitoring the execution of certain decisions.
“Advances in AI will enable systems to make combat decisions without necessarily requiring human input.”
At present, drones such as Reapers and Predators are capable of fully autonomous flight, take-off and landing, but require a human to “pull the trigger”.
The fact that such drones are supervised by highly trained combat jet pilots makes them expensive to operate.
Future generations of drones are already moving towards increased autonomy.
Drones such as British Aerospace’s Tanaris will be capable of severing radio communications and flying unsupervised for up to 36 hours.
The move towards ‘autonomous’ robots has been in place for decades.
A Northrop Grumman ‘drone’ performed a fully autonomous landing in 1975.
P W Singer, a former Pentagon weapons advisor and author of the book Wired for War, said in a previous interview that the drive towards autonomy was inevitable.
“With drones that are remote-controllled you have two pilots up front, but a team of around 160 people behind - we have to get to a point, for budget reasons, where planes can fly themselves,” says Singer
“With every problem in using unmanned vehicles, the solution seems to be more autonomy. What's the easy way to stop a drone? You jam its satellite feeds. You don't want it to stop and just give up at that point.
“Never ever. So you endow it with enough independence to continue the mission. Can we get this genie back in the bottle? Yes, sure - as long as we get rid of war, science and capitalism.'