Expert Warns Of 'Terminator' Robot Threat

Wars will be fought more often and civilians face extreme danger if the development of killer robots goes unchecked, a British expert has warned.

Professor Noel Sharkey said the technology to create Terminator-style machines already exists and international discussion about its military applications is desperately needed.

The University of Sheffield's professor of artificial intelligence and robotics said action must be taken to limit the development of robots that think for themselves.

"The nub of it is that robots do not have the necessary discriminatory ability. They can't distinguish between combatants and civilians," he said.

"People talk about programming the 'laws of war' into a computer to give robots a conscience, so that if the target is a civilian you don't shoot.

"But for a robot to recognise a civilian you need an exact specification, and one of the problems is there's no specific definition of a civilian.

"Soldiers have to rely on common sense."

Robot weapons, such as the Predator and Reaper drones, have already been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The pilotless aircrafts armed with bombs and missiles are used against insurgents - but civilians are often also among those killed.

These machines are controlled by humans, but Prof Sharkey said the rapid progress of "autonomous" robots is concerning.

"The military have a strange view of artificial intelligence based on science fiction," he said.

"The next thing that's coming, and this is what really scares me, are armed autonomous robots. The robot will do the killing itself.

"This will make decision-making faster and allow one person to control many robots.

"A single soldier could initiate a large scale attack from the air and the ground."

While Prof Sharkey suggested that scenario was still a long way off, he said robot arms control was an important debate that needed attention.

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