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Hawking, Musk, Woz (and others): Robots will kill us all


"A cruise missile, such as a standard Tomahawk or Stormshadow/Scalp, is autonomous from the moment it is launched. It flies to a location where its target is thought to be, but it does not simply crash on that location: it takes a digital picture at the scene and decides whether something that looks like a legitimate target is in the picture.

If the missile's software decides there is such a something, the target is struck - and one Tomahawk, equipped with many canisters of munitions which can be deployed separately, can attack multiple targets at different locations."

Well and good.

BUT, there is a key difference here. A cruise missile is targeted at a specific area that has been designated to be fired upon. As I understand it the target detection capabilities of the modern Tomahawk are there to allow the missile to be re-targeted if the intended target is no longer at the designated location.

One big problem when talking about this area - of robots and AI and drones and smart munitions - is that the same few terms can be used to mean several different things. It's important, therefore, to ignore the specific terms used and find out exactly what it is that is being discussed.

I believe that the potential weapons being discussed are a world away from cruise missiles and there is indeed a danger there.

The point is that miniaturisation and commoditisation of technology has the potential to change it into a different beast and it's not necessarily helpful to point out how some form of the technology has been with us for decades already.

Movie cameras have been around for a century but that doesn't mean that tiny, ubiquitous cameras dotting every building and street corner and bus and train and shopping centre and school is nothing to worry about.

The fact that one can record days of high-quality video and audio using a tiny, cheap, easily concealed device that is accessible remotely and can store that video footage indefinitely, on cheap, long-lived media, well, that raises new concerns.

And that is the deal here. It's not that autonomous weapons system aren't available, it's that technological progression may put these capabilities in the hands of anyone, regardless of means. (Within reason!)

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