Rise of the Machines

Daily Mail – April 18, 2011

The increased use of unmanned aircraft in conflict zones makes war more likely, and risks creating a ‘Terminator-like’ world, the Ministry of Defence has warned.

It said that using robots to carry out wars for us could be unethical – as Britain continues to use unmanned drones in Afghanistan.

In the Terminator movies by director James Cameron robots have developed a consciousness and hunt down and kill humans

Fearing that this could become a reality, the internal report says we must act now to decide what is ‘acceptable machine behaviour’.

There is increasing unrest about the use of unmanned drones in Afghanistan  – and the Ministry of Defence suggests there could be both legal and moral issues with using pilotless planes.

The drones have killed 124 people in the war-torn country since July 2008, David Cameron revealed in December

Pakistan has recently called for the U.S. to stop using the unmanned aircraft. Every time a blunder is made Afghan insurgents are able to brand the West ‘cowardly’ for using them.

As unmanned aircraft become more sophisticated, the report calls for ethical questions to be addressed

It said that there is an idea that for a war to be regarded as moral ‘it must link the killing of enemies with an element of self-sacrifice, or at least risk to oneself’. When unmanned drones are used this link is lost.

The report – called The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems – suggests that ‘by removing some of the horror (of war), or at least keeping it at a distance’ conflict becomes more likely when it can be conducted by robots, the Guardian revealed.

There is also a greater risk of accidental discharge of weapons with robots.

Calling for wide-ranging discussion about using the unmanned craft, the report says: ‘There is a danger that time is running out – is debate and development of policy even still possible, or is the technological genie already out of the ethical bottle, embarking us all on an incremental and involuntary journey towards a Terminator-like reality?’

The only unmanned aircraft currently used by the RAF is the General Atomics Reaper which can fly for 3,600 miles and is operated from Nevada.

It can be equipped with 12 guided bombs, two 500lb bombs and four missiles.

The Ministry of Defence also has a new plane under development – the Taranis will be able to fly at jet speeds without a pilot and will be controlled from anywhere on the planet.

Chris Cole, who runs the Drone Wars UK website, which analyses the development of unmanned aircraft, said that aircraft without pilots should not be used.

‘There needs to be an open and public discussion abut the implications of remote warfare, and it may be that a parliamentary select committee inquiry would be the appropriate forum to begin this discussion,’ he told the Guardian.

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