It sounds like something straight out of the Sci-Fi genre, robots that have autonomy and can make "kill" decisions. However, drones receiving the capability to make lethal decisions might not ever come to fruition.
It's said drones that have autonomy could be better, smarter and execute their own commands. They could be less damaging to the civilian population during war and could have more staying power.
Scientists, engineers and policymakers are looking for ways to make drones autonomous. Despite their search, current technology has no way of giving a drone autonomy.
With the ever-changing face of technology this may very well change in the future. Eventually, drones could have the ability to autonomously make a lethal decision. It would respond to its programmed set of inputs. It would then be able to select a target and fire its weapons without a human being checking or reviewing its decision.
The idea of a drone having autonomy is sure to spark controversy. A report on the National Journal website says that autonomy would solve several "downside issues" that involve drones. Purdue University Professor Samuel Liles had the following to say in the report:
"If a drone's system is sophisticated enough, it could be less emotional, more selective and able to provide force in a way that achieves a tactical objective with the least harm. A lethal autonomous robot can aim better, target better, select better, and in general be a better asset with the linked ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] packages it can run" [sic].
It's said that drones in their current state can be easily hacked. In 2009, it's said that Iranian-based militias hacked U.S. drones using $26 off-the-shelf software. This allowed them to intercept video feeds of the drones that flew over Iraq.
In 2011, a virus infected some of the drone control systems at Creech Air Force Base located in Nevada. This was reported to have led to "security concerns of the unmanned aircraft." Giving drones autonomy might be the security that can prevent the drones from being hacked.
The National Journal report says: "It (autonomy) may be that the only way to make a drone truly secure is to allow it to make its own decisions without a human controller: if it receives no outside commands, then it cannot be hacked (at least as easily). And that's where Lethal Autonomous Robots (LAR), might be the most attractive."
It's said LARs are "the subject of fierce debate in academia, the military and policy circles." An autonomous drone system is unlikely to be used on the battlefield due to it's inability to distinguish friend from foe.
However, if and when drones are given autonomy could it become like a scene out of a Terminator movie? Hopefully we will never find out if that's the case.
If you would like to receive an email when new articles are published please consider subscribing by clicking the blue subscribe link located under the photo that accompanies this article. If you would like to read more articles by the Marine Corps Examiner, you can go here.