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Debating Slaughterbots and the Future of Autonomous Weapons

Aircraft deploys a swarm of lethal micro-drones in a scene from "Slaughterbots." (source: Slaughterbots - youtube)

Aircraft deploys a swarm of lethal micro-drones in a scene from "Slaughterbots." (source: Slaughterbots - youtube)

May 7, 2018 | Source: IEEE Spectrum, spectrum.ieee.org, 1 February 2018, Paul Scharre

People can look at the same technology and disagree about how it will shape the future, explains Paul Scharre as he shares a final perspective on the Slaughterbots debate.

Paul Scharre (@paul_scharre) is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). From 2009-2012, he led the Defense Department’s working group that resulted in the DoD policy directive on autonomy in weapons.


In just the past few weeks, we have seen multiple non-state actors launch saturation attacks with drones. These include 13 homemade aerial drones launched against a Russian air base in Syria and three remote-controlled boats used to attack a Saudi-flagged oil tanker in the Red Sea. I predict we are likely to see more attacks of this kind over time, at larger scales, with greater autonomy for the drones, and eventually cooperative autonomy (“swarming”). I do not think it is likely that non-state actors will gain access to sufficient scale and capability to launch attacks on a scale that would be reasonable to consider these drones “weapons of mass destruction;” however...