While most people are worried about nuclear war with North Korea or the troubles in the Middle East, there is very little attention paid to the exponentially-advancing artificial intelligence and weaponized robots. Yes, robots that can kill without a human operator are already in the field and visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk says that pro-active regulations are not put in place to prohibit autonomous killing machines within four years, it may already be too late. Musk is famous for comparing work on AI to "summoning the demon" and calling artificial intelligence a "fundamental existential threat" to humanity.
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Musk recently spoke at the National Governors Association where he said, "I have exposure to the very cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it. I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react, because it seems so ethereal. AI is a rare case where we need to be proactive about regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’s too late."
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Elon Musk's warning of artificial intelligence with the ability to kill may seem like a far-out problem for a future generation but fully autonomous killing machines are already in the field. One example of a fully autonomous robot with the ability to kill with precision up to 2 miles away is Samsung's SGR-A1, a robot designed to act as a sentry which is currently being used on the border between North and South Korea. The SGR-A1 has an "uncooled infrared thermographic camera for detection, a weapons interface that allows for mounted weapons, and a combination of an IR illuminator and a laser rangefinder to track and follow targets." The SGR-A1 is designed to kill with machine precision and no doubt it already has. It is thought to cost about $200,000 and it is unknown how many are currently in use by South Korea.
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<span style="margin-top:15px;rgba(42,51,6,0.7);font-size:12px;">MarkBlackUltor | Wikipedia</span>
So there are autonomous killing machines on the ground, but what about in the sky? Meet Northrop Grumman's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAS). The latest military drone created to demonstrate the ability to operate, carry out missions, and kill targets entirely on its own.
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The X-47B was developed by Northrup Grumman with the help of DARPA's J-UCAS program. It is a tailless jet-powered blended-wing-body aircraft is capable of semi-autonomous operation and can even refuel itself in mid-air. The X-47B is really just a prototype of an unmanned combat aerial system called the MQ-25 Stingray which is expected to hit the battlefield sometime in the 2020's. The unmanned combat vehicle is capable of firing missiles or dropping bombs from drop tank pylons. It will also be equipped with an array of surveillance technology which will make gathering data on the enemy possible without endangering a human pilot.
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<span style="margin-top:15px;rgba(42,51,6,0.7);font-size:12px;">Military Archive | YouTube</span>
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If the X-47B doesn't scare you, maybe these next machines will. Meet the "PERDIX", a micro-drone swarm system developed for the US DoD/Naval Air Systems Command for unmanned aerial surveillance. What makes these little guys so special is not so much on the outside, but rather what's on the inside. Each of the PERDIX micro-drones is not controlled in itself but instead, it shares a collective distributed "brain" that allows them to travel in leaderless "swarms".
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The PERDIX micro-drone swarm can be deployed from the air and can adapt to changes in drone numbers and remain coordinated with each other even if they are attacked and some are destroyed. Each PERDIX micro-drone comes equipped with a plastic body containing a lithium battery and a small camera. They are propelled by a 2.6-inch propeller at the rear and its onboard software can be updated to enable fine-tuning and improvements without having to manufacture a new one. The Department of Defense plans to produce the drones in batches of a thousand in the very near future.
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While the PERDIX micro-drone swarm may not be equipped with weapons yet, a proof-of-concept was displayed by researchers which shows that the technology to make micro-drones lethal already exists. This short demonstration is meant to show what is possible with current and readily-available technology.
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But perhaps the most frightening of the killer robots aren't the ones in the sky, but rather the ones that are inspired by the human body. Boston Dynamics' Atlas robot is the closest thing to the Terminator that has been revealed by the cutting edge robotics company. The company recently revealed the latest iteration of the Atlas robot is capable of not just walking and jumping, but also running.
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Couple the Atlas robot with the latest breakthroughs in "machine learning" and you get a fully autonomous, self-learning robot that is both aware of itself and capable of repairing and even improving itself. That may seem like an impossible idea, but according to Elon Musk, the Terminator might not be as far out as we think.
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Lifelike robots with artificial intelligence and superhuman abilities may be just a handful of years away from being combined with state of the art robotics such as Atlas. Nick Patterson, a lecturer and cybersecurity researcher at Deacybersecurity said that robots such as the sex robots currently for sale can pose a threat to their owners if they are hacked. A group of security researchers even exploited authentication protocols within the Nao, Pepper, and Alpha robots to take control of them remotely. The result was a robot that could kill on command.
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Maybe humans really are on the verge of giving birth to a new, digital form of life that may say, "Hey, why even keep these pesky humans around?" A humanoid robot with the ability to learn far faster than a human and even self-heal is probably not that far out. It's not just the robots we have to worry about, it's the hackers with the ability to turn simple robots into killing machines. If all these technologies exist today and are searchable in the public domain, what kind of technology is already lurking behind closed doors in Unacknowledged Special Access Programs darkest corners of governments' secret labs and billionaire's basements?
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