Two recently announced trials of AI-controlled drones dramatically demonstrates the urgent need to develop international controls over the development and use of lethal autonomous weapon systems known as ‘killer robots’.
In early January, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that a joint UK-US AI taskforce had undertaken a trial of its ‘AI toolbox’ during an exercise on Salisbury Plain in December 2022. The trial saw a number of Blue Bear’s Ghost drones controlled by AI which was updated during the drone’s flight. The experiments said the MoD, “demonstrated that UK-US developed algorithms from the AI Toolbox could be deployed onto a swarm of UK UAVs and retrained by the joint AI Taskforce at the ground station and the model updated in flight, a first for the UK.” The trials were undertaken as part of the on-going US-UK Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Collaboration (AAIC) Partnership Agreement. The MoD has refused to give MPs sight of the agreement.
Two weeks later, US drone manufacturer General Atomics announced that it had conducted flight trials on 14 December 2022 where an AI had controlled one of its large Avenger drones from the company’s own flight operations facility in El Mirage, California.
General Atomics said in its press release that the AI “successfully navigated the live plane while dynamically avoiding threats to accomplish its mission.” Subsequently, AI was used to control both the drone and a ‘virtual’ drone at the same time in order to “collaboratively chase a target while avoiding threats,” said the company. In the final trial, the AI “used sensor information to select courses of action based on its understanding of the world state. According to the company, “this demonstrated the AI pilot’s ability to successfully process and act on live real-time information independently of a human operator to make mission-critical decisions at the speed of relevance.”
Drone Wars UK has long warned that despite denials from governments on the development of killer robots, behind the scenes corporations and militaries are pressing ahead with testing, trialling and development of technology to create such systems. As we forecast in our 2018 report ‘Off the Leash’ armed drones are the gateway to the development of lethal autonomous systems. Whiles these particular trials will not lead directly to the deployment of lethal autonomous systems, byte-by-byte the building blocks are being put in place.
House of Lords Special Committee
Due to continuing developments in this area we were pleased to learn that the House of Lords voted to accept Lord Clement-Jones’ proposal for a year-long inquiry by a special committee to investigate the use of artificial intelligence in weapon systems. We will monitor the work of the Committee throughout the year but for now here is the accepted proposal in full: Read more