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Drones with no humans attached

We are accustomed to think of “drone pilots” putting in long hours staring at screens at Langley or at suburban US military base, zapping targets thousands of miles away.  But not for long.

Fully-autonomous drones guided by software in onboard computers are now in the works. They may soon be among the tens of thousands of drones that will be taking to our skies over the next few years. 

Right now, the Navy is trying out its X-47B. Designed to land on an aircraft carrier, it marks a “paradigm shift in warfare…it could usher in an era when death and destruction can be dealt by machines operating semi-independently.” The plan is to deploy it in action by 2013.

The Navy is also developing fully robotic submarines that will roam the seas unguided by a human and the equivalent of a joystick. The Boeing Corporation is happy to have a big fat new contract.

What rules are being put in place to govern the use of such autonomous systems?  Who is discussing the numerous ethical issues that they raise? 

So far, the legal and ethical considerations – and the lessons of science fiction – are fully eclipsed by the drive for profit and domination. Is this really the future we want?

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.