‘Technology won’t wait for us’: U.N. report says killer drone attacked human target on its own

A new report from the United Nations released in March details an attack in Libya on human soldiers by a military drone gone rogue.

According to the U.N. report, “an autonomous weaponized drone hunted down a human target last year” and attacked without being specifically ordered to. The report comes after the 2018 decision to shut down the U.N. commission on killer drones and robots. 

The attack occurred in March of last year when a Turkish military company, STM’s Kargu-2 quadcopters were operating in a “highly effective” autonomous mode without any human direction or intervention. 

The U.N. report describes this mechanism, “The lethal autonomous weapons systems were programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition: in effect, a true ‘fire, forget and find’ capability” – indicating the drones attacked of their own volition.

The attack occurred “during a conflict between Libyan government forces and a breakaway military faction led by Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army,” adding, “The Kargu-2 is fitted with an explosive charge and the drone can be directed at a target in a kamikaze attack, detonating on impact,” Star Magazine reported.

Zak Kallenborn of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism in Maryland, raises important questions in the report like how brittle is the object recognition system and how often will it misidentify a target. 

Last year, the Human Rights Watch called for legislation on this technology as part of their Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. The group advocates for a global ban on AI-operated weapons. 

Mary Wareham, advocacy director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch is quoted in the press release as saying, “Removing human control from the use of force is now widely regarded as a grave threat to humanity that, like climate change, deserves urgent multilateral action.”

Former presidential candidate and current New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang has also called for a global ban. 

New Scientist Magazine spoke with Jack Watling at U.K. defense think tank Royal United Services Institute who said this attack does not mean autonomous weapons would be impossible to regulate, but warned “that the discussion continues to be urgent and important. The technology isn’t going to wait for us.”

Twenty-six parties have fully endorsed the weapons ban including Cuba, the Palestinian territories and the Vatican. The U.S. and Russia previously blocked the 2018 U.N. commission. It is unclear whether their stance on the issue will change following the report. According to Wareham.

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