Autonomous Weapons Don’t Kill People, People Kill People

The beer can contains a molotov cocktail
The beer can contains a molotov cocktail

The Future of Life Institute wrote an open letter pushing to ban autonomous weapons on the premise that autonomous weapons can be used for “assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations, and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.”

Major military powers already have ways of doing that. As they’ve demonstrated, over and over again.

Science people tend to exaggerate their impact on political situations to feel more important.

Look, military powers will find ways to destroy each other regardless of the technology at hand. Nuclear weapons didn’t magically enable us to kill 129,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I mean, just before that we killed 900,000 Japanese with old-fashioned fire bombs.

The letter points out that an autonomous-weapon arms race would make these weapons cheap and ubiquitous.

Do military powers conduct a cost-benefit analysis before committing genocide or targeted assassinations? I’ve never been in political power so I don’t know.

Yeah, we’d really like to exterminate the Pommies, but it’s a little expensive right now. If only those autonomous weapons were cheap and ubiquitous!

Unfortunately, autonomous technology is already cheap and ubiquitous. For $500, you can buy a drone that follows you around with a camera. The technology behind a drone that chases you with a GoPro is no different from the technology behind a drone that chases you with an AK-47.

People who want to kill each other will find ways to kill each other. I don’t think autonomous weapons are a good use of our defense budget, but then again few things are. As for the open letter… well, in the words of my senior thesis advisor Dr. Nyström: “It’s like cave men passing around a petition against fire, or the wheel.”

The fire and the wheel are both technologies that have been used to kill a lot of people.

This post inspired by conversations with Dr. Mika Nyström.

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