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Friday Poll: Are 'killer robots' a real threat?

The United Nations and Human Rights Watch are both concerned about the development of killer robots that can take lives without human direction. Are you?

Killer robots illustration
This illustration imagines a world where robots can kill autonomously. Russell Christian for Human Rights Watch

When you think of killer robots, you probably imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger running around in a leather jacket and sunglasses, or even ED-209 from "Robocop" causing all kinds of damage. Those sorts of mechanical menaces from film are turning out to be the subject of some real concern in the actual world.

A month ago, Human Rights Watch launched a campaign aimed at stopping killer robots. "Urgent action is needed to preemptively ban lethal robot weapons that would be able to select and attack targets without any human intervention," the organization said in a release.

Now, Christof Heyns, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, is on the anti-killer-robot bandwagon. He is concerned about lethal autonomous robots (LARs) that could make life and death decisions without the intervention or explicit command from a human. Imagine a drone with a Terminator mindset, and you'll see why he's worried.

A lot of this talk about killer robots is preemptive. So far, the world hasn't created armies of electronic Schwarzeneggers to go against each other, but warfare has become an increasingly digital affair with long-distance weaponry, attack drones, and remote surveillance. Perhaps it's time to stamp out potential killer robots before they stamp us out instead.

It sure sounds like science fiction, but it's not much of a stretch to imagine a weaponized drone with software that recognizes human forms and fires against them. Are you concerned that killer robots could become a real threat in the future, or are you writing this off as a baseless worry? Vote in our poll and chat about it in the comments.