Robots

Autonomous 'Slaughterbot' Drones Reportedly Attack Libyans Using Facial Recognition Tech

Should they be banned?

|

In 2017, the Boston-based Future of Life Institute released a chilling 7-minute arms control video entitled Slaughterbots. It featured swarms of autonomous killer drones using facial recognition technology to hunt down and attack specific human targets. Now, according to a new United Nations (U.N.) report on military activity in war-torn Libya, that fictional scenario may have taken a step towards reality.

Specifically, the report notes that retreating convoys and troops associated with Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar "were subsequently hunted down and remotely engaged by the unmanned combat aerial vehicles or the lethal autonomous weapons systems such as the STM Kargu-2 and other loitering munitions." The report adds that "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." In other words, once they were launched, the drones were programmed to act without further human intervention to identify and attack specific targets.

In the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, STM CEO Murat Ikinci observed that his company's kamikaze drones "all have artificial intelligence and have face recognition systems." Weighing less than 70 kilograms each, they have a range of 15 kilometers and can stay in the air for 30 minutes with explosives. In addition, the Kargu drones can operate as a coordinated swarm of 30 units which cannot be stopped by advanced air defense systems. 

The U.N. report notes that making such weaponry available to armed groups in Libya violates the 2011 U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970, which declares that all member states "will immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer…of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment" to combatants in Libya. Supplying one group in the Libyan conflict with autonomous drones violates that resolution.

In response to the new U.N. report, Future of Life Institute co-founder and Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Max Tegmark tweeted, "Killer robot proliferation has begun. It's not in humanity's best interest that cheap #slaughterbots are mass-produced and widely available to anyone with an axe to grind. It's high time for world leaders to step up and take a stand." 

In a 2015 open letter, Tegmark and his colleagues at the Future of Life Institute argued that world leaders should institute a "ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control."

Other researchers believe that such a ban would be premature because, they argue, autonomous weapons systems could behave more morally than human warriors do. Nevertheless, Tegmark is correct that the Kargu drone attack in Libya takes the discussion of how to govern warbots from the realm of languid theorizing to urgent reality.

NEXT: The Bipartisan War on Work

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. A soldier controls them. Not really autonomous.

    1. In other words, once they were launched, the drones were programmed to act without further human intervention to identify and attack specific targets.

      Is this sentence incorrect?

      1. The same could be said for a bullet. Once fired, no further intervention required.

        1. You win dumb comment of the day. Yea for you!!

          1. How so?

            1. Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings DSWSS are much better than regular office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
              on this page…..VISIT HERE

              1. Sorry “Malinda”, we are not accepting spam as entries for the “dumb comment of the day” contest.

          2. How many air-to-air missiles are controlled by a human once they’re launched?

            Stupid fuck.

            1. All of the ones that are radar guided and require the RIO to keep the target centered.

              1. The AIM-120 is given a target handover, inertially guided to the target, can take mid course updates but not required, and then uses its own radar in the end game.

                The mid course updates happen automatically if the aircraft’s radar still has a lock.

            2. ICBM’s are certainly autonomous. And they carry nuclear warheads.

          3. He’s not exactly wrong. Speed isn’t listed, but with an ~30 min. flight time, they presumably aren’t using facial recognition to find their target. If a soldier points a laser at a target and walks away (leaving the laser pointed at the target) before the laser-guided munitions hits the target or is even launched, is it autonomous?

        2. I see. So this is where you argue against me just for the sake of arguing against me.

          Once the bullet is launched, the bullet travels without human intervention towards its target.

          1. No, once launched the bullet continues on its preset trajectory regardless of what the target does.

            And bullets don’t select targets in the first place.

            1. Yes, that is what I meant. thank you for clarifying.

            2. An awful lot of bullets go out with a target of “to whom it may concern”…

        3. “The same could be said for a bullet. Once fired, no further intervention required.”

          The same could be said for a packet of water fired by an archer-fish. Sounds fishy to me! EVIL fishies using autonomous arms are CLEARLY a world-threatening hazard!

          Most importantly, WHO will be charged with bring UN arms control agreements to the fishes, and getting them to adhere to civilized norms?

          1. Could the dolphins be intermediaries? Or will the fish not agree to that because dolphins look at them as lunch?

        4. This system leave considerably more opportunity for the situation to change between the time of launch and the time of detonation.

          With a predator drone and missile, you can make a real time assessment of the risk of collateral damage.

          With this, you have no idea who is going to be with or near the target at the time of explosion.

        5. The holder of the gun sees the specific target. These drones are given an image and told “go kill that guy”. No comparison.

          And, the soldier who pulls the trigger often gets quick feedback that either another bullet is required, or that he’s just killed someone.

          War and killing need to be painful for the warrior or executioner, if not, we’ve lost our humanity. (And yes, that means that raining destruction from the sky is inhuman. Necessary at times perhaps, but inhuman.)

          1. War and killing need to be painful for the warrior or executioner, if not, we’ve lost our humanity.

            How do I lose my humanity when some Turk launches an autonomous killing drone?

      2. No, it is not.

    2. A soldier fires them. After that they seek their own targets.

      So, yes, autonomous.

  2. Banned? By whom? The UN? When did their bans ever matter? What are they going to do? Send the UN police after countries that disregard the ban?

    1. Then the UN forms a commission of friends and relatives to investigate why the resolution was violated. Just like this story relates.

    2. The bans matter to the US Armed Services…sort of. The AF has spent years trying to recreate cluster bombs that were banned in the 80’s/90’s…forget exactly when.

    3. Bans won’t matter and the blowback will be as ugly as you can imagine. Like Unabomber targets the family and children of anyone remotely involved with or supportive of the technology.

    4. “It’s TOO LATE for world leaders to step up and take a stand.”

      There FTFY; cat’s out of the bag, and the UN [aka limp dick of the world] is going to do something about it?

      Perhaps, as LTB speculates below, the UN “commission of friends and relatives” could somehow red flag those bad countries, militias, radicals, and groups from getting their malevolent little hands on these?

  3. This is certainly a kinder thing than sending them mean tweets!

    1. No doubt those who sent the killer drone, were physically harmed by something their target said. I say that, simply because liberals these days claim they are justified in using physical violence to defend themselves against hurtful speech.

      So perhaps, “This is certainly a kinder thing than sending mean tweets”. To be fair, Democrats haven’t explained which is worse: hurtful speech, or violence in defending against it, though all their actions point to hurtful speech as worse than violence in defending against speech. Always reminds me of the lesson I learned in kindergarten about sticks and stones vs. words.

  4. Autonomous ‘Slaughterbot’ Drones Reportedly Attack Libyans Using Facial Recognition Tech

    Ron, was the elephant wearing the man’s pajamas in this instance?

  5. Now do you understand why the military is dropping standards and embracing diversity and inclusion. These kill bots cannot be stopped by conventional armies using conventional tactics. We need Soviet style, Zerg swarming tactics with wave after wave of BIPOC, feminist, transgender, and furry soldiers being throw at these kill bots until they are exhausted and America stands victorious!

    1. This is really gonna set the B Ark plan back though.

    2. Once the kill bots have reached their preset kill limit, they’ll shut down and we’ll Win!

    3. Bot fodder; I like it.

    4. No, you don’t understand. We hire BIPOC, feminist, transgender, and furry soldiers because they confuse the facial recognition systems of these drones. It’s a brilliant long term military strategy!

  6. Hopefully this face recognition tech is as solid as Zuckerberg’s hate speech AI.

    1. You mean the kill bots will only target white individuals?

      1. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Mitt Romney, Nancy Pelosi… all dead. Clarence Thomas is the only surviving member of SCOTUS. Donald Trump, John Boehner… too orange.

        1. Ah, now the orange skin tone finally makes sense!

      2. AFAIK, those killed by bots aren’t white.

        BTW, how is Obama’s killing via drones of four US citizens without a trial, conviction or sentence, any different?

        Look at the silver lining here. Political leaders are just as easy to target as foot soldiers, which might lead to good, rather than bad, behavior on their part.

    2. Facebook once mistook a picture of my car’s alloy wheels as a friend of mine, and tried to tag him.

      1. Your friend must be sporting one hell of a grill.

  7. “Weighing less than 70 kilograms each, they have a range of 15 kilometers and can stay in the air for 30 minutes with explosives.”

    Does that mean someone needs to consciously release them within range of their target, and 30 minutes later, everyone is safe from them until they’ve returned to their base, they’re charged with the assistance of a human, and released again?

    If so, then the drones may have been programmed to identify and attack specific targets without further intervention from humans, but if they can only stay in the air for 30 minutes at a time, that is something of a failsafe mechanism.

    I would be far more concerned if they could land on a rooftop, charge themselves with solar, arm themselves, and keep searching for a target indefinitely until someone finds them on a rooftop while they’re charging and disables them.

    I don’t suppose that’s too far away if it isn’t here already.

    1. I’m also a bit perplexed by the ‘cannot be stopped by advanced air defense systems’ line. At ~70 kilos, it seems like they’d be pretty stoppable with conventional smoothbore weapons systems.

      I’m not 100% in-the-know on all forms of (non) conventional warfare, but I’m pretty sure sufficient numbers of conventional rockets and even more conventional artillery munitions are incapable of being stopped by advanced air defense systems.

      1. ‘cannot be stopped by advanced air defense systems’

        Apparently someone hasn’t heard of the Iron Dome.

        1. I think they’re relatively small, from that photo, not like the drones that are firing hellfire missiles, and I don’t think we’re talking about hitting military targets on the battlefield per se.

          You’re setting them loose to look for Osama bin Laden or a target like that, maybe in a large city, when he’s on the move from place to place or in his back yard. You know he’s in a certain part of town, and you’ve got a skycap looking for him.

          1. I think the statement was meant to say specifically that they subvert the Iron Dome as they don’t require an high or arching targeting/attack vector. But guided munitions haven’t required that for decades.

            Even then, to my point, the Iron Dome has only intercepted something like 1,200 rockets with anything from a 30-60% efficiency.

            1. Sorry, 30-90% efficacy.

              1. Hell of a tolerance; got a curve?

                1. “Traffic today is light to heavy on all main roads….”

                  -Les Nessman, newsman.
                  WKRP
                  Cincinnati

      2. I’m reading these drones as suicide bombers. If there is a swarm of 70 coming at you, that would be one heck of an issue. I don’t know how you’re going to carry the kind of firepower necessary to defend yourself with you without drawing massive attention to yourself.

        Imagine Israel releasing these into Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon with a database of the faces of various Hamas and Hezbollah figures. If the drones could keep going indefinitely, those leaders could never show their faces in public again, and the collateral damage Israel causes would be minimized with airstrikes.

        Imagine the LAPD releasing these into central Los Angeles, with a database of known drug dealers, gangbangers, etc. on parole. If the drones could keep going indefinitely, those people might never be able to congregate in a group again without it showing up on camera, sending an alert to someone at the court for a warrant, and a cop being alerted to the location.

        The most fun things I do are on a motorcycle out in the wilderness on twisty mountain roads where I sometimes don’t see anyone for an hour or more. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

        1. Being clear: I’m not approving their use. I was referring to the tactical/technological niche or advantage. I don’t disagree that they’re kill swarms but, given the descriptions, it sounds like you’ve attracted attention to yourself well before any drones showed up and, along the lines you pointed out, I don’t see drones that need retrieved and recharged every 30 min. as signifcantly more efficient or onerous/oppressive than a deployment of soldiers or police officers in similar fashion.

          At a certain point, the issue isn’t the specific technological implementation, but the policies and programs that sustain them.

        2. The sensor range is very limited so they are absolutely dependent on being “in the basket” which would render your hypothetical situation nearly impossible to implement.

        3. Imagine Israel releasing these into Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon with a database of the faces of various Hamas and Hezbollah figures. If the drones could keep going indefinitely, those leaders could never show their faces in public again, and the collateral damage Israel causes would be minimized with airstrikes.

          Facial recognition has a several percent false positive rate, so these drones would all end up killing innocent civilians. Furthermore, these drones would be noticed and shot down pretty much immediately. In other words, your suggestions are absurd.

          Surveillance cameras are now the size of a quarter. Far more likely, they will be scattered around everywhere, with standard law enforcement/military identifying and taking out targets.

          As for your motorcycle, you’re already being tracked by your cell phone and passive radio tags. In the future, you’ll probably be required to have active tracking on any motor vehicle. Welcome to 21st century America.

          1. “Facial recognition has a several percent false positive rate, so these drones would all end up killing innocent civilians.”

            The control group on that is hellfire missiles.

            They don’t need to more precise than a sniper. They just need to be more precise than a hellfire missile.

      3. Artillery and rockets are stoppable.

        We have what is known as C-RAM (counter-rocket artillery and missile) capabilities.

        Basically guns that can shoot these projectiles down.

        Its not everywhere, but its being deployed and expanded upon.

        Initially because of mortar attacks but it’ll do for drones too.

        There are counters to that counter though – saturation attacks. Send so many at one time you can’t shoot them all down before they’re upon you. But that’s the weakness of every system.

        1. There are counters to that counter though – saturation attacks. Send so many at one time you can’t shoot them all down before they’re upon you. But that’s the weakness of every system.

          Right. And these drones don’t seem to offer any sort of existential advantage.

          1. And the production chains to provide such are a target.

        2. old as hell, but look up metal-storm 36 barrel machine gun. Basically a wall of bullets. If the drones are grouped at all they won’t last long. However if the AI is intelligent enough to find a target from a distance, coordinate an attack from multiple directions… yeah your gonna have a bad time.

          1. Metal-storm isn’t really a machine gun. It’s more of a volley gun.

            There’s no ammo feed mechanism it uses multiple rounds of caseless ammo stacked in each barrel and the rounds are sequentially fired from muzzle to breach using an electronic ignition system.

            And IIRC from what I read on it, it can fire the forward round in all the barrels simultaneously.

        3. Something like the AA version of the CV-90 IFV would have very little trouble with a swarm like that. It’s firing 250-300 40mm Bofors rounds per minute with programable fuses – i.e. proximity detonation near the drone groups plus a good rate of fire.

          And of course it’s interesting how people think that drones – even autonomous ones – are going to work well in a high EW environment.

          1. You would not need such volume. These are drones… Slow flying, small aircraft. A simple targeting and aiming system for a conventional rifle would do the trick. Very similar technical level to the drone is all that is required to stop it.

            A better drone system would be an integrated surveillance network (for the target identification) combined with car-sized drones sporting precision platforms for medium caliber long range rifles with gimballed aiming platforms. A high quality system should be able to fly at 500 to 1000 feet and have good accuracy at 2 km. That would be almost impossible to detect and stop.

            Small, passive optical drones identify tatget and relay coordinates. Weapon drones pop up above the horizon, fire and then quickly dive below detection.

            1. “A high quality system should be able to fly at 500 to 1000 feet and have good accuracy at 2 km.”

              2km hit accuracy would be problematic. Maybe 500 meters. Of course, you can send multiple drones, if they don’t cost too much. So, if you lose a few, you still accomplish the mission.

            2. Drones flying at 500-1000 feet AGL are visible from 24-38 miles away. Or in other words dead meat. Especially to something like the Iron Beam anti drone laser system.

              (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Beam)

              Drones work best in a non-peer threat environment. Peers tend to have both anti-drone weapons and a very large and powerful EW suite that makes it rather unlikely that a swarm of drones are going to be effectively communicating with each other.

            3. No, that really wouldn’t.

              They’re not that slow flying, targeting them is not easy.

              And most of the actual military drones of this type (more usually known as ‘loitering munitions’ move a lot faster than whatever this CEO says his do).

      4. Lots of development in the sensor world for detecting small UAV’s. It is not an easy task. They can have tiny little RCS’s. Finding them is hard. Hitting them is also difficult.

        1. Finding things with low RCS is what every single major military power has been working on since the first proof of the stealth fighter concept. This isn’t the 1980’s where having the RCS of a sparrow in flight was regarded as complete protection. Or even the 1990’s where the downing of a F117 was “a total fluke”.

    2. It’s a long range bullet.

    3. You’re giving Skynet ideas.

  8. why are Lybians Using Facial Recognition Tech singled out?

    1. As long as they stay below 88 mph, I think we’re fine.

      1. “On the night I go back in time you will be shot by terrorists.”

    2. They don’t say, but Lybians NOT Using Facial Recognition Tech should be safe. All Libyians should stop using facial recognition tech ASAP.

  9. Specifically, the report notes that retreating convoys and troops associated with Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar “were subsequently hunted down and remotely engaged by the unmanned combat aerial vehicles or the lethal autonomous weapons systems such as the STM Kargu-2 and other loitering munitions.”

    I am SHOCKED that a strongman’s militia would violate established laws of warfare!

  10. Should they be banned?

    Sure. And I’m sure they’ll never be made – just like no one makes illegal drugs since they were banned. The problem is that armed drones are not like chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons – these require massive, dedicated facilities to manufacture, and tons of training to safely store and use.

    Killbots require a bit of explosive, a fuse, and a GPS receiver on a bog-standard drone you can buy off-the-shelf from any large electronics retailer.

    “were subsequently hunted down and remotely engaged by the unmanned combat aerial vehicles or the lethal autonomous weapons systems such as the STM Kargu-2 and other loitering munitions.” The report adds that “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.” In other words, once they were launched, the drones were programmed to act without further human intervention to identify and attack specific targets.

    JFC. That’s not facial recognition. That’s not even facial recognition tech.

    Its bog standard target identification and discrimination tech that has been part and parcel of every missile made since the 1980’s. It looks for heat sources shaped like a person. Other missiles look for heat sources shaped like tanks or other vehicles. *Most* missiles are fire and forget without needing a data link or even an external designator.

    “all have artificial intelligence and have face recognition systems.”

    He’s lying. In the same way all tech CEO’s lie – to try to make their product look better than it actually is.

    “I had a guaranteed military sale with ED 209 – renovation program, spare parts for twenty-five years… Who cares if it worked or not?”

    In addition, the Kargu drones can operate as a coordinated swarm of 30 units which cannot be stopped by advanced air defense systems.

    Well, except that they can. Which is why every smart military is investing in C-RAM capability.

    1. “all have artificial intelligence and have face recognition systems.”

      He’s lying. In the same way all tech CEO’s lie – to try to make their product look better than it actually is.

      Exactly… there’s simply no way these things work the way they’re being portrayed to work.

      In addition, the Kargu drones can operate as a coordinated swarm of 30 units which cannot be stopped by advanced air defense systems.

      Well, except that they can. Which is why every smart military is investing in C-RAM capability.

      If there’s anything that could be easily shot out of the sky, it’s a group of small drones.

      1. How many drones, how many shooters, how much time? What will the light conditions be? Weather? It all factors in.

        A good “wing shooter” with a high capacity semi auto 12, using bird shot, could possibly take several under ideal conditions.

        And it almost never happens that way. Send a swarm of these flying just over the brush line, at night*, and I do not think the odds will be in your favor.

        *I do not have any idea how the facial recog would work in the dark, but I’m pretty sure they will have IR cameras. As for going after a squad or company of soldiers, they would just need to spot the body’s heat signature.

        1. That’s not what the quote said. The quote did not say “you won’t be able to stop them with your ruger 10/22”, it said unstoppable by “advanced air defense systems”.

          I don’t believe that, and it’s incumbent upon the person making the claim to disprove it.

      2. My understanding is that this is not the case and the navy is currently researching different possible methods of dealing with these. The two that I’ve read about are lasers and some kind of air pulses.

        1. I imagine such weapons may not be entirely portable; they may be great for an installation, ship, or vehicle, but can a squad carry one around with them? How much warning will it give?

          I honestly do not know the answer to any of this just curious what others think.

          1. It would be similar to the deployment of air defense systems.

            Larger, more capable systems are deployed at higher echelons but there is a tiered system from Stingers to Avenger to Patriot.

            These cover increasingly larger volumes around the system.

            And once we get to the point where individual squads need to carry their own anti-drone weaponry, we’ve gotten to the point where the manned infantry squad is obsolete and it will all be remotely-operated drones to come out and do the rare and specialized work that truly autonomous kill-bots can’t.

  11. Future John Connor will reprogram them and save us.

  12. Slaughterbot Drones! From Outer Spaaaaaace! What is this? 4/chan?

  13. Lol!

    No quarter.

    If you don’t like it retaliate by killing their offspring and other family members first. Bio, chem, poison their population second. It’s not like there’s any rules to this shit other than those both/all sides are willing to respect. War is both a game and an atrocity. If you don’t think they’re following the rules just remember there are none and turn the atrocity level up to 11.

  14. Kamikazes and idiot suicide bombers need non-expendable meat. If this is workable, it requires none of that.
    Stupid shits can easily be gob-smacked by others.
    Suck it, ’17 virgins’.

  15. Drones, etc., do not have morals. Drones are controlled by people with good and bad morals. Drones controlled by those with bad morals will ultimately be used for evil intentions and the attacks will get worse.

    1. They didn’t say drones have morals. They said drones could act *more moral*.

      Different.

  16. Scary. We better set up a global government to protect us from this.

    1. Global government will be buying these things by the containerload as soon as our good friends in the PRC start making cheap copies.

      1. The PRC will be the global government.

  17. Instead, let’s send in snipers with photos of the target. More humane

  18. There seems to be a discrepancy between the article on Hurriyet and the manufacturer’s website. STM has them weighing about 7 kg not 70 kg.
    https://www.stm.com.tr/en/kargu-autonomous-tactical-multi-rotor-attack-uav#section_830487

  19. And just like that (snap fingers) the military industrial complex creates a brand new product line:
    Slaughterbot
    Anti-slaughterbot
    Anti-anti-slaughterbot
    Slaughterbot counter measures
    Stealth slaughterbot

    I need to buy some stock.

  20. And, the soldier who pulls the trigger often gets quick feedback that either another bullet is required, or that he’s just killed someone.
    ( https://wapexclusive.com )War and killing need to be painful for the warrior or executioner, if not, we’ve lost our humanity. (And yes, that means that raining destruction from the sky is inhuman. Necessary at times perhaps, but inhuman.)

    1. None of that precludes slaughterbots.

  21. Main pic in the article is from a good short sci-fi movie (like 8 minutes long) on Dust channel on youtube.

    Sci-Fi Short Film “Slaughterbots” | DUST

    https://youtu.be/O-2tpwW0kmU

  22. “… argued that world leaders should institute a “ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.””

    To late. A new version of fire and forget.

  23. By all means, ban them. and if that doesn’t work, send a nasty letter.

  24. It would seem that, from a self-preservation standpoint, “World Leader’s” [a.k.a. “Politicians”] will be quick to want to deny this technology to civilians. (January 6th anyone? “Anyone?”)

Please to post comments