'It’s long been an image restricted to popular culture: unstoppable robot killers firing their high-powered rifles at clusters of helpless human soldiers with no choice but to flee the battlefield or risk sustaining tremendous losses.
The scenario of military robots and the artificial intelligence (AI) network “Skynet” spinning free from human control forms the basis of The Terminator series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that has captivated moviegoers around the world. But now, according to a U.S. Navy official, the science fiction nightmare of wars entrusted to machines that “can’t be reasoned with [and] doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear,”—as one character in the original film says—could become a reality.
The comments come as the Navy continues to upgrade its autonomous capabilities and bulk up its ranks with more advanced robotic systems.
However, this has been accompanied by work meant to prevent the service from putting too much trust into a system that could, some fear, one day have a mind of its own.
Steve Olsen, deputy branch head of the Navy’s mine warfare office, told Defense News:
Trust is something that is difficult to come by with a computer, especially as we start working with our test and evaluation community.
I’ve worked with our test and evaluation director, and a lot of times it’s: ‘Hey, what’s that thing going to do?’ And I say: ‘I don’t know, it’s going to pick the best path.’
Comparing the pitfalls of autonomous warfighting systems to the car crashes involving semi-autonomous private automobiles, Olsen continued:
And they don’t like that at all because autonomy makes a lot of people nervous. But the flip side of this is that there is one thing that we have to be very careful of, and that’s that we don’t over-trust. Everybody has seen on the news [when people] over-trusted their Tesla car. That is something that we can’t do when we talk about weapons’ system.
The last thing we want to see is the whole ‘Terminator going crazy’ [scenario], so we’re working very hard to take the salient steps to protect ourselves and others.'
Read more: US Navy Says It’s Trying to Avoid “Terminator” Scenario as Experts Warn of AI Battlefield Tech