Fun today, gun tomorrow: How toy drones could lead to Terminator-style hunting machines

Being killed by remote control is a uniquely scary prospect to most of us. But we are now close to the point where drone technology has become ubiquitous, as it can be used for a variety of purposes by anyone with a bit of money to spend.

The drones on offer today can go miles into the sky, and there have been numerous cases already where the situation could have spiraled out of control, like when a plane nearly missed a drone.

Manufacturers have their own position on things, which is that it’s all a matter of responsibility. Managing director at Parrot Central Europe, Michel Bonetti, told RT: “It’s like having a car. A car was built to drive on the roads – not to make accidents and kill people.”

Parrot Central Europe makes lots of kids’ and adults’ dreams come true with their drones.

But drone hobbyists have become quite ubiquitous among the more engineering-savvy crowd. And with so many toy stores and companies around selling little tools for flying around and spying on your neighbors, it’s really a world of possibilities.

Bruno Kramm, chairman of the Pirate Party in Germany, explains that the pocket drones also “pose a huge risk to privacy… the more this technology gets developed, the more there is the possibility it can really go deeper into our privacy… it’s really like a danger of spy technology that everybody can use in their daily life.”

By posting videos online, groups of drone enthusiasts are showing just how easy it is to build a lean, mean killing machine that shoots things at you and flies away. Many have used their toys to illustrate just “how dangerous they would be in the hands of a civilian.”

An increasing number of arms manufacturers today are now taking things a step further than just weaponizing aerial vehicles, developing artificial intelligence weapons with the potential to decide their targets. Many warn it’s difficult to navigate such a landscape.

Physicist and arms control researcher Mark Gubrud outlines the problem this poses.

“In some cases, we would think that a human has determined that a certain target is to be attacked, but then tasks the machine to go out and find that target – and if the machine is doing that autonomously… that means the machine is deciding if it’s found the correct target,” he says.

“Obviously, the Terminator is science fiction… but we are developing missiles that, for example, would be tasked to go out and find particular targets, such as particular ships or tanks, or whatever; and if the missile on its own decides that is indeed what it was looking for and attacks it, I think it’s already trusting too much in our machines.”

And judging by the technology on offer today, imagining it imbued with artificial intelligence is one scary picture.