A leading expert has issued a grim warning about how a new generation of robot weapons being developed by world powers, including India and China, imperils humankind.
"Once the new weapons are out there, they will be fairly easy to copy. How long is it going to be before the terrorists get in on the act," maybe use them in suicide missions, he warned.
In a keynote address to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Noel Sharkey of Sheffield University said over 4,000 robots were deployed in Iraq. By October 2006, unmanned aircraft had flown 400,000 flight hours.
All of them involved a human element, but which will soon be a thing of the past. The US is giving priority to autonomous robots that decide where, when and whom to kill.
Voicing concern over ethical issues, the robotics expert described the current contraptions as "dumb machines with very limited sensing capability".
They are unable to discriminate between combatants and innocents or a proportional use of force as required by the current laws of war, he said.
Many countries like Russia, Canada, South Korea, South Africa, Singapore and Israel have embarked on developing battlefield robotics technology, with heaviest spending by the US.
The US proposes to spend an estimated $4 billion by 2010 on unmanned systems technology. The total spending is expected to rise above $24 billion, according to Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2013.
Sharkey who is known for his role as chief judge on the TV series "Robot Wars", said: "With the prices of robot construction falling dramatically and the availability of ready-made components in the amateur market, it wouldn't require a lot of skill to make autonomous robot weapons."