The era of killer robots is upon us

November 11, 2019

Turkey’s state-owned arms manufacturer produces the Kargu, a kamikaze drone that can select targets based on facial recognition. Some reports suggest Kargu will soon be deployed on the Turkish-Syrian theater. The ‘Mini Harpy’ from Israel can also independently detect, attack and destroy enemy targets.

Killer robots are being developed despite assurances from some companies that they will not do so and despite the concerns of many countries that such fully autonomous weapons should not be deployed. Lethal autonomous weapons are moving from science fiction to reality, according to the PAX report Slippery Slope, released today, which surveys 50 arms producers.

“Many companies are on a slippery slope to producing ever more autonomous weapons, “ says Frank Slijper, author of the report. “While some arms companies claim they will never develop weapons that can operate without human control over lethal action, we see others developing that very technology with no clear human in the loop. We are dangerously close to crossing the line to lethal autonomous weapons.”

AI Arms Race

The number of companies developing autonomous weapons has risen sharply in the last ten years the report notes. The US and Israel were the main investors in autonomous weaponry in past decades, but countries like China, Russia, Poland and Turkey have drastically increased their development of autonomous systems. Without a new international norm there is a clear risk of the start of an AI arms race.

The largest manufacturers, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing, still lead in research and development of autonomous weapons. They are joined by many AI-focused startups and smaller companies also developing an ever-expanding range of autonomous military systems, in the air, on the ground and at sea. These systems can operate in larger numbers, for longer periods and in wider areas, with less remote control by a human, raising serious questions of how human control is guaranteed over these weapon systems.


PAX is calling on governments to support a legally binding international treaty outlawing lethal autonomous weapons. PAX recommends that arms producers take clear steps to ensure their autonomous technology always requires human control. These include:

  • Commit publicly to not contribute to the development of lethal autonomous weapons.
  • Establish a clear policy stating that the company will not contribute to the development or production of lethal autonomous weapons. This should include ensuring the principle of meaningful human control is an integral part of the design and development of weapon systems.
  • Ensure employees are well informed about what they work on and allow open discussions of any related concerns.


The report examines 50 companies that manufacture arms and rates them according to their commitment to not develop lethal autonomous weapon systems. Researchers look at publicly available information about the weapons these companies develop and produce. The companies were sent a survey to outline their policy on autonomous weapons. Only four companies qualified under ‘best practice’, while all other companies surveyed give cause for ‘high’ or ‘medium’ concern.

Download the report Slippery Slope.

Read also: Major tech companies may be putting world at risk from killer robots

Read also: Prevent Killer Robots arms race

Read more about killer robots.

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