As the reports I have linked below refer to military machines, namely robots, drones, and the like, these are what I mean by autonomous machine. These military machines have, to my knowledge up to now, to be controlled by a military operative, whether in the country the machine is in, or remotely via satellite in another country. These reports suggest no operative is controlling these machines and the machines themselves are determining whether the person is an enemy or ally, breaking all three of Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

The magazine, New Scientist reported that:

Military drones may have autonomously attacked humans for the first time ever last year, according to a United Nations report. While the full details of the incident, which took place in Libya, haven’t been released and it is unclear if there were any casualties, the event suggests that international efforts to ban lethal autonomous weapons before they are used may already be too late.

Looking at the idea, apparently, it comes from a 548-page report from the United Nations Security Council that details the tail end of the Second Libyan Civil War.

Logistics convoys and retreating HAF 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 (see annex 30) and other loitering munitions. 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.

The Verve who provided this quote, states

What the report doesn’t say — at least not outright — is that human beings were killed by autonomous robots acting without human supervision. It says humans and vehicles were attacked by a mix of drones, quadcopters, and “loitering munitions” (we’ll get to those later), and that the quadcopters had been programmed to work offline. But whether the attacks took place without connectivity is unclear.

Nevertheless, a number of publications including CNET have been reporting that

Libyan forces were "hunted down and remotely engaged" by an autonomous drone

So, have autonomous machines killed people without human supervision?

  • 6
    I assume you do not intend to include self-driving cars in the question?
    – GEdgar
    Jun 14 '21 at 12:23
  • 16
    Isn't a landmine also an "autonomous machine"? It can't move, but its programming can decide to explode when a human is near. And landmines killed and injured plenty of humans without supervision.
    – Philipp
    Jun 14 '21 at 13:02
  • 7
    This is degenerating into quibbles about definitions. Is a landmine a "fire, forget and find" autonomous machine, that doesn't require data connectivity? Does finding such ambiguities in the definitions help anyone at all?
    – Oddthinking
    Jun 15 '21 at 11:57
  • 3
    Land mines are pretty simplistic, but how about captor mines? They sit there in the ocean until they hear the target they're programmed for and fire a torpedo at it. There are also anti-radiation missiles that can be told to hover over an area and attack any transmitter they find, but I don't know if they have ever been fired in anger. Jun 16 '21 at 3:07
  • 5
    And, to agree with @forest, a good chunk of Asimov's work is about how the three laws weren't absolute, or caused problems of various sorts, or were subverted in one manner or another. They are a narrative device for driving the story. Including them here is a red herring. Jun 19 '21 at 4:28

Yes, kinda.

Mines have been around for centuries and I'd call those autonomous military machines. Mines have killed countless people, on their own.

Contact mines work by someone (or a vehicle) merely touching them, influence mines by someone (or a vehicle) merely coming close and triggering the influence mechanism (whether magnetic, acoustic, heat, pressure, etc.).

They are so prevalent and so hard to get rid of after a conflict has ended that efforts to ban them from use have been going on for decades with limited success (mainly because many countries see them, rightly so, as an effective means to fight against a numerically and/or technologically superior enemy, they're perfect for long term area denial). And they do last a long time, we're still digging up mines from WW2 (and maybe WW1) 70 years after that war ended, and some of those are still dangerous.

  • 7
    This is clearly not an answer to the question being asked.
    – mmeent
    Jun 29 '21 at 8:52
  • 4
    @mmeent as he doesn't specify what he means by "autonomous military machines" it IS an answer.
    – jwenting
    Jun 29 '21 at 9:07
  • That has been specified in the comments. Your "answer" is not helpful.
    – mmeent
    Jun 29 '21 at 9:10
  • 5
    @mmeent if a piece of clarification is vital to the question, it should be in the question. Jun 29 '21 at 12:53
  • @JohnDvorak It is in the question. See the first sentence! Jul 2 '21 at 19:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .