Decades of popular dystopian science fiction have warned that this might happen, and yet, here we are.
A military robot maker, Ghost Robotics, strapped a sniper rifle to the back of a quadrupedal robot dog before presenting its creation at the Association of the U.S. Army’s main annual convention in Washington, D.C. this week.
The Philadelphia-based firm shared an image of its quadrupedal unmanned ground vehicle, or Q-UGV, donning a 6.5mm Creedmoor rifle from weapon company SWORD International. The system is called the Special Purpose Unmanned Rifle, or SPUR. In a separate Instagram post, SWORD said it is “keeping [its special ops] teams armed with the latest lethality innovation.”
‘A soulless piece of hardware’
Unsurprisingly, the comments below both posts decry the dystopian nature of such a machine. One commenter said “so y’all saw two Blade Runners, a Westworld show and movie, 10 Terminator movies, two Battlestar Galactica shows, I, Robot and still thought this was a good idea[?]” Another said Ghost Robotics has created “a soulless piece of hardware for brutal population suppression when the billionaires finally fear for their ill-gotten gains.” Another simply stated, “this is literally the Metalhead episode of Black Mirror.”
Latest lethality 6.5 #creedmoor sniper payload from @SWORDINT. Check out the latest partner payloads @AUSAorg Wash DC. Keeping US and allied #sof #warfighter equipped with the latest innovations. @USSOCOM #defense #defence #NationalSecurity #drone #robotics pic.twitter.com/Dvk6OvL3Bu
— Ghost Robotics (@Ghost_Robotics) October 11, 2021
It’s hard to argue with those comments. Ghost Robotics and SWORD’s machine is a precision killing robot that could easily be linked to artificial intelligence capabilities already used on the battlefield with war drones and other high-precision killing machines.
Experts call for a ban on killer robots
Though SPUR is intended for the battlefield, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the elephant in the room, which is that robot dogs have so far predominantly been used in public spaces. Unlike war drones, quadrupedal robots have already been utilized for population control by law enforcement in countries such as Singapore, where a Boston Dynamics Spot robot was used to implement social distancing rules in 2020. Robotics also has a controversy-baiting link to law enforcement in the U.S. In December 2020, the New York Police Department trialed a Boston Dynamics Spot robot for law enforcement, though a public outcry forced the department to cancel its $94,000 contract with the robotics firm.
In 2015, experts including Elon Musk, Noam Chomsky, and Stephen Hawking signed an open letter calling on the United Nations to place an outright ban on killer robots, stating that the majority of AI researchers “have no interest in building AI weapons.” The Stop Killer Robots Campaign has also gained traction in recent years and has been joined by ex-employees of big tech firms such as Google after its involvement in Project Maven, which was aimed at enhancing U.S. military drone technology.
On its website, SWORD says “the [SPUR] was specifically designed to offer precision fire from unmanned platforms such as the Ghost Robotics Vision-60 quadruped. Due to its highly capable sensors, the SPUR can operate in a magnitude of conditions, both day and night.” Aside from that, little has been revealed in the way of SPUR’s specifications. We don’t know, for example, if it is remotely operated or whether it operates with a degree of autonomy. We also don’t know whether the robot was designed with a particular client in mind or as part of a contract with any military organization.