An Autonomous Drone May Have Hunted Down a Human in a World-First

UN experts say that a weaponized drone may have attacked a human target.
Fabienne Lang

Fears over mass atrocities caused by killer robots may be closer to coming true than we'd like to think. Last year, militarized drones may have autonomously attacked humans in Libya, as was first reported by New Scientist.

If this incident, written up in a U.N. report last year, turns out to be true, it would mark the first-ever reported autonomous attack led by a drone. The full details of the attack have not been fully detailed, so it's hard to know whether or not there were any casualties.

Banning autonomous weapons and "killer robots"

If it does turn out to be true, it may be proof that efforts to ban militarized autonomous drones and robots may have been in vain. Back in 2018, the U.N. chief António Guterres said that "machines with the power and discretion to take lives without human involvement are politically unacceptable, morally repugnant and should be prohibited by international law." 

Guterres continued his announcement to the Group of Environmental Experts by explaining that "human responsibility for decisions on the use of weapons systems must be retained, since accountability cannot be transferred to machines." 

The U.N.'s stance is clear: autonomous weapons that kill must be banned. And the U.N. isn't alone, campaigns such as the Campaign to Stop Killler Robots have gathered a lot of traction, 30 countries have pledged their desire to ban fully autonomous weapons, as well as the U.N. Secretary General, over 170 NGOs, 4,500 AI experts, the European Parliament, 61 percent of the public, and many more.

So if last year's attack turns out to have happened, it could mark the start of different, and dangerous, times. 

The alleged attack and the Kargu-2 drone

The 2020 incident saw a Kargu-2 quadcopter autonomously attack a human during a fight between Libyan government forces and a military faction in Libya led by the Libyan National Army's Khalifa Haftar, explained New Scientist. 

The Kargu-2 is a "rotary wing attack drone loitering munition system" that is made by the Turkish company STM. It's designed for asymmetric warfare and anti-terrorist operations. It can be operated both manually and autonomously, and used against static or moving targets thanks to its indigenous and real-time processing abilities, as well as its machine learning algorithms. 

On top of that, it can be used for daytime and nighttime operations, has various ammunition options, can self-destruct, has 10 times optical zoom, and more. 

Its range is three miles (five km), has a 30 minute endurance time, can go up to a maximum altitude of 9,186 feet (2,800 meters), and has a maximum speed of 44.7 mph (72 km/h).

The Kargu-2 quadcopter in last year's alleged attack apparently zeroed in on one of Haftar's soldiers as they attempted to retreat, reported the Daily Star. If it happened, this is likely the first time that a drone or robot autonomously shoots at or kills a human. 

The main issue that campaigners against autonomous militarized drones and robot worry about is how they could misidentify targets, potentially going on unplanned killing sprees. Then, who takes the blame? 

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