Israel's Semi-Autonomous Robot With Machine Guns is Heading to the Gaza Border

Here's how it works and what AI experts have to say about the development.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Israel has deployed a new robot that can operate "24 hours a day, 7 days a week." According to the press release, the robot is a semi-autonomous machine equipped with 7.62-millimeter machine guns. It is ultimately intended to stand as a substitute for combat soldiers, and although there are many military robots that came before it, it's one of the first robots in the world that is actually able to work autonomously like a soldier.  

The new military robot is called the Jaguar, and it utilizes a number of technologies to perform its operations, such as high-resolution cameras, transmitters, powerful headlights, and a remote-controlled PA system. 

Using this tech, it can navigate its way to a designated area and even spot obstacles on the way using an advanced driving system. However, it typically requires a human operator to tell it to fire its machine gun or to self-destruct if it has been compromised. 

That said, the Jaguar’s software does allow it to automatically adjust its aim to better target whatever a human operator tells it to focus on. And perhaps most notably, it also has the ability to fire autonomously in certain scenarios, such as when it is returning fire. It can also self-destruct on its own in specific instances. 

The killer robot controversy 

The Jaguar is just the latest machine to head to a border that is already equipped with drones, machine gun turrets, armed soldiers, and a naval blockade. While it most definitely will add to the protection of Israeli soldiers, it will also definitely make the (already tense) Israeli-Palestinian relations even worse. 

Those behind the work state that it will ultimately reduce harm. "We have led a groundbreaking technological development, an independent robot that reduces the combat soldier’s friction with the enemy and prevents risks to human life,” Lt. Col. Nathan Kuperstein, Head of Autonomy and Robotics at the Israeli Defense Force (IDF)’s Land Technology Division, remarked in a statement. “It even knows how to charge itself, almost like an iRobot."

But others aren't convinced. In an open letter published by The Future of Life Institute, a number of AI and Robotics experts argued that autonomous (or semi-autonomous) weapons systems cannot be deployed responsibly or ethically. They write, in part:

"Many arguments have been made for and against autonomous weapons, for example that replacing human soldiers by machines is good by reducing casualties for the owner but bad by thereby lowering the threshold for going to battle. The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting.

If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow....Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations, and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people."

But regardless of the controversy, unless new legislation and international treaties are implemented, developments like these are sure to continue. Many nations' military departments have very high research and development funds, which are designed for engineering new military tech. 

For example, the U.S. Army has already announced that it plans to deploy Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) by 2028, which consists of machine learning components designed to give killer robots autonomy and decision-making on the battlefield.

How close are we to actually seeing an era of autonomous killer robots spread around the globe? Unfortunately, such predictions are not easy, and only time will tell.

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