Could robots be the soldiers of the future? The Pentagon is currently working on drones that can identify—and will eventually be able to eliminate—targets without any human controlling them. The Washington Post details a demonstration last fall in which a pair of model-sized planes, working in tandem, located a brightly colored tarp, in part by analyzing photos taken by an onboard camera. It’s a major shift from current drones, which fly autonomously but require humans to identify targets and fire.
Scientists are now hard at work on the next step: drones that use facial recognition software to home in on and assassinate people, rather than colored tarps. Of course, the whole concept raises a host of ethical issues. “The question is whether systems are capable of discrimination,” says the head of a robot arms control group. If they’re rushed out they’ll "make a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes are going to be atrocities." (Read more drones stories.)