China selling 'killer robots' to Middle East 'threat to world peace'
Chinese military contractors are selling 'killer robots' to Middle Eastern countries, a top US official has warned.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper says Beijing's sale of advanced drones capable of carrying out lethal attacks without human oversight was a threat to world peace and human rights.
It is the first time a senior Pentagon official has called out Beijing for selling autonomous weaponry, reports Defense One.
It appears China is gaining a head start in the race to develop operational Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). Also known as 'killer robots' – they are weapons that can identify, target and kill a person. No human is needed to make the final decision to authorise lethal force.
Mr Esper, in a speech to the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence conference in Washington, said China has no military ethics guidelines to restrict the use of artificial intelligence or autonomous technology in combat.
Esper also warned the weaponry sold to autocratic governments could be deployed to suppress their people.
"As we speak, the Chinese government is already exporting some of its most advanced military aerial drones to the Middle East, as it prepares to export its next-generation stealth UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) when those come online," Esper told the conference on Monday.
"In addition, Chinese weapons manufacturers are selling drones advertised as capable of full autonomy, including the ability to conduct lethal targeted strikes."
While Esper did not name specific military technology companies, one contractor – Ziyan – makes the Blowfish A3, a helicopter drone equipped with a machine gun.
The company website says it "autonomously performs more complex combat missions, including fixed-point timing detection, fixed range reconnaissance and targeted precision strikes".
Earlier this year, a report by the US Defence Department's Joint Artificial Intelligence Centre revealed Ziyan is in talks to sell the Blowfish to the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
It has also reportedly been bought by the United Arab Emirates.
Esper said the Pentagon was working to harness the military potential of AI but would also develop battlefield ethics guidelines over its use.