In Brief

Robots and ‘enhanced’ humans to fight future wars

Defence secretary warns of growing threat to UK posed by new technology

Robots and “enhanced” humans will increasingly fight the wars of the future, a new Ministry of Defence report has concluded.

Setting out the potential challenges facing the UK in the decades to come, The Future Starts Today warns of an increasing risk from nuclear and chemical weapons as technology rapidly advances. Technology will also lead to “new areas of conflict” opening up, including space and cyberspace, with weapons of mass destruction also more likely.

The UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, said the report made “clear” that the world is becoming “rapidly more dangerous, with intensifying challenges from state aggressors who flout the rules, terrorists who want to harm our way of life and the technological race with our adversaries.”

It also warns of the potential political and social unrest caused by the impact of robots on the workplace, and the need to stop the spread of misinformation online and on social media.

But it is talk of cyborg soldiers that will cause most alarm.

Compiled with the help of experts from around the word, the report examines the possibility of “human enhancement” through gene editing, physical and mental prothesis and the use of drugs.

The Daily Mail says the “chilling” findings mean that “the breeding of genetically modified troops could be a reality within a generation”.

An article published this month in The Atlantic details the Pentagon’s ongoing push to programme soldiers’ brains so that future “super-soldiers” can control robots with their thoughts.

The benefits of medically enhanced soldiers include being able to lift huge weights and run at high speeds over extreme distances. Troops could also have infra-red night vision and be capable of transmitting their thoughts through electronically aided telepathy.

The willingness to adopt these technologies could confer a competitive advantage over adversaries, but “moral, ethical and legal thresholds” would need to be defined, says The Independent.

Sputnik News says the report “comes at a time of snowballing global anxiety over the ethics of weaponising artificial intelligence and robots in the battlefield, signified by the recent submission of an open letter to the United Nations calling for such technologies to be banned”.

Last month, talks aimed a preventing the development of so-called “killer robots” – fully autonomous weapons that can act without human oversight – were blocked by the US and Russia.

The report concluded that: “While it is envisaged that humans will continue to be central to the decision-making process, conflicts fought increasingly by robots or autonomous systems could change the very nature of warfare, as there will be less emphasis on emotions, passion and chance.”

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