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Mon Sep 26 16:17:19 PDT 2022
Slaughterbots is a 2017 arms-control advocacy video presenting a
dramatized near-future scenario where swarms of inexpensive
microdrones use artificial intelligence and facial recognition to
assassinate political opponents based on preprogrammed criteria. The
video was released onto YouTube by the Future of Life Institute and
Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at Berkeley, on 12
November 2017. The video quickly went viral, gaining over two
million views. The video was also screened to the November 2017
United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons meeting in
A sequel, Slaughterbots – if human: kill() (2021), presented
additional hypothetical scenarios of attacks on civilians, and called
on the UN to ban autonomous weapons that target people.
4 Cultural reception
5 See also
7 External links
Students attempt to flee lethal microdrones
The dramatization, seven minutes in length, is set in a Black
Mirror-style near future. Small, palm-sized autonomous drones
using facial recognition and shaped explosives can be programmed to
seek out and eliminate known individuals or classes of individuals
(such as individuals wearing an enemy military uniform). A tech
executive pitches that nuclear weapons are now "obsolete": a $25
million order of "unstoppable" drones can kill half a city. As the
video unfolds, the technology get re-purposed by unknown parties to
assassinate political opponents, from sitting congressmen to student
activists identified via their Facebook profiles. In one scene, the
swarming drones coordinate with each other to gain entrance to a
building: a larger drone blasts a hole in a wall to give access to
The dramatization is followed by a forty-second entreaty by Russell:
"This short film is more than just speculation; it shows the results
of integrating and miniaturizing technologies that we already have...
AI's potential to benefit humanity is enormous, even in defense, but
allowing machines to choose to kill humans will be devastating to our
security and freedom."
According to Russell, "What we were trying to show was the property of
autonomous weapons to turn into weapons of mass destruction
automatically because you can launch as many as you want... and so we
thought a video would make it very clear." Russell also expressed a
desire to displace the unrealistic and unhelpful Hollywood
"Terminator" conception of autonomous weapons with something more
realistic. The video was produced by Space Digital at MediaCityUK
and directed by Stewart Sugg with location shots at Hertfordshire
University and in Edinburgh. Edinburgh was chosen because the
filmmakers "needed streets that would be empty on a Sunday morning"
for the shots of armed police patrolling deserted streets, and because
the location is recognizable to international audiences. All of
the drones were added in post-production.
In December 2017 The Economist assessed the feasibility of
Slaughterbots in relation to the U.S. MAST and DCIST microdrone
programs. MAST currently has a cyclocopter that weighs less than 30
grams, but that has the downside of being easily disturbed by its own
reflected turbulence when too close to a wall. Another candidate is
something like Salto, a 98-gram hopping robot, which performs better
than cyclocopters in confined spaces. The level of autonomous
inter-drone coordination shown in Slaughterbots is currently not
available, but that is starting to change, with drone swarms being
used for aerial displays. Overall The Economist agreed that
"slaughterbots" may become feasible in the foreseeable future: "In
2008, a spy drone that you could hold in the palm of your hand was an
idea from science fiction. Such drones are now commonplace... When
DCIST wraps up in 2022, the idea of Slaughterbots may seem a lot less
fictional than it does now." The Economist is skeptical that arms
control could prevent such a militarization of drone swarms: "As
someone said of nuclear weapons after the first one was detonated, the
only secret worth keeping is now out: the damn things work".
Paul Scharre of the Center for a New American Security disagreed with
the feasibility of the video's scenario, stating that "Every military
technology has a countermeasure, and countermeasures against small
drones aren't even hypothetical. The U.S. government is actively
working on ways to shoot down, jam, fry, hack, ensnare, or otherwise
defeat small drones. The microdrones in the video could be defeated by
something as simple as chicken wire. The video shows heavier-payload
drones blasting holes through walls so that other drones can get
inside, but the solution is simply layered defenses." Scharre also
stated that Russell's implied proposal, a legally binding treaty
banning autonomous weapons, "won't solve the real problems humanity
faces as autonomy advances in weapons. A ban won't stop terrorists
from fashioning crude DIY robotic weapons... In fact, it's not even
clear whether a ban would prohibit the weapons shown in the video,
which are actually fairly discriminate."
In April 2018 the governmental Swiss Drones and Robotics Centre,
referencing Slaughterbots, tested a 3-gram shaped charge on a head
model and concluded that "injuries are so severe that the chances of
survival are very small".
Matt McFarland of CNN opined that "Perhaps the most nightmarish,
dystopian film of 2017 didn't come from Hollywood". McFarland also
stated that the debate over banning killer robots had taken a
"sensationalistic" turn: In 2015, "they relied on open letters and
petitions with academic language", and used dry language like 'armed
quadcopters'. Now, in 2017, "they are warning of 'slaughterbots'".
Andrew Yang linked to Slaughterbots from a tweet during his 2020 U.S.
Presidential primary candidacy. The sequel video, published 30
November 2021, had over two million views on YouTube by 8
Lethal autonomous weapon
"Hated in the Nation", a Black Mirror TV series episode that
features bee-like drones
"Military robots are getting smaller and more capable", The
Economist, 14 December 2017, retrieved 21 January 2018
Scharre, Paul (22 December 2017). "Why You Shouldn't Fear
'Slaughterbots'". IEEE Spectrum: Technology, Engineering, and Science
News. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
"Slaughterbots". YouTube. 12 November 2017. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
"UC Berkeley professor's eerie lethal drone video goes viral".
SFGate. 18 November 2017. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
Knight, Will (2021). "Autonomous Weapons Are Here, but the World
Isn't Ready for Them". Wired. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
"Watch 'Slaughterbots,' A Warning About the Future of Killer
Bots". Motherboard (Vice Media). 13 November 2017. Retrieved 21
Dvorsky, George. "Artificially Intelligent Drones Become
Terrifying Killing Machines in Dystopian Short Film". Gizmodo.
Retrieved 21 January 2018.
Ian Sample (13 November 2017), "Ban on killer robots urgently
needed, say scientists", The Guardian, retrieved 21 January 2018
Mikelionis, Lukas (21 November 2017). "UC Berkeley professor's
'slaughterbots' video on killer drones goes viral". Fox News.
Retrieved 21 January 2018.
"Watch out for 'killer robots,' UC Berkeley professor warns in
video". The Mercury News. 20 November 2017. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
""As much death as you want": UC Berkeley's Stuart Russell on
"Slaughterbots"". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 5 December 2017.
Retrieved 21 January 2018.
"Film produced by Hertfordshire University staff and students goes
viral". Hertfordshire University. 28 November 2017. Retrieved 21
"Edinburgh used for 'killer drone' film". BBC News. 21 November
2017. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
"Killer drone attacks filmed in Edinburgh to highlight artificial
intelligence fears". The Scotsman. 21 November 2017. Retrieved 21
"Fake news? Lethal effect of micro drones". www.ar.admin.ch.
""Einstein" bei den Robotern - TV - Play SRF". Play SRF (in
German). Retrieved 2018-05-31.
McFarland, Matt (14 November 2017). "'Slaughterbots' film shows
potential horrors of killer drones". CNNMoney. Retrieved 21 January
"Andrew Yang calls for global ban on killer robots". New York
Post. 1 February 2020. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
Mizokami, Kyle (8 December 2021). "A New Video Explains, in
Graphic Terms, Why the United Nations Must Ban 'Slaughterbots'".
Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 31 December 2021.
Slaughterbots (2017) on YouTube
Slaughterbots – if human: kill() (2021) on YouTube
Why You Shouldn't Fear 'Slaughterbots' (Scharre)
Why You Should Fear 'Slaughterbots' — A Response (Russell et al)
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