Slaughterbots Short Film Warns of the Dangers of Weaponized Drones

Good science fiction makes you reconsider society’s trajectory. Slaughterbots pleads to take weaponized drones seriously, as A.I. ramps up.

byMarco Margaritoff|
<em>Slaughterbots</em> Short Film Warns of the Dangers of Weaponized Drones

A short film called Slaughterbots was presented at the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons at the United Nations in Geneva last Friday. According to CNET, the film was produced by the Future of Life Institute, which has among its members Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, and it presents a pleading argument not to take the future of weaponized drones lightly. 

The central point is that weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles, like any other technology, can be hacked by those willing to do harm to others. While drones may seem like affordable, convenient and efficient tools for productive and positive activities to most, Slaughterbots is a dire warning that these flying, weaponized robots can be co-opted and controlled by those we fear most. 

Let's take a look at Slaughterbots, courtesy of Stop Autonomous Weapons, before we dive into its content and how effective the film is in conveying its point.

The beginning implores the audience to understand just how efficient and smart UAVs have become. It's truly ominous, seeing a fleet of drones working together in penetrating buildings, capable of evading threats and eliminating targets with ease. As someone who is a proponent of art often being more effective than a simple list of facts and figures, videos like Slaughterbots may get people to understand the potential dangers of weaponizing artificially intelligent machines more than a research paper. 

Slaughterbots presents the idea that nuclear warfare will become obsolete once smart-swarms of weaponized UAVs become standardized. As with kill lists or registries of "enemy combatants," a basic list of targets is all that would be required for these drones to locate and eliminate them. As the presenter calmly states in the film, "Take out your enemy, virtually risk-free. Just characterize him, release the swarm, and rest easy." It's difficult not to sense how plausible a future like this actually is when those eerie sentences echo through the conference hall. Inevitably, a breach of security leads to an unknown party taking control of the weaponized drones, which have begun targeting senators, with no clear leads or motive available to anyone. 

In a world with facial mapping, mass surveillance, location tracking, and drones being easily affordable to ordinary citizens, Slaughterbots does a great job of connecting these dots and postulating what this may all inevitably lead to. Companies like vHive and Google are working on highly organized drone fleet management systems. What if those could be hacked and turned against ordinary citizens, or politicians? Like all science fiction, the film isn't really about the future being presented. It's about us, right now, and a call to reconsider our current situation. Chime in below with your reaction to this incredibly well constructed little short. Were you as impressed as we are?