Report: UK Funds Research into Autonomous Attack Drones

A new report published by Drone Wars UK reveals that the Ministry of Defense is actively funding research into technology supporting the development of armed autonomous drones

One of the infamous Watchkeeper drones. Pic: Crown copyright

A recent study reveals that the UK MoD is funding technology for autonomous lethal weapons with artificial intelligence.

According to The Guardian, the British government insists it “does not possess fully autonomous weapons and has no intention of developing them.” However, since 2015, the UK has declined to support proposals put forward at the UN to ban them. Now, using government data, Freedom of Information requests and open-source information, a year-long investigation reveals that the MoD and defense contractors are funding dozens of artificial intelligence programs for use in conflict.

The report cites a study published by Drone Wars UK, titled Off the Leash: The Development of Autonomous Military Drones in the UK.

“Our study,” they say at Drone Wars UK, “identifies the key technologies influencing the development of future armed drones and looks at current initiatives which are underway in the UK to marry developments in autonomy – the ability of a machine to operate with limited, or even no, human control – with military drone technology. The report maps out the agencies, laboratories, and contractors undertaking research into drones and autonomous weapon technology in support of the Ministry of Defense, examines the risks arising from the weaponization of such technologies, and assesses government policy in this area.”

The authors of the study conclude that drones are likely to be the military technology which develops into the first truly autonomous weapon. “The incremental way in which drone technology is developing, and the ability to ‘bolt on’ new features, means that drones are ideally suited to morph into a future generation of autonomous weapon systems,” they say.