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Scientist warns humans could be defenceless 'against deadly drones' within a decade

Professor Russell warned developments in lethal drone technology could leave humans Credit: PA Wire

Humans could find themselves "utterly defenceless" against small, deadly drones that choose their own targets through artificial intelligence, a leading US expert in computer science has warned.

In a comment article in the journal Nature, Professor Stuart Russell called the deadly flying robots the likely "endpoint" in the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems (Laws).

He warned that such drones could be deployed within the next decade.

Professor Russell argued the drones will be limited more by physical constraints than by limits on the artificial intelligence that will control them.

As flying robots become smaller, their manoeuvrability increases and their ability to be targeted decreases. They have a shorter range, yet they must be large enough to carry a lethal payload - perhaps a one-gramme shaped charge to puncture the human cranium.

– Professor Stuart Russell

He called on robotics and computer scientists, along with professional scientific organisations, to take a position on Laws, just as physicists did over nuclear weapons and biologists over the use of disease agents in warfare.

The drones will be limited more by physical constraints than by limits to artificial intelligence Credit: DPA/Press Association Images

Some critics of Laws have called for an international treaty limiting their use or banning them altogether.

According to Professor Russell, the three countries at the forefront of the technology - the US, UK and Israel - all insist that such a treaty is unnecessary as they have internal weapons review processes that ensure compliance with international law.