In the new world of fully automated killing, who is responsible as machines roam around killing without any record of precisely what they have done?  Who will be held responsible for the deaths of specific “civilian” or combatant casualties? It should be the person who ordered the drones to be launched, but will the human tendency to want to avoid responsibility for deadly acts find cover in the complexity of fully robotic technology?

These questions apply, for example, to the emerging technology of drone “swarming”, a system that enable drones to communicate with each other and fly and attack targets likeswarms of insects.

Research is underway to create a new generation of fully robotic airborne drones as well as land and sea drones that, once set loose, will make their own decisions on killing based on computer imaging, infra-red sensing and communications among themselves.

Robotic killer drones are appealing because they are relatively inexpensive, can go into places too dangerous for humans and in some cases “think” faster than humans.

The fully robotic killer drone also may offer more opportunity for rationalization about who is responsible for the decision to kill in attempts to remove concerns of morality and human conscience from the equation.  As noted in the “Drone Operators' Issues: Support of Conscience” section in this website, drone operators have quit their work because they felt as though it comprised their ethical conscience.

“…for most of the world,” writes human rights lawyer Richard Falk, “the shadow of drone technology threatens a terrifying vulnerability.  At present, there seems to be no way to insulate societies from intrusive and perpetual surveillance, let alone remotely targeted devastation.”

The introduction of fully robotic killing will increase the sense of human vulnerability to what may well be an unbearable level for entire populations.

In a talk at the Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare at Princeton University in 2015, Peter Lumsdaine raised the question of whether humans, having created weapons using artificial intelligence, biotechnology and nanotechnology, will ultimately be able to control whom their technology kills.

In “Attack of the Killer Robots” (BuzzFeed), Sarah A. Topol gives a very thorough report on how close we are to having fully robotic wars and what is being done by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots to see that killer robots are put back into the box.