Almost a year ago I wrote about some disturbing news out of Russia where they had developed autonomous robots capable of firing weapons. They’re not anywhere near actual Robocop levels of performance yet, but you could easily see this as a step along the road to SKYNET becoming self-aware.

Clearly, the United States Army has been paying attention to these developments. You can’t have the Russians running around with killer robots and not get into the game yourself, right? Even though they’ve resisted these sorts of advancements in the past, now we’re on the robot war playing field ourselves. It turns out that during some war games last year, our own Army deployed robotic weaponry to provide cover fire for the troops… and it actually worked. (Daily Beast)

A machine-gun-armed robotic armored vehicle provided covering fire for U.S. Army soldiers during a summer 2017 war game, a top Army official said.

The robotic fire support, part of the Army’s Northern Strike exercise in Michigan in late July and early August, could signal a profound shift in the ground-combat branch’s acceptance of armed robots.

Back in 2008, the Army sidelined an earlier model of armed robot that it had deployed to Iraq amid rumors that the ‘bot might erratically aim its machine gun. Nine years later, officials finally allowed a similar automaton to fire in close proximity to U.S. troops during a realistic training exercise.

The two main reasons I’m not freaking out about this (yet) are that our “robots” aren’t really humanoid and there’s no AI involved. Or at least so the Army claims. These are more like armored vehicles with gun turrets installed on them. Unlike conventional military vehicles, though, there’s no driver and no troops onboard. They’re basically using one remote technician to drive and another to operate the machine guns.

They’re also managing to keep the costs down to a reasonable level, which was always a requirement. Building a fleet of shiny new robotic armored vehicles was going to bust the budget, so these were Vietnam era armored vehicles. They retrofitted them with the remote driving capability and weapons and so far they seem to be working.

In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising we didn’t do this sooner. We adapted drones early on, many with weapons capability, but those are far more complicated to operate and expensive to build. Flying is always more difficult and leaves the automaton exposed to the enemy to a greater degree. But if you’re on the attack and rolling into an area held by the enemy, remotely driving in some heavy firepower seems like an obvious tactic once the technology is available.

Of course, this will only last for a limited time. You just know that the next step is to put some level of Artificial Intelligence into them so they can fight on their own. And once that’s done, the countdown to humanity’s destruction can resume. Bow down to your new robotic overlords, peasants.