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A Tortoise File

Drones

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani was a sharp reminder of the scale and scope of drone warfare. The use of remote-control weaponry, trialled by George W Bush at the start of the war on terror, and industrialised by Barack Obama, is now in the hands of Donald Trump.

First published
Monday 3 February 2020

Last updated
Wednesday 18 November 2020

Why this story?

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani was a sharp reminder of the scale and scope of drone warfare. The use of remote-control weaponry, trialled by George W Bush at the start of the war on terror, and industrialised by Barack Obama, is now in the hands of Donald Trump.

But soon, it might not matter who is Commander-in-Chief. The next frontier in contemporary drone warfare is autonomy. The US, Israel, South Korea, China, Russia and the UK are all developing weapons systems running on artificial intelligence. But in many cases, the law regulating these machines is yet to catch up – what happens if a strike, determined by an algorithm, goes horribly wrong?

We are on the cusp of a new era of warfare in which AI-enabled drones could be about to shift from the exception, to the norm. So we sent Fred Harter, a freelance journalist, and Giles Whittell, an editor at Tortoise, into this shadowy world of killer robots. Basia Cummings, editor

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