Like a Swarm of Lethal Bugs: The Most Terrifying Drone Video Yet

An Air Force simulation says researchers are at work on killer robots so tiny that a group of them could blend into a cityscape.

Science writer John Horgan's feature on the many ways drones will be used in coming years is interesting throughout, and terrifying in the passage where he describes an effort to build micro-drones that are, as the U.S. Air Force describes them, "Unobtrusive, pervasive, and lethal."

Air Force officials declined a request to observe flight tests at a "micro-aviary" they've built, he reported, but they did let him see a video dramatization "starring micro-UAVs that resemble winged, multi-legged bugs. The drones swarm through alleys, crawl across windowsills, and perch on power lines. One of them sneaks up on a scowling man holding a gun and shoots him in the head."

Here's that video (click "hide ad" to play):    

 

When I watch that simulation I am horrified. I also think to myself, this technology is more likely to diminish American security than to enhance it. In a world without micro-drones, our military remains overwhelmingly powerful. But what about a world where micro-drones are pervasive? Who knows? Sure, we have a technological advantage right now, but micro-drones sure seem like a disruptive technology that will eventually help rather than hinder attempts at asymmetric warfare.

Yet the U.S. government is making no effort to enlist other powerful nations with the most to lose and establish international norms against the use of drones (in the way we've stigmatized biological weapons) -- rather, we're continuing to fuel a drone arms race that guarantees widespread proliferation. Perhaps such an effort would fail, but to never even try seems shortsighted.

How far ahead is President Obama thinking?

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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