Autonomous weapon system
Former British defence chief warns about the rise of AI weaponsREUTERS/Ahmed Saad

Retired British general Sir Richard Barrons has warned about the possible rise of 'killer robots' in coming years.

Following the call to ban autonomous killing machines, Sir Richard, who led the UK's Joint Forces Command until last year, told The Daily Telegraph that any call to outlaw the use of such weaponry is likely to be flouted, by nations facing the pressure to deploy these technologies for warfare.

Sir Richard said Britain would never opt for fully-autonomous capabilities, but noted: "If you ask other people around the world, they don't have the same value struggle". He reiterated the fact that advanced, lethal weapon systems with no man at the loop will turn up one way or the other.

And the reason for this? Performance improvement, affordability and the ability to save human life, according to the retired senior officer. "Why would you send a 19-year-old with a rifle into a house first to see if anything is in there if you could send a machine and there are many, many many examples in the land and maritime environments".

Pinpointing the failure to stop nuclear warfare, Sir Richard also said: "The global record of having rules which then mean that stuff doesn't proliferate isn't terrific."

Last week, more 100 technology luminaries, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Mustafa Suleyman, Head of Applied AI at Google DeepMind, wrote an open letter to the United Nations, calling for a ban on the use artificial-intelligence equipped weapon systems (automated flying drones, armoured vehicles and submarines).

"Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare," the letter read. "Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend.

"These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways," the experts added. "We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora's box is opened, it will be hard to close".