The United States Navy is developing robot submarine which will be controlled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems – with the ability to potentially kill without explicit human input. The project is named as ‘CLAWS’ by the US Navy; however, very little information has been released about it.

According to a report by New Scientist, the project is described as an ‘autonomous undersea weapon system’ and carried out by the Office of Naval Research. Details of this killer-submersible were revealed as part of the 2020 budget documents which also disclosed its AI system name. Since this project is a ‘top secret’, only a few details have been released including the fact that it will use sensors and algorithms to perform the complex missions on their own.

A Brief Look At ‘CLAWS’ AI System

CLAWS AI system is likely to be installed on the new ‘Orca’ class robot submarines with 12 torpedo tubes that are being developed for the US Navy by Boeing. However, it is not revealed yet what CLAWS stands for, neither has the US Navy commented on the story.

Furthermore, the New Scientist report also highlighted, CLAWS isn’t new. It was first revealed in 2018 as part of a US Navy bid to advance the autonomy and survivability of large and extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles. When this information was first disclosed, there was no mention then of armaments being on the autonomous submersible, just a need for it to have sensors and be able to make decisions.

The precise budget for CLAWS hasn’t been revealed yet but it is allocated $USD 26 million in this year’s US Navy budget and an additional $USD 23 million for the next year. It’s believed to be soon moved from being just an idea to a functioning prototype due to the extra funding and could be deployed on large robot submarines by 2022.

How Robot- Submersibles Differ from Ordinary Submarines?

Certainly, autonomous submarines exist for decades now and were designed to complete complex tasks without any human involvement, however, due to their inadequate functionality, they aren’t as intellectual as they are believed to be. A more complex task requires a human operator to work through a remote communication skill. But the good news is that the new submarines will have a much greater level of artificial intelligence and consequently, they will have the ability to perform a wider range of functions without requiring any human controller.

The New Scientist report also revealed that the US Navy has ordered larger robot submarines ‘Orca’ which are set to be armed with 12 torpedo tubes and CLAWS so they could be utilized to descend targets on their own deprived of any input from a human. Moreover, it is expected that they would be controlled remotely like the smaller versions.

This idea isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Stuart Russell from the University of California Berkeley believes that it was indeed a ‘dangerous development’.

Who Is to Blame If A Robot Unlawfully Kills Someone?

A report by Human Rights Watch indicates ‘no one’.

The organization insists that someone needs to take action to eliminate this lack of accountability and call for the preemptive ban of killer robots’ development and use of fully autonomous weapons.

HRW highlighted, there are serious doubts that killer-robots would meet the international humanitarian law standards and would threaten the fundamental right to human life; therefore, if a military commander or an operator intentionally deployed a robot to commit a crime, they would be held accountable. The organization also questioned whether it is fair enough to allow machines to make crucial decisions about life and death.

Conclusion

As AI systems are becoming more powerful, it’s evident that we’re dropping more major aspects of society to the systems that we aren’t acutely aware of and optimizing for objectives that may fail to reflect our own. Although advanced AI systems aren’t here yet they’re getting closer by each day and now is the time to ensure that whether we are ready for them. Therefore, it’s time to come up with a robust policy before these science-fiction scenarios become reality.