It’s a freezing, snowy day on the border between Estonia and Russia. Soldiers from the two nations are on routine border patrol, each side accompanied by an autonomous weapon system, a tracked robot armed with a machine gun and an optical system that can identify threats, like people or vehicles. As the patrols converge on uneven ground, an Estonian soldier trips and accidentally discharges his assault rifle. The Russian robot records the gunshots and instantaneously determines the appropriate response to what it interprets as an attack. In less than a second, both the Estonian and Russian robots, commanded by algorithms, turn their weapons on the human targets and fire. When the shooting stops, a dozen dead or injured soldiers lie scattered around their companion machines, leaving both nations to sift through the wreckage — or blame the other side for the attack.
The hypothetical scenario seems fantastical, but those battlefield robots already exist today in an early form.