Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Has a robot ever killed a human?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Robots have certainly killed many humans. Just look how many millions of people Skynet "metal" killed in the Terminator film series! But if we're talking about real life, well, the question gets a bit less Hollywood, although the Skynet analogy isn't too far off. Modern history's battlefields are, of course, the logical place to look for instances of robots killing humans. Warfare has a way of advancing human technology, and it should come as no surprise that robots have been killing carbon-based life forms for decades.

    German Goliaths (essentially mini tanks with explosive payloads) claimed casualties in World War II. It was shaped like a tank and controlled remotely. The compact little unit was just four feet long (1.2 meters) by two feet wide (.6 meters) and about one foot (.3 meters) high -- sort of like a squat, mechanical beetle that could blow up an entire tank or bring down a building [source: StrangeMilitary].

    Meanwhile, unmanned aerial vehicles such as the Predator and Reaper drones continue to rack up kills in Iraq and Afghanistan, with research and development of other unmanned military vehicles likely to continue. The Predator drone can cruise along about 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and strike with its missiles such that targets don't even know they are about to die before they, well, do. (Interestingly, the Predator was originally designed just for aerial surveillance, but around 2000 Bill Clinton, and then George W. Bush's administrations gave the go-ahead to loading missiles on the drones -- part of an effort to kill Osama Bin Laden as soon as he was spotted.) The Reaper drone, for its part, was built to fight, flying much faster, and far higher, than did the Predator; and with a more deadly payload as well [source: Wired].

    As far as nonmilitary deaths go, the first industrial robot-induced human death occurred on Jan. 25, 1979, in a Flat Rock, Mich., casting plant due to a physical safeguard malfunction.

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