In the year 2015, somewhere over the tribal territories of Pakistan, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone patrols a complex "kill zone"—an area of terrorist activity in which large numbers of civilians are also present. But on this mission, the drone isn't piloted from afar. It's on its own.
The aircraft moves closer to gather information about a potential target. Infrared cameras, heat sensors and other tools of surveillance determine whether the target is indeed a militant, examining, for instance, whether he seems ready to attack. The drone's computer system ranks the suspect on a scale from -1 (a noncombatant) to +1 (a confirmed combatant). Having determined that no children or other civilians are in the vicinity, and that everything else is in order, it chooses a weapon and fires. It then assesses the damage and either fires again or, if the enemy is dead, continues its patrol.
Science fiction? Not according to Ronald Arkin, the director of the Mobile Robot Lab at Georgia Tech.
More @ WSJ