The U.S. Navy has developed an unmanned, fully autonomous robotic ship, apparently with inspiration from the Klingons.1

Sea Hunter, or Bird of Prey

Heghlu’DI’ mobbe’lu’chugh QaQpu’ Hegh wanI’!

From the horse’s mouth:

During the testing phase, the ship will have human operators as a safety net, but once it proves to be reliable, the autonomous surface vessel will maneuver itself–able to go out at sea for months at a time and travel up to 10,000 nautical miles.

…Some see the possibility that the full-size prototype could pave the way to developing crewless cargo vessels for the commercial shipping industry someday, he added. Countries from Europe to Asia have been looking into developing fleets of unmanned ships to cut down on operating costs but the idea has sparked debate over whether it’s possible to make robotic boats safe enough to run on their own far from land.

…Others have expressed concern about hackers capturing a robotic vessel.

Military officials have been working on hacker-proof protections and say it’s possible to make drone ships cyber-secure.

“There is no reason to be afraid”

Although Starfleet Deputy Secretary Robert Work claims that we have nothing to fear–raising the curious question of why he feels the need to offer reassurance–history of course tells another story. (Doesn’t it always?) The U.S. has, after all, killed between 20 and 30 million people since the close of the Second World War. Even this ghastly estimate is likely too low, as one study cites 5.6 million war-related deaths in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion alone, with 3 million dead in Iraq from 1990 up until the present day.2 So when Work says, “This is a ship that’s going to do what we tell it and nothing more,” I don’t feel very comforted.

“These will be everywhere”

And then there’s the whole¬†hacker cum pirate thing (or would it be the other way around?), addplus what I’d like to call the Accidental Terminator Scenario, in which a software bug leads the robot to kill the wrong people. In this scenario–the one that acknowledges that software bugs are definitely a thing, with occasionally disastrous results–Skynet, AI, and intent are extraneous details.

Of course, for the time being, this unmanned ship doesn’t carry weapons, but it would be incredibly naive to think that it won’t be weaponized once the technology is more developed. Given that robotic ships will soon “be everywhere,” according to Work, the U.S. military will have plenty of opportunity for doing so in the near future.

  1. I doubt that the Klingons would find an unmanned warship very honorable.
  2. Still, killings in the last 70 years don’t even begin to address the centuries’-long genocide that the U.S. carried out against slaves and natives, which alone suffices to undermine the foundations of U.S. democratic legitimacy and its use of the latest and greatest make-a-boom’s. Indeed, the U.S. can’t get enough of war: in its 240 years of existence, the country has been at war for 226 of them. So it seems that there is very much reason to be afraid of the U.S. Navy’s new ship, even putting aside its robotic dimensions.