UAE warns of swarming drone assassins in ‘dystopian future’ war

UN envoy Lana Nusseibeh said 'super-empowered' militias like Yemen’s Houthis are already sending out killing machines

Lana Nusseibeh urged the UN Security Council to crack down on the spread of artificial intelligence systems and drones before we enter a ‘dystopian future’. AFP
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UAE ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh warned on Monday of swarms of assassin drones being sent out in cross-border raids, as groups such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels incorporate ever-deadlier smart weapons into their arsenals.

Ms Nusseibeh urged Security Council members to crack down on the spread of artificial intelligence systems and drones before we enter a “dystopian future” of terrorists sending out killer robots.

Al Qaeda, ISIS and other extremist groups radicalise and recruit via the internet, while the Houthi militia fighting Yemen’s government has used increasingly advanced weapons to attack its neighbours, she said.

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“In the near future, it will be possible that swarms of drones, utilised by terrorist groups, could carry out cross-border attacks, using facial technology and other features enabled by artificial intelligence,” said Ms Nusseibeh.

Worse still, stealth weapons from the “nefarious side of technology” could carry out flying assassinations “without the possibility of attribution to either a state- or non-state group”, she added.

She pointed to Yemen’s Houthis militia, which has used Iran-supplied drone gear to launch sophisticated attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“Drones do not just operate in the air,” she said, referring to a “remotely operated drone boat, laden with explosives” used by the Houthis in a failed attack on an oil tanker off Yemen’s coast in March 2020.

“If successful, the attack would have had devastating effects not only on the tanker and its crew, but on the environment, on global supply routes and on local communities,” said Ms Nusseibeh.

The UAE envoy said killer weapons were evolving at “warp speed”, with drones that “fly faster, travel further, carry larger payloads” and use facial recognition and other tools.

“We're in this Hobbesian state of nature regarding the use of technology by super-empowered, non-state actors,” Ms Nusseibeh told diplomats in New York.

“Inaction is not an option. Because when there is no regulation, we’re only encouraging proliferation.”

Council members met against a backdrop of growing global concern over new technologies in war zones, amid Russian claims that it has used powerful lasers in its war with Ukraine and with both sides in the conflict admitting to routinely using drones.

The US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch says China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, Britain and the US are already developing technology that could give rise to fully autonomous weapons.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the UN ambassador for the US, which holds the council’s rotating presidency for the month of May, said authoritarian governments are using technology to suppress “freedom of expression and spread disinformation”.

“The Russian government continues to shut down, restrict, and degrade internet connectivity, censor content, spread disinformation online and intimidate and arrest journalists for reporting the truth about its invasion” of Ukraine, said Ms Thomas-Greenfield.

“These practices are as wrong as they are widespread.”

Updated: May 24, 2022, 7:02 AM