As autonomous vehicles make the news, the military has been moving further ahead and much more quickly, driven by real-world battle challenges. This has often been the case, noting in particular the staggering array of technology advances that took place during World War II, and which we continue to enjoy fruits of these innovations today (jet aircraft and computers, for example). The key word here is “autonomous” – what does that imply when this ability to function without communication to human decision-makers leads to life and death choices by machines?

Drone swarms. Self-driving tanks. Autonomous sentry guns. Sometimes it seems like the future of warfare arrived on our doorstep overnight, and we’ve all been caught unprepared. But as Paul Scharre writes in his new book Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War, this has been a long time coming, and we’re currently the slow culmination of decades of development in military technology. That doesn’t mean it’s not scary, though.

People see a car with autonomy, and they make the connection between that and weapons. They work out the risks for themselves and begin to ask questions, like, “What happens when a military drone has a much autonomy as a self-driving car?” It’s because we’re at this very interesting point in time when the technology is getting real and these questions are less theoretical.