There have been a million movies set in some sort of dystopian or post-apocalyptic future where killer robots are either a serious threat, or have taken over the world already. From humanoid “Terminator” robots to one of the latest “Black Mirror” episodes, “Metalhead,” these robotic organisms seem to have perfected the killing of human beings. They provide precision, lethality, and are close to invincible, cutting through flesh the way a machine at a factory builds something on the assembly line — cold, without error, and without conscience. From a storyteller’s perspective, it taps in to the innate fear we all have of feeling like the animal in the slaughterhouse, whose life is suddenly and gruesomely whisked away by an entity that could care less.

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We see other movies and books that play off those fears and bring them closer to home. They point out the existence of unmanned drones, and the havoc they can wreak upon a population if the pilot (and his entire chain of command) so choose. The argument has been made that piloting a drone remotely lessens the “reality” of combat, thereby turning the killing of other human beings into an effortless video game — but any cursory search will bring you to a list of studies and articles that show how psychological trauma affects drone pilots just as much as shooters on the ground.

But the technology is there — couple our current drone programs with facial and gait recognition software, add a bit of artificial intelligence, and you might just have a versatile, unstoppable killing machine Right?

Not so much.

Drones are unmanned aircraft, but they are still piloted — the pilot is just sitting somewhere else. The military is nowhere near letting these things go off on their own to conduct lethal missions, and their levels of autonomy are more like: “return home,” “follow me,” “take off by yourself” or “level out.” Even the more complex, “orbit X object on the ground” is nowhere near this fantastical, “find X target, conduct reconnaissance, shoot to kill when/if the opportunity presents itself, return home.” While the technology might be somewhat plausible, in this day and age it would never coincide with the practical necessities of running any kind of tactical operation. Too much relies on other moving pieces outside the drone, as this isn’t simply some self-guided car we’re talking about. Still, if the “killer robot” of fictitious films and books exist in the near future, it would probably be in the form of aerial drones.

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But what about on the ground? That’s what most people think of when they think of killer machine robots.

First of all, the terrain on the ground is infinitely more variable and difficult than the air. The human body still has trouble with the ground, and we have had thousands of years to develop technology to aid us there, not to mention most people still stumble around like a fifty dollar Walmart robot on a staircase. Watching someone who is new to night vision goggles, you would think they had never walked in the woods before, tripping and falling every which way. You would have to have some sort of catch-all, ultra-maneuverable robot like the one in the “Metalhead” episode of “Black Mirror,” that is capable of both speed, adaptability and resilience on our unforgiving and incredibly variable terrain.

That’s where you may have seen the prototypes for machines with incredible functionality, and it is easy for the mind to imagine a couple guns strapped onto one of these Boston Dynamics or DARPA robots and have it annihilate the entire human race. Still, while something might work in a lab, or even on the street in a city, it is a long, long way off from implementation on the battlefield.