Killer robots — those autonomous armed robots programmed to randomly kill humans — don’t exist yet, although artificial intelligence laboratories are working on them, and the very thought has thrown the world into a tizzy.

Last Sunday, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) produced a report warning that future warfare will be conducted by armies of robots, soldiers on gene-editing and drugs, and space-war, where cyberspace gives terrorists more opportunity.

Last month, experts from various countries met at the Geneva offices of the United Nations to discuss how to regulate these killer robots. The subsequent report published by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic claimed that fully autonomous weapons would violate the Martens Clause, which calls for protection for civilians and combatants.

Last summer, Elon Musk and 105 other signatories petitioned the United Nations to ban killer robots:

Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.

In 2012, Mary Wareham, coordinator of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, led a small circle of people on Trafalgar Square, London, with their robot circling the grounds and intoning “Damn killer robots.”

For people like Christine Fair, a military affairs expert and associate professor in the Security Studies Program of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, the hysteria is absurd. Comparing killer robots to drones, she insisted that:

“Drones are the most effective tool for intimidating and suppressing terrorists. We can either do nothing and allow ourselves to be killed or react with autonomous armed robots that perform better than armed humans in combat, and that result in fewer casualties.”