Okay, perhaps Skynet is not just around the corner. That will take some doing. But the infamous, artificially-intelligent mastermind behind the Terminators just got one step closer with the launch of the naval UCAV X-47B from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on May 14, 2013. Eventually, major weapon systems will be autonomous, uninhabited machines, whether aerial, naval, or ground combat units. Right now, the major advantage of a human-crewed machine is the brain of the person inside it. Human warriors are much more adaptable and creative than machines, and can react faster and more appropriately to changing situations.
The future will be different. In time, the technical challenges posed by genuine artificial intelligence will be overcome, and an uncrewed vehicle will be as capable, or perhaps more capable, than a crewed craft. A significant portion of a modern fighter aircraft’s weight, for example, is taken up by the systems needed to allow the pilot to fly the warplane and to keep the pilot alive. If you can remove the human from inside the cockpit, you won’t even need a cockpit anymore, and can save a huge amount of weight, such as the ejection seat, which can be devoted to extra ordnance or fuel. That will be an enormous advantage over a piloted machine, assuming that all else, such as outright combat capability, are equal.