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Iranian nuclear scientist allegedly assassinated via killer robot

A top nuclear scientist with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of Iran’s military services, was assassinated on 27 November in what the Iranian government is calling an assassination via AI-powered machine gun.

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated while traveling in a convoy outside of Tehran. According to reports, a Nissan pickup truck equipped with a mounted machine gun caught the convoy and opened fire. Moments later, the truck exploded.

According to IRGC Deputy Commander Ali Fadavi, per a report from Iranian state-controlled media outlet Tasnim News Agency, “No hit man was present at the scene of the strike” when the scientist was attacked.

The report continues:

A machine gun equipped with a ‘satellite-controlled smart system’ and installed on a pickup had fired a total of 13 shots in the attack.

All other bullets were fired by the body guards, Fadavi noted.

The smart system controlling the machine gun had zeroed in on Fakhrizadeh and utilized artificial intelligence, the general stated.

He said the purpose of exploding the gun-laden pickup after the shootout was to kill the 11 IRGC servicemen accompanying the scientist.

It appears as though the Iranian government and Fadvai are asserting the attack was carried out entirely remotely. In such a case it would mean that the Nissan pickup truck used was either remote-controlled by a human or driven autonomously by AI.

Supposing the claims are correct, it would mean that a terrorist organization or foreign government built a robot out of a Nissan truck and a machine gun then used satellite imagery to track, identify, and recognize Fakhrizadeh.

Per the reports, the AI-powered machine gun fired into Fakhrizadeh’s vehicle killing him and a bodyguard attempting to shield the scientist. Fakhrizadeh’s wife, who Iranian officials claimed was mere centimeters away from him, was unharmed.

Quick take: The big news here is all politics. Numerous experts are pointing the finger at Israel, whose government has yet to confirm or deny responsibility. And some have even alleged the hit was approved and sanctioned by US President Donald Trump.

While this accusation is, so far, unsubstantiated conjecture, it’s not so far-fetched. Donald Trump authorized the use of a Reaper drone to assassinate IRGC General Qasem Soleiman earlier this year.

But that may not be the big picture. This kind of killing is different from the drone strike Trump ordered in January. While both are extrajudicial (the US isn’t at war with Iran), the drone strike used military equipment, paid for by US taxpayers, to conduct a strike at the request of the US commander in chief.

If it’s substantiated that Fakhrizadeh’s killing was conducted entirely autonomously “without any assassin on the scene,” as has been reported, it would be (to the best of our knowledge here at Neural) the first time a civilian production vehicle was converted into a killer robot and used to kill someone entirely autonomously.

Published December 7, 2020 — 20:29 UTC