It’s the stuff of science fiction: machines that make decisions about who and when to kill. Referred to as “autonomous weapons”, they’re already in use to some degree. But as more sophisticated systems are being developed we wanted to an expert in the field about whether such systems comply with international humanitarian law and what it means for humanity to give machines the power over human life and death.
Riding her bright red bicycle along tree-lined road on the outskirts of Kara Balta, Elena Sorokina is on a mission. She pulls off the road and parks her bike, puts on her N-95 mask and knocks on the door of 59 -year-old Sardarbek Chutoev.
“Is everything ok?” she asks, as he opens the door.
“Good!” he responds with a smile.
A health visitor for the Cure TB Project, Sorokina’s mission is to visit people who are going through treatment for Tuberculosis, or TB, an infectious disease that is curable as long as people complete a long and sometimes difficult course of medication.
“Do you feel better today?” she asks.
“Better!” he says.
Caused by a bacteria that usually impacts the lungs, TB can be a lonely, painful affair and Chuteov is the first to say that Sorokina’s visits have made a big difference to his recovery. “I suffered so much,” he says. “Then I discovered Elena and the support group.”
A helping hand is not only critical through the tough times, as the medication often has side effects. It’s also critical when patients start to feel better, when recovering patients sometimes think it’s ok to stop taking their medication.
Dropping treatment can lead to worse outcomes, not only for the patient, but for others. If not eliminated, the bacteria that survive are more resistant to medication, leading to relapse and, potentially, the spread of a more resistant TB strain.
“The most important thing in my work is that every patient who started treatment does not quit,” she says. “In order to be cured, they need to go through the entire course of treatment.”