UN envoy urges end to plans for battle-field killing machines
Ethical groups join call to halt machine-soldiers that identify and kill without human input
It’s a scenario that could have emerged from the imagination of a science fiction writer – killing machines stalking future battlefields with heat-seeking weapons so that human soldiers do not have to risk their lives.
But these machines are not confined to books and blockbuster action films. They are all very real – either already in use in conflict areas, or in development – as governments seek ways of exploiting technology to give them the edge on the battlefield. The existence of such “killer robots” is worrying Christof Heyns, the United Nations envoy on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Presenting a report in Geneva, he called for a ban on developing robots which could identify and kill without any human input.
Mr Heyns warned that autonomous killing machines – not yet deployed in any battlefield – could blur the lines of command in war crimes cases and added that action must be taken before the technology overtakes existing legislation. “Time is of the essence. Trying to stop technology is a bit like trying to stop time itself – it moves on,” he said. His report argues that “modern technology allows increasing distance to be put between weapons users and the lethal force they project”.
That report is backed by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Handicap International, which is calling for a halt in development of weapons which take the decision to shoot and kill out of human hands.
There has already been heated debate on the ethical implications of pilotless aircraft such as the Predator and Reaper drones, which are controlled from an air force base in Nevada, thousands of miles away from the mountains where they unload their ordnance.
But critics say this takes modern warfare too close to the realms of a computer game.
Ground robots currently deployed include the SGR-1, a robot fitted with a machine gun, which South Korea has installed along its border with its northern neighbour. While they are also not quite the dead-eyed androids wandering the dystopian landscapes of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, or the metal killing machines of the Terminator films, they are close enough to send a shiver down many a cinemagoer’s spine.
“The biggest problem in robotics is we’ve seen too much science fiction,” said Rich Walker, managing director of the Shadow Robot Company which researches and develops robotics.
He pointed out that robots are already deployed on the battlefields, performing vital tasks such as bomb disposal and argued that some responsive robots were actually little different from land mines and other booby traps which are set up by humans and which respond to stimuli.
“Autonomous robots should be seen as neither a good thing nor a bad thing, he told The Independent. “It’s the way they are deployed.”
- 1 Video of Irish 'professional boxer' fighting Istanbul neighbourhood goes viral in Turkey
- 2 Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban, Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See, to be published in UK
- 3 Toby Sheldon: Justin Bieber lookalike found dead in motel room
- 4 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 5 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
Video of Irish 'professional boxer' fighting Istanbul neighbourhood goes viral in Turkey
Nazi gold train: 'Significant' discovery made in Poland
Toby Sheldon: Justin Bieber lookalike found dead in motel room
Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
Newborn baby dies after being attacked by rats in hospital
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...
£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...