World must come together to stop killer robots, experts urge

'Removing human control from the use of force is now widely regarded as a grave threat to humanity that, like climate change, deserves urgent multilateral action,' says campaigner

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 11 August 2020 09:55
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The world must come together to take action on killer robots, according to a new report.

There is increasing agreement among various countries that fully autonomous weapons should be banned to avoid the creation of such killer robots, the new report warns.

It would be "unacceptable" if weapons systems are able to select and kill targets without human oversight, the researchers warn.

The research by Human Rights Watch said 30 countries had now expressed a desire for an international treaty introduced which says human control must be retained over the use of force.

The new report, "Stopping Killer Robots: Country Positions on Banning Fully Autonomous Weapons and Retaining Human Control", reviews the policies of 97 countries that have publicly discussed killer robots since 2013.

Although it does not name the UK among the countries calling for an outright ban on autonomous weapons, the report says the UK policy is that there must always be "human oversight" when using such weapons, but notes it is developing some "autonomous solutions" in weapons systems.

Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and coordinator of the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots, said urgent international action was needed on the issue as technology such as artificial intelligence continues to spread.

"Removing human control from the use of force is now widely regarded as a grave threat to humanity that, like climate change, deserves urgent multilateral action," she said.

"An international ban treaty is the only effective way to deal with the serious challenges raised by fully autonomous weapons.

"It's abundantly clear that retaining meaningful human control over the use of force is an ethical imperative, a legal necessity, and a moral obligation.

"All countries need to respond with urgency by opening negotiations on a new international ban treaty."

The report suggests that while a number of international organisations and countries have backed the campaign, a small number of military powers, including the United States and Russia, have "firmly rejected proposals" around regulation.

"Many governments share the same serious concerns over permitting machines to take human life on the battlefield, and their desire for human control provides a sound basis for collective action," Ms Wareham said.

"While the pandemic has delayed diplomacy, it shows the importance of being prepared and responding with urgency to existential threats to humanity, such as killer robots."

Additional reporting by agencies

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