Campaigners Call for Ban on Killer Robots

The group known as the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots says fully autonomous lethal weapons that can strike selected targets are no longer within the realm of science fiction. The coalition says it wants pre-emptive action taken to ban them. Government experts will spend the next two weeks discussing the issue at a meeting of the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

The Campaign to stop Killer Robots – a coalition of 65 non-government organizations – says the world is running out of time to prevent these systems from becoming a dangerous reality.

Campaign co-founder Richard Moyes warns the world is moving closer to situations where machine intelligence, instead of humans, may make life and death decisions on the battlefield.

“We need humans involved in these processes and it needs to be a substantial engagement that allows sort of human ethical judgment and human moral engagements with the decision about the use of force…From my perspective, I think there is a real risk in thinking that violence and killing people can ever be a really clean business,” said Moyes. “I think…we should be very wary about thinking that machines and computers can solve that.”

Campaign co-founder Mary Wareham tells VOA autonomous weapons systems with decreasing levels of human control are currently in use and development by six countries – the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia and Britain. She says the U.S. is the most advanced.”

“I think all of them have commented that these weapons systems, the fully autonomous weapons systems, lethal autonomous weapons systems, do not exist yet,” said Wareham. “That is the common refrain that we hear in the room; but, there is acknowledgement that this is the direction that it could head in.”   

Human Rights Watch – a founding member of the campaign – has said previously that precursors to killer robots include armed drones.  

The campaign says the government experts have made some progress in identifying key issues of concern regarding autonomy in weapons systems. It says 22 countries are calling for a ban on fully autonomous weapons and many others agree some human control must be retained over future weapons systems.  

The activists say they are heartened by the increasing number of countries that have expressed interest in negotiating a new international law on killer robots. The campaign says it wants member states to conclude a legally binding treaty “prohibiting the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons systems by the end of 2019.”


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