Killer robots: they’re so real that the UN is already in talks to ban them
Protocols are urgently needed to prevent machines deciding for themselves who and when to kill, say activists
Countries should quickly agree on a treaty banning the use of so-called killer robots before it is too late, activists said on Monday as talks on the issue resumed at the UN.
They say time is running out before weapons are deployed that use lethal force without a human making the final kill order, and have criticised the UN body hosting the talks, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), for moving too slowly.
“Killer robots are no longer the stuff of science fiction,” Rasha Abdul Rahim, Amnesty International’s adviser on artificial intelligence and human rights, said. “From artificially intelligent drones to automated guns that can choose their own targets, technological advances in weaponry are far outpacing international law,” she said.“We are calling on states to take concrete steps to halt the spread of these dangerous weapons – before it is too late.”
Her comments came as a CCW group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems began a week-long meeting in Geneva.
The world body hosted the first killer robot negotiations in 2017, and India’s disarmament ambassador, Amandeep Gill, who chairs the CCW talks, said good progress had been made.
But countries have yet to agree on which path to take in addressing such weapons.
The number of states calling for an outright killer robot ban has increased, with campaigners saying at least 26 are now on board.
But the states believed to have the most advanced autonomous weapons, including the US, France, Britain and Israel, have not committed to any form of binding mechanism restricting their use.The way forward is expected to be determined this week or at a broader CCW conference in November, but the requirement to reach consensus could prove a stumbling block.
Activists are pushing nations to move on to formal negotiations on a binding treaty within the CCW.
The Campaign to Ban Killer Robots stressed on Monday that without clear progress, negotiations could also happen outside of the confines of the CCW convention.
“We are willing and able to take it outside of the UN if it is blocked by consensus,” campaign member Jody Williams, who won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work towards a treaty banning landmines, told journalists in Geneva.
Activists meanwhile took heart from growing awareness in the private sector and academia of the threat posed by weapons that rely entirely on machine intelligence in deciding what to kill.“We have actually seen a lot of action from the private sector,” Peter Asaro, of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, said.He pointed in particular to Google’s decision in June to fold to pressure from its own employees and retreat from a deal to help the US military use artificial intelligence to analyse drone video.
There was a growing realisation that “there needs to be human accountability. There needs to be human control”.
Amnesty’s Rahim meanwhile insisted that it’s not too late to change course.
“A ban on fully autonomous weapons systems could prevent some truly dystopian scenarios,” he said.