Killer Robots

UN: Start Pursuing a Permanent Ban on Killer Robots

The robot that kills: it's becoming too close to the truth.

The robot that kills: it’s becoming too close to the truth.

All nations should heed the call by a UN Special Rapporteur to halt robotics weapons systems that, once activated, can select and engage targets without further intervention by a human, said the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots today.

For the first time ever states will debate the challenges posed by these fully autonomous weapons or ‘killer robots’ at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva tomorrow [29 May].

“To avoid future harm states must take action now to stop the creation of weapons that would choose and fire on targets on their own without meaningful human supervision or control,” said Dr. Peter Asaro of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a founding member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “As the UN report warns, ‘If left too long to its own devices, the matter will, quite literally, be taken out of human hands.’”

Professor Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has prepared a 22-page report on ‘lethal autonomous robotic weapons’ that will be delivered to the second session of the Human Rights Council on May 29. The Council will then consider how to action the report’s recommendations, including its call on nations to institute an immediate moratorium on these weapons and work for an international agreement that addresses the many concerns identified in the report.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is an international coalition of civil society groups launched in London on 23 April 2013. The campaign is calling on states to put in place a comprehensive ban on fully autonomous weapons that would be able to select and attack targets without any human intervention. This prohibition should be achieved through an international treaty, as well as through national laws and other measures, to enshrine the principle that decisions to use violent force against a human being must always be made by a human being.

“There are increasing moves towards autonomy on the battlefield and we need to draw a line now by prohibiting autonomous systems that would identify and attack targets without any human involvement,” said Mr. Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “An international ban on fully autonomous weapons systems is urgently needed, as are strong national measures to permanently outlaw these weapons.”

Over the past decade, the expanded use of unmanned armed vehicles or drones has dramatically changed warfare, bringing new humanitarian and legal challenges. The UN report considers that “robots with full lethal autonomy have not yet been deployed” despite the lack of transparency on their research and development.

The UN report lists several robotic systems with various degrees of autonomy and lethality that are currently in use by the US, Israel, South Korea, and the UK. Other nations with high-tech militaries, such as China, and Russia, are also believed to be moving toward systems that would give full combat autonomy to machines.

In November 2012, the US Department of Defense issued a policy directive on autonomy in weapons systems, which reaffirms that there should always be a human being “in the loop” when decisions to use lethal force are made, but leaves a number of ambiguities and loopholes that underline the need for a clear international ban. The Directive only limits full autonomy over the use of lethal force, may expire after 5 years and can be waived by high-level Department of Defense officials.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots urges all countries to consider and elaborate their policy on fully autonomous weapons, particularly with respect to the ethical, legal, policy, technical, and other concerns that have been raised in the UN report. It urges all countries to welcome the UN report and endorse its recommendations, including the call for a moratorium on lethal autonomous robotics. Implementing these recommendations should be seen as a first step towards a comprehensive international ban on fully autonomous weapons.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots believes that humans should not delegate the responsibility of making decisions about violent force to machines. It concurs with the multiple moral, legal, technical, and policy concerns with fully autonomous weapons that are expressed by the report.