Military

‘Killer robots’ should be kept out of policing & war

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Monday, May 12, 2014 - 09:00 GMT Jump to Comments

Fully autonomous weapons, or “killer robots”, would jeopardise basic human rights, a leading human rights organisation has suggested.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch has said that fully autonomous weapons used in wartime or for law enforcement, would endanger basic human rights.

The report, Shaking the Foundations: The Human Rights Implications of Killer Robots is the first to assess the risks posed by these weapons during law enforcement operations, expanding the debate beyond the battlefield.

Human Rights Watch found that fully autonomous weapons would threaten rights and principles under international law as fundamental as the right to life, the right to a remedy, and the principle of dignity.

“In policing, as well as war, human judgment is critically important to any decision to use a lethal weapon,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch.

“Governments need to say no to fully autonomous weapons for any purpose and to preemptively ban them now, before it is too late”, he added.

Countries are now pursuing ever-greater autonomy in weapons, and its known that precursors already exist. The organisation suggests that nations should adopt a preemptive international ban on weapons that would be able to identify and fire on targets without meaningful human intervention. 

International debate over fully autonomous weapons has previously focused on their potential role in armed conflict, and questions whether they would be able to comply with international humanitarian law (also called the laws of war).

Humans Rights Watch believes the agreement to work on these weapons, in the Convention on Conventional Weapons forum, could eventually lead to new international law prohibiting fully autonomous weapons.

Evidence from their report showed that fully autonomous weapons could be prone to kill people unlawfully as the weapons cannot be programmed to handle every situation. According to roboticists, there is little prospect that these weapons would possess human qualities, such as judgment, that facilitate compliance with the right to life in unforeseen situations.

Fully autonomous weapons would also undermine human dignity, Human Rights Watch said. These inanimate machines could not understand or respect the value of life, yet they would have the power to determine when to take it away.

Additionally, serious doubts exist about whether there could be meaningful accountability for the actions of a fully autonomous weapon. There would be legal and practical obstacles to holding anyone – superior officer, programmer, or manufacturer – responsible for a robot’s actions. Both criminal and civil law are ill suited to the task, Human Rights Watch found.

Bonnie Docherty, senior researcher in the arms division at Human Rights Watch and lecturer at the Harvard clinic as well as author of the report said: “The accountability gap would weaken deterrence for future violations […] It would be very difficult for families to obtain retribution or remedy for the unlawful killing of a relative by such a machine”.

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