Group Calls For Ban On Autonomous Killer Robots

Pat Pilcher reports on concerns over the next wave of weapons technology.

tumblr_ltw3p2sUIJ1qlo1lto1_500Academics, numerous rights advocates and former Nobel peace prize winners are combining in an effort to draws attention to the threat posed by robotic weapons. The group – called Stop The Killer Robots Initiative – is being headed up by artificial intelligence expert and Sheffield University professor, Dr Noel Sharkey. The aim of the group, unsurprisingly, is to get production of robotic weapons banned.
Sharkey has been quoted in the UK media as saying: “These things are not science fiction, they are well into development.” Sharkey is most likely referring to the work already done by the US government to develop and trial the X47B autonomous drone fighter aircraft. The X47B is able to independently target and engage enemies without any human intervention whatsoever.
Indications are that the US Air Force is already well down the path towards autonomous weapons with more drone pilots being trained by the USAF than actual fighter pilots. Stop The Killer Robots is concerned at the lack of transparency or legal process as more and more autonomous robots and drones are manufactured, becoming increasingly embedded into the military. According to comments made by Sharkey in UK media, “The laws of war allow for rights of surrender, for prisoner of war rights, for a human face to take judgments on collateral damage. Humans are thinking, sentient beings. If a robot goes wrong, who is accountable? Certainly not the robot.”
The military however, are likely to argue that replacing soldiers with machines could go a long way to preventing a significant amount of deaths, and that machines also offer many combat advantages over humans (they are impervious to fatigue, have night vision and significantly faster reaction times, for instance).
The Stop The Killer Robots campaign is to be officially launched in April in the UK’s House of Commons. Sharkey says that although he isn’t anti-war, the group is concerned that technology is moving too quickly and that autonomous robots could violate international laws of war. More importantly, Sharkey also held up the grisly spectre of an AI soldier being unable to “distinguish between a child holding up a toy and an adult pointing a gun”. PAT PILCHER

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