Anti-killer robot campaign kicks off

A human rights group is campaigning to prohibit the creation of autonomous “killer robots”

By - November 20, 2012

Hollywood-style robots able to shoot people without permission from their human handlers are a real possibility and must be banned before governments start deploying them, campaigners warned Monday.

The report “Losing Humanity” — issued by Human Rights Watch and Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic — raised the alarm over the ethics of the looming technology.

Calling them “killer robots,” the report urged “an international treaty that would absolutely prohibit the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.”

The US military already leads the way in military robots, notably the unmanned aircraft or drones used for surveillance or attacks over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere. But these are controlled by human operators in ground bases and are not able to kill without authorization.

Fully autonomous robots that decide for themselves when to fire could be developed within 20 to 30 years, or “even sooner,” the 50-page report said, adding that weapon systems that require little human intervention already exist.

Raytheon’s Phalanx gun system, deployed on US Navy ships, can search for enemy fire and destroy incoming projectiles all by itself. The X47B is a plane-sized drone able to take off and land on aircraft carriers without a pilot and even refuel in the air.

Perhaps closest to the Terminator-type killing machine portrayed in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action films is a Samsung sentry robot already being used in South Korea, with the ability to spot unusual activity, talk to intruders and, when authorized by a human controller, shoot them.

Fully autonomous fighting machines would spare human troops from dangerous situations. The downside, though, is that robots would then be left to make nuanced decisions on their own, the most fraught being the need to distinguish between civilians and combatants in a war zone.

“A number of governments, including the United States, are very excited about moving in this direction, very excited about taking the soldier off the battlefield and putting machines on the battlefield and thereby lowering casualties,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch.

While Goose said “killer robots” do not exist as yet, he warned of precursors and added that the best way to forestall an ethical nightmare is a “preemptive, comprehensive prohibition on the development or production of these systems.”

Jody Williams, the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in Washington that the prospect of killer robots “totally freaked me out.”

“I had visions of the Terminator,” she said. “The thought that this development was proceeding without any public discussion I found more reprehensible than most military R&D because I really believe that this would… totally transform the face of warfare.”

The problem with handing over decision-making power to even the most sophisticated robots is that there would be no clear way of making anyone answer for the inevitable mistakes, said Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics at University of Sheffield.

“If a robot goes wrong, who’s accountable? It certainly won’t be the robot,” he said.

“The robot could take a bullet in its computer and go berserk. So there’s no way of really determining who’s accountable and that’s very important for the laws of war.”

Related articles

Toyota introduces robot helper

Robot cheetah is faster than Usain Bolt

Robot gadgets you want

The tech behind Curiosity

Share your thoughts

Shutterstock is the image partner of MyBroadband – more technology images

Join the conversation

Connect with Us



How much do you plan to spend on Black Friday?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

More News

New anti-piracy trick: get 200k YouTube views or face massive fine

Jakub F BSA anti-piracy propaganda video promotion

In what must be the weirdest settlement for a copyright infringement case, the Czech Republic and BSA have asked a pirate to get 200k views on a propaganda video.

Toys R Us launches new online tech and gaming shop


Toys R Us has launched a new online shop, offering a wide selection of gaming products and consumer electronics

New Discovery Bank will offer great value: Adrian Gore

Discovery logo

Discovery is planning to take on ABSA, FNB, Standard Bank, and Nedbank in the retail banking space in South Africa, and will offer great value to attract new clients.

Huawei Mate 8 launched

Huawei Mate 8

Huawei has officially announced the successor to its large-screened Ascend Mate 7 smartphone.


Newsletter Subscription

Email *
Enter the following to confirm your subscription *
Captcha image

Free MyBroadband Newsletter