Increased worldwide concerns over use of 'killer robots'

  • Photo: (c) Sky News

    There have been increased calls in recent weeks by human rights activists worldwide for a halt in the creation of ‘killer robots’.

    A new report published by Human Rights Watch showed that 30 countries would support plans and the possibility of an international treaty to impose bans on such autonomous weapons and their further development.

    It reviewed the policies of 97 countries that have publicly discussed or considered the use of such machines since 2013.

    The research revealed the British policy on such matters, which states there must always be “human oversight” when using such autonomous weapons, but noted the UK is developing weapons with some "autonomous solutions".

    At the Human Rights Council in May 2013, the UK said it considered international humanitarian laws to be “sufficient to regulate the use” of ‘killer robots.’

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    Russia and the US are said to have “firmly rejected proposals” around the imposition of any such ban, among a small number of other military powers. Furthermore, these nations continue to invest heavily in the military applications of AI-based weapons systems.

    In 2012, the Human Rights Watch initiated the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. It then launched in London the following year, made up of organisations working to ban fully autonomous weapons, including artificial intelligence (AI) experts, private businesses and policymakers.

    Since then, Human Rights Watch said the issue has “steadily climbed the international agenda” and has reached such a point that global action must be taken.

    Mary Wareham, arms division advocacy director at the charity said: “Removing human control from the use of force is now widely regarded as a grave threat to humanity that, like climate change, deserves urgent multilateral action.

    “An international ban treaty is the only effective way to deal with the serious challenges raised by fully autonomous weapons.

    “It’s abundantly clear that retaining meaningful human control over the use of force is an ethical imperative, a legal necessity, and a moral obligation. All countries need to respond with urgency by opening negotiations on a new international ban treaty.”

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    Between 2014 and 2019, multiple nations have taken part in eight Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) meetings, which explored the use these lethal systems.

    Countries including Austria, Brazil and Chile have all proposed negotiations on a legally binding treaty aimed at ensuring “meaningful human control” over the critical functions of such weapons structures.

    The global tech sector has particularly seen a rise in concerns over ‘killer robots’, with Google employees speaking out in 2018 against the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a US Department of Defense drone project.

    Hundreds of academics signed an open letter supporting the employee revolt and urging the tech giant to cease its involvement in military projects.

    Sources: DIGIT, Sky News

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