On the Horizon: Real Killer Robots

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fully autonomous “killer robots,” not unlike those made famous in the Terminator movies, could become a reality within a couple of decades, claims a human rights organization that wants politicians to head off this development before it’s too late.


Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a new report that killer robots (also known as “fully autonomous weapons”) will pose a threat to civilians everywhere, once they achieve the capability to act on their own. HRW believes this danger could exist in 20 to 30 years, giving governments the time and opportunity to ban this new aspect of modern warfare.


“Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” Steve Goose, HRW’s arms division director, said in a statement. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.” According to the report, “robots would not be restrained by human emotions and the capacity for compassion, which can provide an important check on the killing of civilians. Emotionless robots could, therefore, serve as tools of repressive dictators seeking to crack down on their own people without fear their troops would turn on them.”


The use of killer robots also calls into question who would be legally responsible if one of them committed an illegal act, such as targeting civilians. The robots themselves could not be sued or otherwise punished and it is unlikely that any action would be taken against military commanders, manufacturers or programmers, so that, in the end, no one would be accountable.


HRW and the International Human Rights Clinic want world leaders to adopt an international treaty, as well as domestic laws and policies, prohibiting the development, production, and use of fully autonomous weapons.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Ban ‘Killer Robots’ Before It’s Too Late (Human Rights Watch)

Losing Humanity (Human Rights Watch)

Watch a Robotic Navy Boat Shoot Missiles for the First Time Ever (by Spencer Ackerman, Wired)

Who’s Responsible if a Military Robot Kills Civilians? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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